James E. Crimmins
In Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon and Related Writings, Bristol, 2002

Bentham's Head

The principal concern of this prefatory essay is to introduce and explain the meaning of two symbiotically related texts: an effigious cultural artifact and a more or less conventionally authored, though incomplete, printed treatise. The two texts are connected by their source in a common author and their common subject, and their meaning requires explication in the context of the ancillary issues in which they were conceived and executed.

Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), the utilitarian legal philosopher and political radical, died on 6 June 1832. He left instructions for his body to be publicly ‘anatomised’ and thereafter his remains – the skeleton and preserved head – were to be reassembled, clothed and displayed. Today the ‘auto-icon’, as Bentham termed it, is seated in its mahogany and glass case in the South Cloister of the main building of University College London in Gower Street, where anyone who wishes may view it. What is not commonly known is that in preparation for this gift to posterity Bentham wrote parts of a projected treatise under the title Auto-Icon; Or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living, some twenty or thirty copies of which were printed posthumously in 1842 and distributed to interested individuals by the Benthamite John Hill Burton (1809–81).1 In the head-note which precedes the text reproduced in this volume, the anonymous editor states that Bentham was ‘occupied on this composition down to a very short period preceding his death’, and described it as the philosopher’s ‘last work’, to which he gave the title it presently carries. In December 1831, six months before his death, Bentham ‘arranged the materials he had then written’, though passages were added as late as May 1832, very shortly before his death (AI 1). The tract was never published, and was omitted from the first edition of Bentham’s writings put together in the years 1838–1843 by John Bowring (1792–1872), the Unitarian political reformer, first editor of the radical Westminster Review, and Bentham’s close associate during the philosopher’s last years.2

As with much else associated with Bentham’s life and writings, the story of the auto-icon and its related pamphlet is more elaborate and instructive than the physical presence of the extant effigy might suggest. The auto-icon has long been the subject of mythology and a degree of mystery. Is it really Bentham, or what remains of Bentham? What was its intended purpose? And, why is this post-enlightenment peculiarity still an object of fascination today? A visit to the Parthenon and its entombed greats, or Highgate Cemetery to sit on Herbert Spencer’s bourgeois Victorian sepulchre and look across the pathway at Marx’s heady place of rest, surely these carry more mystique and convey more inspiration than the smock-coated bones seated in University College? Possibly so, but consider the image in its mahogany glassed case, its beady glass eyes, authentic garb, and original accoutrements (hat, walking stick affectionately named ‘Dapple’, spectacles, ring, and an amethyst seal with a profile of Bentham). And, then remember that these are the remains of one of the most acute and penetrating analytic minds of the age that spanned the American War of Independence to the Great Reform Act, responsible for the first modern attempt to critically analyse English law, a mind that laid claim and gave currency to one of the genuinely formative ideas of modern ethics and legal philosophy – the principle of utility or the greatest happiness principle. It is the resonance of that foundational principle of utilitarian philosophy that continues to attract us to him. Philosophers are still engaged in debate over the coherence and significance of the theory that posits and requires that utility – the aggregate of pleasures and pains – be the standard of morality and the ground of public decision-making. Historians of ideas still measure the contribution to social and political life made by ‘the Hermit of Queen’s Square Place’, as Bentham liked to style himself in later life. And, the curious still find in his unpublished and voluminous manuscripts stimulating evidences of a man determined to change the historical conditions which helped to shape him and his contemporaries, and against which he invariably found reason to complain. The auto-icon is only of incidental interest in relation to Bentham’s thought and his philosophical reputation, yet it deserves our attention as his last act in the cause of utility, the principle which gave shape, meaning and governance to his life and thought and, ultimately, his death. Moreover, as a historical and cultural artifact it resonates in several significant respects.

In this story the bizarre is balanced by the fascinating rewards of looking closer at the meaning of both the physical auto-icon and its related printed tract. It is a story that begins in 1769, as does much else in the historical genesis of Bentham’s utilitarianism. After coming of age that year, Bentham drew up a will in which he first broached the matter of leaving his body for medical research.3 It was in that year, too, as he recalled in later life, that he first read Montesquieu, Beccaria, and Helvétius, among others – writers, he says, who ‘set me on the principle of utility’.4 Politics was far from his mind at that time, but philosophical radicalism was born and from there to the auto-icon over sixty years later was a virtually unbroken philosophical march of universal reach and grand proportions. This is not the place to recount Bentham’s life, far less his intellectual achievements. Rather, my aim is to explain Bentham’s intentions with regard to the auto-icon and its accompanying pamphlet by placing them in their biographical and historical context. Alone, the mournful ‘self-image’ of Bentham appears as the extravagant and eccentric legacy of a slightly dotty philosopher. When viewed in context, it speaks – metaphorically, that is – in the debates which raged around the issues of anatomical dissection, the death penalty, and the plight of the poor and destitute. The two texts have a place, too, in the secular humanism of the time, with its statuary memorials and other secular substitutes for the icons and rituals of organised religion, as well as in the emerging field of phrenology and its pseudo-scientific attempts to fathom the functioning of the mind. As well, these texts have a place in the context of developments in public amusement – with which Bentham was surprisingly au courant – related, on the one hand, to the popular passion for puppet theatre and, on the other, to the growing fascination with figurative representations of the famous and infamous. The feet of the auto-icon – again metaphorically – might stand in the rationalism and anti-religiosity of the continental enlightenment, but its rich texts lies – literally – at the intersection of social and political reform, the advancement of knowledge, and shifts in modes of popular culture in the period of transition that characterised the first half of the nineteenth century in Europe.

There has never been any real doubt that the remains of the man encased at University College are Bentham’s. The same certainty has not always attended the authorship of the Auto-Icon tract, and the persistence of doubts about its authenticity may lie behind the reluctance of scholars to consider its significance and explain, too, why it has never been published. Surprisingly, it was not until 1873 that its authenticity was first challenged, some thirty years after the tract was printed and distributed. In that year Ernest C. Thomas, a student of Trinity College, in a letter published in Notes and Queries, explained how he came across the tract ‘bound up with the [Bowring] collective edition of Bentham’s Works’ in the Oxford Union Society’s Library. After examining it, he concluded: ‘Though pretending to be a genuine production of Bentham, I cannot think that it is so.’5 Thomas claimed that while the fonts and papers used in the tract were at first look the same as those used in Bowring’s edition of the Works, closer scrutiny revealed this not to be the case, and argued that its proposals were so absurd that the tract had to be a fraudulent scam perpetrated to ridicule the founder of utilitarianism. Thomas’s arguments remained unanswered for nearly ninety years, until 1958 when C.F.A Marmoy made a detailed comparison of the typographical fonts and types of paper used for Auto-Icon and in the Bowring edition of the Works. Marmoy concluded that the fonts and paper used for Auto-Icon were consistent with those used in substantial parts of the Bowring edition, pointing out that there exists a number of variations in the fonts and paper used by the publisher in that edition. This suggested that the printing of the tract was conducted by the same publisher as the Works – William Tait (1793–1864) of Edinburgh. In reply to Thomas’ objection that the tract was really a skit on Bentham’s philosophy by an unknown satirist, Marmoy commented that while the work is satirical in places ‘it should be remembered that it was apparently written by Bentham towards the end of his life for his amusement, and was not intended for publication.’6

Marmoy’s evidence for the authenticity of the tract is stronger than his speculation regarding Bentham’s publishing intentions. No evidence has come to light of a sort to confirm that Bentham wrote Auto-Icon for his own amusement and did not intend its publication. Indeed, the editor’s remark that shortly before his death Bentham ‘arranged the materials he had then written’, indicates that he intended his work to have some sort of distribution. And, though the work was never completed, its editor was persuaded to print the tract by ‘the novelty of the subject – the special interest which Bentham took in it, and the fact, that it occupied the last literary hours of his existence’ (AI 1).

To Marmoy’s evidence bearing on the tract’s authenticity, we might add three further considerations. First, throughout the work the tenor of wit is Bentham’s at his most irreverent, and his free-flowing linkage between ideas and their illustration is just as we would expect from the evidence of his manuscripts on other subjects. Second, there is extant in the Bentham Papers at University College London a single manuscript sheet, headed ‘Auto-Icon’ and dated 26 June 1820.7 The manuscript sheet is written in Bentham’s hand, with a penned diagonal strike through the text, indicating a cancelled sheet. This usually means either that Bentham has used the sheet in a publication or that he has changed his mind about its content. In this case, it appears to be the former (though it is also possible that it was the tract’s editor who put a line through the sheet in the process of preparing the manuscripts for printing). Despite the early date at the top of the manuscript, which is intriguing in itself, it is certainly related to the later pamphlet, since it contains observations on the property rights to dead bodies under English law, a topic discussed by Bentham in the printed Auto-Icon tract (AI 10–12).8 Third, evidence that Bentham was the author of Auto-Icon also can be found in the content of his various wills, the first version of which was drafted when he was only twenty-one years old in 1769. This was replaced by a much briefer will of 1792 in which Bentham left everything to his brother Samuel, and to this was added a codicil, dated 29 March and 9 October 1824. A final will was drawn up on 30 May 1832, only days before his death. The similarities between Bentham’s instructions in his various wills concerning the disposal of his corpse, what actually took place following his death, and certain passages in Auto-Icon on the subject of preserving dead bodies, unmistakeably point to Bentham as the author of the tract (I will say more about this presently).

We might also wonder about the identity and intentions of the editor of the tract. Marmoy draws our attention to a letter dated ‘The Feast of St. Lucy, V 1842’ (i.e. 13 December 1842) from William Barclay Turnbull (1811–63), the noted Edinburgh historian, archivist and genealogist, to the antiquary, Joseph Eyton.9 The letter accompanied the gift of a copy of the Auto-Icon. Turnbull wrote:

My dear Sir

I send you a tract, of which I believe not more than twenty, or at most thirty, Copies were thrown off. It was sent to me by Mr. Burton one of the Editors of the Collected Works of that defunct oddity Bentham. Dr. Bowring and the publisher [William Tait] did not wish it to be inserted in the book, or indeed preserved at all, lest the fame of their idol should be dimmed by the absurdities of his death bed dreams. Aware of my sepulchral predilections Mr. Burton favoured me with the present copy, and I, equally aware of your lust for privately printed brochures, enclose it for your miscellaneous portion of similar productions. You shall hear from me very soon in a more decent shape.

Ever Yrs. Ever Sincerely

W.B.D.D. Turnbull1

From Turnbull’s letter we might note, first, Burton’s tacit acknowledgement that Bentham was the author of the pamphlet and, second, the suggestion that the tract was not included in Bowring’s edition of the Works for fear of the ridicule that might follow. Thomas Southwood Smith, who delivered the famous oration over Bentham’s dead body at the Web Street School of Anatomy and Medicine in London (included in the present volume, and to which I will return presently in this introduction), was certainly aware of the potential for ridicule invited by Bentham’s arrangements for the disposal of his body.11 And Bentham himself remarked of the auto-icon plan, ‘ridiculed it will be, of course’ (AI 2). Reflecting on Bentham’s last years, William Empson (1791–1852), in a critical review of the ‘Memoirs’ of Bentham compiled by Bowring for his edition of the Works, offered a sample of what might lie in store in this vein: ‘The image of Bentham almost superintending the stuffing of his own body; entertaining his visitors by taking out of his pocket the [glass] eyes which were to adorn it, and pleasing his fancy with the part he was to take (a silent guest), with Dapple [Bentham’s staff] in his hand, at the great utilitarian festival on Founder’s day’.12 With the prospect of ridicule in mind, it seems likely that Tait persuaded Bowring not to risk damaging the sales of the new edition of Bentham’s writings – a major and expensive publishing venture – by including Auto-Icon or having it distributed in any other form. In the event, Burton could hardly be said to have done his utmost to protect Bentham’s reputation by distributing the tract.13

Who edited and prepared the tract for printing? Turnbull’s letter implies Burton was the editor of the tract and not Bowring, but this seems unlikely. While it is true that Bowring omitted other writings from the Works he deemed too ‘bold and adventurous’ for publication,14 including all three of Bentham’s published volumes on religion,15 against this we must consider the head-note inserted by the editor at the beginning of Auto-Icon. The content of the note points to Bowring, despite his subsequent reservations about publishing the pamphlet. The head-note reveals an easy familiarity with the progress of the work during the last years of Bentham’s life such as only Bowring could have had. Bowring was the constant companion of Bentham’s final years and was proud to relate that Bentham had died in his arms,16 commenting: ‘I have never known a human being to whom the thought of death had so little in it that was disturbing or disagreeable.’17 In support of the contention that Bowring was the editor we might also note the editorial footnote referring to the practices surrounding the disposal of dead bodies in Portugal (AI 17 note). Before Bowring became acquainted with Bentham he spent a considerable amount of time in the Iberian peninsular, where he may have become acquainted with Portuguese burial customs. Burton travelled abroad only later in life. Certainly, Burton could have functioned as an assistant to Bowring in editing the tract. However, if Turnbull’s statement is correct in the letter above, it was Bowring and the publisher Tait who decided not to publish and, again, this points to Bowring not Burton being the editor.

Bentham’s Last Will and Testament

Being an atheist and a rigorous utilitarian, Bentham was almost bound at some point in his life to confront the question, ‘Of what use can the dead be to the living?’ That this question should foster an expansive thesis about the usefulness to be derived from corpses, particularly the remains of those of achievement and intellect, is also typical of Bentham. He had always considered it a part of his utilitarian mission to be a projector of useful proposals, and throughout his life he gave practical effect to his inventive genius in a wide range of areas.18 In this respect he was truly the great polymath of the age. He slept in a sleeping bag of his own design, mapped out projects for portable houses, a new kind of harpsichord and improvements to the printing of music, and drew up proposals for a school of legislation and a canal in Central America (to connect the Atlantic and Pacific).119 He devoted numerous frustrating years to the notorious Panopticon prison plan, introduced improvements to political institutions and constitutions,201 codes of judicial procedure and civil and penal law (each designed to eliminate delay, expense, complexity, obscurity, and uncertainty, and to enhance the greatest happiness), and offered a bewildering stream of new law proposals on subjects as diverse as inheritance, homosexuality, cruelty to animals, paupers, policing, real property, taxes on law proceedings, and sinecures in church and state. Other Benthamic inventions included numerous statistical manuals, digests, hand-books, and charts which facilitated a scientific approach to health administration. The ‘conversation tubes’ were a kind of primitive telephone Bentham installed at his London residence in Queen’s Square Place and imagined being used in his Panopticon prisons to connect the cells with the central watchtower.211 Rather more practical were the plans he drafted for a flash pump, ‘frigidarium’, central hot-air heating system, and document lift – versions of which are all in use today.122 Bentham’s plan for a forgery-proof currency, like so many other schemes, did not fair so well; the Directors of the Bank of England refused to be troubled on the matter, and the manuscripts remained unpublished until the 1950s.123 Among his enduring legacies are the terms he coined to express and give currency to new ideas, such as ‘utilitarian’, ‘international’, and ‘codification’, and the Oxford English Dictionary bears ample witness to many others.124

To be innovative when pondering the utility of his own death, then, was not such a departure for Bentham; but that he should have been thinking along such lines even as a young adult is truly remarkable. His decision to leave his body for medical research, he later recalled, was ‘no hasty – no recent determination’ but was decided in 1769 on the occasion of his coming of age (AI 2). As an indication of the indifference to religious practices of the twenty-one year old Bentham his first will is interesting enough, but the request concerning his body, given the age in which he writes, is most unusual:

as to my body my will is that it be buried by the rites of the Church of England, or the rites of any other Church, or no rites at all at the discretion of my Executor [Richard Clark], so that the funeral expenses do not in any wise exceed forty shillings, but it is my Will and special request to my Executor that if I should chance to die of any such disease as that in the judgement of my said Exor the art of Surgery or science of Physic should be likely to be any wise advanced by observations to be made on the opening of my body, that he my said Executor do cause my said body as soon after my decease as may be delivered unto George Fordyce now of Henrietta Street Covent Garden Dr. of Physic; or if he should decline to accept the same, then to any other Dr. of Physic or Surgeon so to be dealt with….25

The will went on to say that his bequest was not made out of ‘affectation of singularity’, but rather with ‘the intent and with the desire that Mankind may reap some small benefit in and by my decease, having hitherto had small opportunities to contribute thereto while living.’26 Bentham drafted a new will in July 1792, in which he left everything at the disposal of his brother Samuel.27 However, in a codicil to this will, dated 29 March and 9 October 1824,28 we find the first mention of his auto-icon plan, though without making use of the nomenclature. Also, Bentham returned to the idea of leaving his body for dissection. As part of the effort to remove the social stigma associated with the dissection of bodies, he requested that his own be ‘anatomised in the most public manner’.29 He then set down proposals for the disposal of his remains:

As to the head and the rest of the skeleton, it is my desire that the head may by preparation after the New Zealand manner be preserved, and the entire skeleton with the head above it and connected with it, be placed in a sitting posture, and made up into the form of a living body, covered with the most decent suit of clothes, not being black or gray, which I may happen to leave at my decease.3

With tongue in cheek, Bentham expressed the hope that thereafter he might be placed at the head of the table at meetings of his friends and followers ‘after the manner in which, at a public meeting, a chairman is commonly seated’. If none of this was possible, he requested that his executor, John Bowring, dispose of his body ‘as in his judgement shall be most subservient to the beneficial purpose above mentioned & in no case to suffer it to be deposited in the ground with any customary or other ceremonies, but rather to cause it to be burnt or otherwise destroyed.’31 Bowring recorded in his Autobiographical Recollections (1877) that at this time the philosopher ‘was full of the notion of having his head preserved in the style of the New Zealanders, and had sent to Dr. Armstrong to consult him about it. Experiments are to be made, and Armstrong is to get a human head from Grainger the anatomist, which is to be slowly dried in a stove in Bentham’s house.’32 There is no subsequent information regarding whether these experiments took place. John Armstrong (1784–1829) and Edward Grainger (1797–1824) both lectured at the Web Street School of Anatomy and Medicine, owned by Grainger, and Armstrong was named in Bentham’s codicil as the physician who was to perform the dissection of his corpse.

In the final version of his will Bentham left his body to Southwood Smith, with the following instructions for both Southwood Smith and Bowring, who remained the executor of his will:

he [Southwood Smith] will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures to the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my will and at the top of which I have written “Auto Icon” The skeleton he will cause to be put together in such manner as that the whole figure may be seated in a Chair usually occupied by me when living in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of time employed in writing I direct that the body thus prepared shall be transferred to my executor [Bowring] He will cause the skeleton to be clad in one of the suits of black occasionally worn by me The Body so clothed together with the Chair and the Staff in my later years borne by me he will take charge of And for containing the whole apparatus he will cause to be prepared an appropriate box or case and will cause to be engraved in conspicuous characters on a plate to be affixed thereon and also on the labels on the glass cases in which the preparations of the soft parts of my body shall be contained…3

The choice of a black suit for the auto-icon points to a change in taste from 1824, when Bentham expressly forbade black as well as grey! The additional instructions annexed to the will under the heading ‘Auto-Icon’, dated 13 April 1830, were written by Southwood Smith at Bentham’s behest and witnessed by Bentham’s signature.

The manner in which Mr. Benthams body is to be disposed of after his death The Head is to be prepared according to the specimen which Mr Bentham has seen and approved of The Body is to be used as the means of illustrating a series of lectures to which scientific & literary men are to be invited These lectures are to expound the situation structure & functions of the different organs the arrangement & distribution of the vessels & whatever may illustrate the mechanism by which the actions of the animal economy are performed the object of these lectures being twofold first to communicate curious interesting & highly important knowledge & secondly to show that the primitive horror at dissection originates in ignorance & is kept up by misconception & that the human body when dissected instead of being an object of disgust is as much more beautiful than any other piece of mechanism as it is more curious and wonderful After such lectures have been given those organs which are capable of being preserved for example the heart the kidney &c &c to be prepared in whatever manner may be conceived to render their preservation the most perfect & durable And finally when all the soft parts have been disposed of the bones are to be formed into a skeleton which after the head prepared in the manner already stated has been attached to it is to be dressed in the clothes usually worn by Mr Bentham & in this manner to be perpetually preserved – April 13 18303

The content of Bentham’s wills, in particular the reference to New Zealand preservation techniques (see also AI 2), provide impressive circumstantial evidence of Bentham’s authorship of the Auto-Icon tract. Also, we should note that the 1824 codicil, the final will, and its appended instructions, demonstrate an unusual awareness of the utility to be derived from dramatic spectacle. Bentham has often been charged with a philistine attitude towards the cultural benefits of the arts, yet in the bequest concerning his body he showed an acute appreciation of the power of the theatrical to make a point and influence the public mind. The continuing spectacle of the auto-icon at University College would have pleased him greatly – a tangible reminder to passers-by of the fountainhead of philosophic radicalism and utilitarian theory. What is also evident from Bentham’s final will is the degree of confidence he placed in the physician Southwood Smith to execute his wishes.

Southwood Smith and the Anatomy Agitation

The place of Thomas Southwood Smith (1788–1861) in the auto-icon story is central; no less so was his role in the anatomy agitation that led to the change in the law governing the supply of bodies for dissection to the medical schools, the cause which prompted Bentham’s wish that his corpse be ‘anatomised in the most public manner’. Southwood Smith was a Unitarian minister who studied medicine in Edinburgh and in 1821 obtained the licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. He became one of the period’s leading advocates of the value of the study of anatomy, and was later recognised as an expert on contagious diseases and a leader in the sanitary reform movement. In 1830 Southwood Smith published A Treatise on Fever, said by The Medico-Chirurgical Review to be ‘the best work on Fever that ever flowed from the pen of physician in any age or country.’35 In 1835–7 appeared the two-volume The Philosophy of Health, which gained some success as a general introduction to physiology and went through many editions thereafter, and in 1856 Southwood Smith published Epidemics Considered with Relation to their Common Nature and to Climate and Civilization. Fittingly, he was also one of the founders of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1827, under the aegis of which he published many useful reports on health issues. His growing fame as a social reformer led to his appointment to the Royal Commission on Factories in 1833 and to the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children in 1844.

As a well-known Unitarian in London, Southwood Smith was probably acquainted with John Bowring. Indeed, their shared interest in social and political reform may have prompted his fellow Unitarian to commission from Southwood Smith the favourable review of Bentham’s Chrestomathia (1815–17) published in the first issue of the Benthamite Westminster Review,36 then edited by Bowring. Later, in 1843, Southwood Smith edited this utilitarian treatise on education for Bowring’s edition of Bentham’s Works,37 as well as a series of important short essays by Bentham on ontology, logic, language and grammar. However, it is not apparent with what qualifications he undertook the latter task, and it cannot be said that he performed his editorial work well.38 For the June 1824 number of the Wesminster Review Southwood Smith wrote the influential essay ‘On the Use of the Dead to the Living’, his major contribution to the anatomy agitation in Britain (included in the present volume).39 Its publication was timely; in the summer of that year parliament was under pressure to consider new legislation on the supply of bodies for medical research. Subsequently, the essay was reprinted as a pamphlet several times in the campaign to set on a secure footing the supply of corpses for anatomical dissection. Surprisingly, Bentham appears not to have had any contact with Southwood Smith prior to the publication of this essay. Before that time, there exists no correspondence between the two and no mention is made of Southwood Smith in any other correspondence between Bentham and his friends and associates. Was it coincidence that only a few months earlier, in March 1824, Bentham drafted the codicil to his will, with its instructions concerning the public dissection of his body? It is possible but, as noted above, in the codicil Bentham directed that his body was to be left for dissection with the anatomist John Armstrong, and Armstrong would have known Southwood Smith from the Web Street school. Armstrong, an acquaintance of Bentham’s since August 1823, shared Southwood Smith’s views on the need for new anatomy legislation and may well have discussed with Bentham the codicil amendments concerning the disposal of his body. It is also conceivable that prior to the publication of Southwood Smith’s article in the Westminster Review Bowring discussed its contents with Bentham, the journal’s financial backer and with whom he was in almost daily contact. What is certain is that Bentham was wholly receptive to Southwood Smith’s recommendations for increasing the supply of corpses for medical research, and he conceived his wishes for the disposal of his own dead body in terms of its contribution to the same cause. Moreover, Southwood Smith’s intervention in the debate spurred him to apply himself more directly to address the legal situation governing the provision of dead bodies for dissection and, some years later, provided him with the sub-title to the Auto-Icon tract: ‘Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living’. Soon after the publication of the Westminster Review article Southwood Smith was introduced to Bentham and, on the basis of their many shared interests, the physician became one of the philosopher’s chief collaborators in the movement for social reform.40 Bentham clearly had a high regard for his medical friend, whom he described in a letter to Edward Livingston, the American legal reformer, as ‘by profession a physician; but a man of genius, philanthropical affections, and eminently-extensive knowledge.’41

The objective of ‘On the Use of the Dead to the Living’ is stated in its ‘Advertisement’: to explain ‘by a reference to facts, which the unprofessional reader can understand, why it is that dissection is indispensable; to point out the true nature and extent of the obstacles which at present oppose this pursuit, and to state the measures which appear likely to afford easy and effectual relief.’ (UDL iii) To achieve these ends, Southwood Smith held that two changes needed to take place. First, the legislature should repeal the law (in force since 1542) which permitted courts to impose dissection as an additional punishment for condemned criminals, a sentence that members of the Colleges of Surgeons of England, Scotland, and Ireland, were compelled by law to fulfill. For long an object of dread and horror for both the convicted criminal and the crowds that witnessed the bloody horror, the 1752 Murder Act made the dissection of executed murderers compulsory under statute law. Such was the popular prejudice against the addition of this ‘punishment’ to the death sentence, that surgeons often ran grave risks, and riots directed at anatomists sometimes followed.42 The judicial sentence of dissection ensured that the stigma associated with the execution of a felon was attached by association to the practice of anatomy. Second, in order to make good the supply of corpses to medical schools, it should be required that ‘the bodies of persons who die in hospitals and in work-houses, unclaimed by immediate relatives be appropriated to the purpose of dissection.’ (UDL iii–iv) A thorough knowledge of anatomy is fundamental to ‘rational medicine’ and ‘safe surgery’, Southwood Smith argued, and this can be served no other way than by ensuring an adequate supply of corpses to the medical schools (UDL 3). He sought to demonstrate the truth of this proposition by reference to the history of the anatomical contributions to the discovery of the causes of diseases and ill health. To this end, Southwood Smith detailed the recent advances made by medical research into the causes of aneurism, discussed the particular dangers associated with diagnosing hemorrhages and hernias that could be overcome as a result of further anatomical research, and brought to light the mistaken medical doctrines of ancient and medieval physicians to whom the value of anatomy was unknown.43 This historical survey was concluded with a reiteration of the value of anatomy: while it will not teach the physician to always think correctly about the causes of ill-health, it would provide some of the basic elements of medical thinking and ‘furnish him with the means of correcting his errors’. Moreover, anatomy can save the physician from some of the delusions that currently attend medical practice. Finally, ‘it will afford the public the best shield against his ignorance, which may be fatal, and against his presumption, which may be devastating.’ (UDL 29)

Much of what Southwood Smith had to say in justification of anatomical dissection became a commonplace in Britain by the latter half of the nineteenth century, but in the first quarter of that century the debate had still to be won. Nor was this a matter simply of demonstrating the medical benefits of anatomy. There were other less tangible obstacles to be overcome, in particular the lingering and confused superstition among the ignorant that dissection posed a threat to the resurrection of the body, and thus to the immortality of the soul – though no one troubled to explain why an incomplete body was a bar to the miracle of rising from the grave.44 Nevertheless, this was not a belief that could easily be brushed aside on the basis of empirical evidence, as Southwood Smith well understood. Less elusive, but no less formidable an obstacle, was the fear that the poor and destitute would be ‘used’ to the advantage of the wealthy, who would benefit disproportionately from the accruing medical advances at the cost of the lower ranks.45 Southwood Smith was also aware of the need to combat the association in the public mind between the anatomists need for bodies for dissection and the crime of body-snatching.

At this time in Britain there was no statute law addressed to the issues raised by the body-snatchers, or ‘resurrectionists’ as they were sometimes called, and the common law was notoriously ineffectual in dealing with the issue of the unauthorised exhumation of dead bodies.46 Body-snatching was at least as old as Andreas Vesalius (1514–64), the famous Belgian anatomist, who employed his own students to exhume the bodies needed for medical instruction. In Britain, the earliest recorded instances of body-snatching were in Edinburgh in 1678;47 the trade in dead bodies continued throughout the eighteenth century and became commonplace in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Prices, of course, were dependent on supply. The dilemma was that even if the law did act to deter some from body-snatching, this would simply drive up the asking price from medical researchers for scarce corpses, making the business all the more enticing. ‘This offence’, says Southwood Smith, ‘is connived at, nay it is rewarded; these men are absolutely paid to violate the law; and paid by men of reputation and influence in society.’ (UDL 45) Regrettably, the teachers of anatomy have no other viable source of supply, and that was the root of the problem. While the number of medical students continued to increase, and their expenses to increase apace, anatomical progress cannot be much advanced by its reliance on body-snatchers: ‘the supply after all is scanty; it is of necessity precarious, and it sometimes fails altogether for several months. But it is of the utmost importance that it should be abundant, regular, and cheap.’ (UDL 46)

The quantity of bodies required by the medical schools and other researchers meant that relying on voluntary donations of bodies was not a feasible alternative. Few among the middle and higher ranks in Bentham’s day were prepared to donate their bodies to medical research – in part the reason why Bentham left instructions for a public show of his dissected remains and for a lecture to stress the value of his example to others. Other sources of supply needed to be found. Southwood Smith’s plan argued for three sources of supply to be established through legislation:

1. That the bodies of those persons who die in all infirmaries and hospitals throughout the kingdom, unclaimed by immediate relatives, be appropriated for the purposes of anatomy

2. That the bodies of those persons who die in all work-houses and poor-houses be appropriated to the same purpose.

3. That the bodies of those persons who die in all houses of correction, in all prisons, and in the hulks, be thus appropriated. (UDL 49

Southwood Smith did not believe that any substantial objections (other than prejudice) could be raised against the second and third proposals. Such individuals are ‘pensioners upon the public bounty’ who have been supported by the public during life and are in debt to the public; the debt can be repaid by the beneficial disposal of their bodies.48 However, the first proposal faced a serious hurdle. Anticipating the fear that all bodies of patients who died in hospitals would be handed over to the medical schools for dissection, Southwood Smith was at pains to stress that the intention concerned only ‘unclaimed’ bodies. No objection, he argued, could be raised against appropriating the body of a person who dies alone ‘unvisited by friends during life, unclaimed by them after death.’ (UDL 49) Under these circumstances, no injury is done to any private individual and no rights are violated. Nevertheless, it could be that the suspicion aroused by the practice might deter people from allowing themselves to be admitted to hospitals, for fear of the anatomist’s scapel should they pass away. To this Southwood Smith responded with two unverifiable empirical claims based on anecdotal evidence. First, in Edinburgh, where this method of supply was instituted 100 years ago, ‘the hospital was as full as it is at present’;49 and, second, ‘it is universally acted upon in France, and the hospitals are always crowded.’ (UDL 50)

Perhaps the most damaging objection to Southwood Smith’s proposals turned on their perceived ‘class’ nature. It was easy to see how it could be argued that the plan he proposed placed an inordinate weight on one class of persons to the most obvious benefit of those better able to provide for themselves in death as in life. In reply Southwood Smith first resorted to special pleading, claiming that ‘the measure here proposed is pregnant with good to the poor, and would tend more than can be estimated to lessen the misery of their condition.’ It would provide ‘the lowest practitioners of the medical art’, those ‘into whose hands the great bulk of the poor fall’, with the knowledge to treat the diseases that afflicted them. To this he added, churlishly it must be said, the dark warning that failure to adopt the needed measures would force surgeons to attain the necessary knowledge ‘by practising on the bodies of the living’ (UDL 52). In these terms it was a simple and inevitable equation; if dead bodies are not available, then the live bodies of the poor will become the theatres of experimentation. Southwood Smith asked:

What would be the immediate and constant effect of an abolition of the practice of dissecting the dead? It would be to convert poor-houses and public hospitals into so many schools where the surgeons, by practising on the living bodies of the poor, would learn to operate on those of the rich with safety and dexterity. Thus the poor would be tortured, and many of them would be put to death in order that the rich might be saved from pain and danger. (UDL 53

If this was intended to comfort the poor in the contemplation of what they could expect if the proposed measures were not adopted, it was so far wide of the mark as to be positively counter-productive. Nor could it be said that the linkage between the practice of anatomy and finding cures for diseases like cholera was terribly persuasive. The cholera epidemic of 1831–2 resulted in 32,000 deaths, and when the disease struck again in 1848–9, after the anatomy question had been settled, it reaped a further 62,000 souls, mainly from the ranks of the poorest members of British society.50 But it was not the poor that Southwood Smith intended to sway by his remarks – not directly, at least – but rather that portion of the middle classes and their political representatives who needed to be convinced both of the urgency of the matter and of the consequences if appropriate legislation was not enacted.

Southwood Smith’s article had a major impact on Bentham. Following its publication he gave serious attention to the issue of the supply of corpses for anatomical research as a matter for legislation, and produced a draft law that, it has been claimed, provided the basis of the Anatomy Bill 1829.51 Peel was then Home Secretary and in April 1826 Bentham made a concerted effort to persuade him to throw his weight behind the effort to enact the required legislation.52 Following Southwood Smith, the principal thrust of his recommendations was that patients admitted to hospitals should be deemed to have given their consent to dissection in the event of their death and, providing no application for burial was made by a family member or friend, this was the course of action to be followed.53 Anticipating significant opposition to Bentham’s proposal, Peel counselled caution, voiced his opinion that the difficulty of supplying corpses to the medical schools ‘has been of late very materially diminished’, wondered whether the matter was an appropriate issue for legislation at all, and feared ‘the consequences to Science of too open an interference in a matter, in regard of which public feeling is naturally so easily excited.’54 Bentham considered responding to Peel, but left two draft letters unsent. In one of the unsent letters he expressed the prescient fear that murder might occur unless something were done to legally increase the supply of bodies for medical research, and went on to propose as the title for a new law: ‘A Bill for the more effectual prevention of the violation of Burial Places’.55 Bentham did not take up the matter again until 6 November, when he drafted the ‘Body providing Bill’.56 As well as setting down guidelines for the supply of bodies from the hospitals, he adopted Southwood Smith’s suggestion of including in the draft bill a clause repealing the act whereby executed murderers were judicially dissected.

Not much came of Bentham’s efforts until March 1828, when two doctors were convicted of body-snatching. This created a threatening precedent, with anatomists now exposed to prosecution for any sort of involvement in the trade in exhumed bodies.57 Parliament was called upon to act quickly and, with the urging of Henry Warburton (1784–1858), the reformist MP for Bridport, the House of Commons established a Select Committee, chaired by Warburton, ‘to inquire into the manner of obtaining Subjects for Dissection in the Schools of Anatomy, and into the state of the Law affecting the Persons employed in obtaining or dissecting bodies.’58 On this occasion Peel bowed to the prevailing sentiment of the Commons, acquiesced in Warburton’s motion, and agreed to personally serve on the Committee, which began its sittings on 28 April 1828. Ruth Richardson, in her admirable study Death, Dissection and the Destitute, has demonstrated the degree to which the Select Committee was stacked with Benthamites or were influenced by Bentham’s views, either directly or indirectly through the directions of Warburton, an ‘avowed Benthamite’, who made sure that only sympathetic witnesses were called to give evidence to the Select Committee.59 In Richardson’s account, ‘The Committee represents a prime example of the manipulated public enquiry which was a favourite instrument for achieving official status for Benthamite views.’60 Moreover, she argues, the bill eventually adopted was modelled on Bentham’s draft of November 1826, which he had passed on to John Smith MP, Lord Carrington’s brother, and one of the Benthamite members of the Select Committee.61 The bill eventually crafted by Warburton and introduced to parliament, styled ‘A Bill for Preventing the Unlawful Disinterment of Human Bodies, and for Regulating the Schools of Anatomy’, varied from Bentham’s draft bill in two crucial respects. Disappointingly, his proposal to include a clause repealing the judicial dissection of murderers was omitted, thereby maintaining the association between the ‘punishment’ of dissection and the supply of bodies for medical research. An addition in the Committee’s bill was the provision for a Commission of inspectors to oversee the operations of the legislation once enacted, including the issuing of guidelines and licences to the anatomy schools and other forms of administrative detail.62

In support of the Anatomy Bill 1829, Southwood Smith penned a second article on the subject for the Westminster Review.63 Drawing on the deliberations and findings of the Report and Evidence of the House of Commons Select Committee on Anatomy 1828, he opened the article by quoting a number of medical practitioners and anatomical authorities who had given evidence to the Select Committee, all of whom, of course, supported new legislation to ensure the adequate supply of bodies for dissection.64 As in the earlier article, Southwood Smith recounted the public outrage over the activities of the resurrectionists, but now – with the recent discovery of the murderous activities of Burke and Hare in the winter of 1828 – he warned that the existing state of the law (as Bentham had predicted) was a positive enticement to murder to acquire bodies for sale to the medical schools.65 The absurdity of the situation, he believed, was not difficult to perceive:

No one can practice surgery legally without having dissected; …no one can hold any professional official situation without having dissected; if in consequence of his ignorance of anatomy any surgeon commit any error, or inflict any permanent injury on a patient, he is punishable by law; yet any teacher of anatomy is liable to fine and imprisonment for having a dead body in his possession, which he knows to have been disinterred; in like manner, any student of anatomy is liable to fine and imprisonment, for having in his possession a dead body which he knows to have been disinterred.66

Clearly, the law had to be altered. In line with the recommendations of the Select Committee, Southwood Smith suggested that the only sustainable means of supply is ‘that all persons throughout the kingdom, of every rank and degree, who die without kindred or friends, or who are unclaimed by kindred or friends, within a certain period, be appropriated to dissection, the body after dissection being buried with funeral rites.’67 He then offered responses to anticipated objections, more or less as he had previously stated them in the earlier Westminster Review article.68 To achieve its objectives the required legislation must specify the following:

1. That the practice of dissection, and the possession of dead bodies for the purpose of dissection, be lawful.

2. That it be lawful for any person to devote his own body to dissection, either by gift, legacy, or sale.

3. That it be lawful for the next of kin, or for executors to devote any body to dissection, unless the individual shall by his last will and testament, expressly forbid such an appropriation of his body.

4. That it be lawful for the medical officers of any hospital or charitable institution, and for the overseers of any poor-house, to devote the body of any person who may die in such establishments, to dissection unless such body be claimed by the next of kin within twenty-four hours after death, or unless the individual have expressly forbidden the dissection of his body by his last will and testament.

5. That every body sent for dissection to a school of anatomy, be buried with funeral rites, on or before the 21st day after it has been received.6

With the exception of the omission of any mention of the bodies of condemned criminals and those who die in prisons, the proposals are a modified version of the plan set forth previously in 1824. The inclusion of the opt-out clause by last will and testament and the nod to religious sensibilities entailed by burial with funeral rites, were designed to allay the fears of the poor that they were being singled out for discriminatory treatment under the new legislation. In effect, of course, precisely the same objective would be achieved – ‘an abundant supply of subjects for dissection’ – and the main source of supply would be found among hospital patients and the destitute in the poor-houses.

The Anatomy Bill, dubbed ‘The Midnight Bill’ because of the secretive manner in which it made its way through parliament,70 failed in the Lords on 5 June 1829 following ‘a concerted defence of the poor’ from paternalist elements in the ranks of the aristocracy led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Duke of Wellington withdrew the bill, recognising the time was not yet right, and promising that the government would sponsor another bill for the consideration of parliament in the next session.71 Wellington failed to fulfill his promise, much to the chagrin of the reformers, and they were forced to wait until the winter of 1831 for their next opportunity.

Then, three years after the discovery of the original Burke and Hare murders in Edinburgh, ‘Burking’ was again confirmed, this time in London. A month after the London ‘Burkers’ were apprehended, amid considerable public outrage at their crimes, they were executed on 5 December. Only ten days later Warburton sought to take advantage of the public frenzy to introduce the second Anatomy Bill. The moment was also opportune for another reason: only three days earlier Lord John Russell had introduced the highly contentious third Reform Bill and this conveniently distracted attention from Warburton’s measure. In the atmosphere of ‘burkophobia’ created by the discovery and execution of the London murderers Warburton’s ‘Bill for Regulating Schools of Anatomy’ moved smoothly through the early parliamentary stages. While the intentions of the bill remained the same as in 1829, the change in title was part of the plan to obfuscate the precise social status of the proposed subjects of dissection. In accordance with the plan, all specific mention of workhouses and hospitals was also omitted from the measure.72 Both Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt and William Cobbett, those inveterate champions of the downtrodden, saw through the tactic. Hunt struggled to defeat the bill in the Commons, but found himself constantly thwarted by the parliamentary tactics of Warburton and his supporters. In the pages of the Political Register Cobbett vilified the arguments used to support the measure, denouncing the barbarity of condemning the helpless and destitute to be subject to dissection like the very worst kind of criminals. This sort of criticism forced Warburton to add to the bill the clause earlier advocated by Southwood Smith and Bentham – repeal of the enactment under which murderers were dissected.73 But such was the association in the public mind between the dissection of murderers and the ignominy of its application to the unclaimed poor-house destitute, Warburton’s belated amendment did little to quell the deep-seated anxieties that surrounded this part of the bill. Even Edward Gibbon Wakefield, normally counted among the ranks of Benthamite reformers, feared that dire political and social unrest would be caused by the bill, arguing that the application of the ‘ne plus ultra of punishment’ for murder to the destitute would redefine it as the ‘ne plus ultra of misfortune’.74 When the second Anatomy Bill became law Cobbett condemned it, declaring that it ‘exposes to the odious sale none but the bodies of the poor; and this the labouring poor very clearly perceive. They well know that the bodies of the rich will never be sold…that the rich do not go to poor houses and hospitals… that the rich are not unclaimed when they die.’75 In the event, little of the predicted unrest transpired, and the Anatomy Act 1832 came to be regarded as a progressive and necessary step in the advance of anatomical research in Britain. In its final form the Act permitted those having lawful custody of dead bodies to donate them for dissection, thus enabling hospitals and poorhouses to cut expenditure on pauper funerals by donating the bodies of those without family, or whose family were too poor to provide for their burial. By creating a cheap, legal, and institutionalised source of cadavers for dissection, the Act soon led to the collapse of the trade in exhumed bodies, though sporadic reports of body-snatchers were to continue until the mid-century.

Dissection and Auto-iconisation

The Great Reform Act received its royal assent the day after Bentham died (6 June 1832), at which point the second Anatomy Bill was between its first and second readings in the Lords, passing into law two months later.76 A few days before his death Bentham revised his will one last time. The physician John Armstrong, to whom Bentham had bequeathed his body by the terms of the 1824 codicil, had passed away in 1829. Now, Southwood Smith was to receive the corpse for public dissection accompanied by an appropriate lecture. Recognising the opportunity Bentham’s death presented to the anatomy agitation, Southwood Smith quickly arranged for invitations to be printed and sent out to a select band of friends, intellectuals, and admirers, with the intention of drawing a broad public response to the spectacle of the famous philosopher’s dissected corpse being used to illustrate a lecture on the purpose of anatomy and its benefits for medical research. One of the invitations is preserved among a collection of letters from Bentham to the barrister John Tyrell in the British Library. By the terms of Bentham’s last will, Tyrell was one of the twenty-five recipients of a mourning ring (‘with my Effigie and some of my hair’).77 The invitation reads:


It was the earnest desire of the late Jeremy Bentham that his Body should be appropriated to an illustration of the Structure and Functions of the Human Frame. In compliance with this wish, Dr. Southwood Smith will deliver a Lecture, over the Body, on the Usefulness of the Knowledge of this kind to the Community. The Lecture will be delivered at the Webb-Street School of Anatomy and Medicine, Web-Street, Borough, Tomorrow, at Three o’Clock; at which the honour of your presence, and that of any two friends who may wish to accompany you, is requested.

Friday, 8th June, 1832.7

The Examiner, then edited by Albany Fonblanque (another of the friends and followers who received a mourning ring from Bentham), reported that among those present at Southwood Smith’s lecture on 9 June at the Web Street school ‘were many of his personal friends, several distinguished philanthropists, two or three members of the legislature, and a number of the junior members of the bar. Besides the pupils of that School of Anatomy, several eminent members of the medical profession were present, and the theatre was filled.’79 Henry Brougham, James Mill, and George Grote were among those in attendance.

Though Bentham’s original idea was conceived over sixty years before, the timing of his death and the subsequent spectacle was impeccable. With the second Anatomy Bill winding its way through parliament, Southwood Smith was concerned to blunt the thrust of the opposition argument by stressing the ‘class neutral’ intent behind the bill, which was not to penalise the poor, though it was admitted that they would bear the brunt of the legislation. By legitimising the donation of bodies for dissection, it was anticipated that the source of voluntary donations would be the middling and higher ranks. Bentham’s planned spectacle – a lecture before a distinguished audience, illustrated by his dissected remains – was intended to set a high profile and a highly publicised example to England’s middling and higher ranks of the social utility to be derived from the voluntary donation of their bodies for medical research. The plan was well known in Benthamite circles during the years of the anatomy agitation, but not all among his followers shared Bentham’s optimism. Wakefield doubted whether his example would have the impact he and Southwood Smith expected:

In vain does the wise, benevolent, and illustrious Bentham talk with the utmost cheerfulness of having left his body for dissection; in vain do a few generous men direct that their remains shall be made of service to the public; in vain do we preach to the poor of the unreasonableness of caring for mere flesh, which the worms will dissect at all events; in vain it is to strive against this prejudice amongst the poor, so long as the prejudice shall be cherished by the rich. Wealth always was, and always will be, respected. Let the wealthy set an example of rational conduct to the poor, and in the course of a very short time the murderous value of dead bodies will be at an end. But the wealthy, who run little risk of being ‘burked’, are without the motive for setting such an example.8

Warburton proposed financial inducements to encourage the rich to donate their bodies, but the idea fell on deaf ears, and the Anatomy Act’s supporters clung to the belief that the prejudice against dissection would in time be eroded by just such actions as Bentham proposed. In his lecture over the dead philosopher at the Web Street school Southwood Smith alluded to Bentham’s intention to set an example to others, to encourage them to rise above their prejudice against dissection. Addressing the assembled audience, he asked:

How is it to be expected that the uninstructed and ignorant… will sacrifice their own feelings for the public good, when the best-instructed and the best-regulated minds shrink from the obligation? … It is our duty, not by legislative enactments to force others to submit to that which are unwilling should be done to ourselves, but to set the example of making a voluntary sacrifice for the sake of a good which we profess to understand and appreciate.8

Bentham and Southwood Smith understood that the seemingly coercive nature of the Anatomy Act would not reduce popular hostility to the dissection of bodies, and encouraging voluntary donations was not viewed as a substitute source of supply. It was expected that the supply of bodies from hospitals and poor-houses ‘would afford an abundant supply of subjects’ for the medical schools.82 Rather the tactic was to overcome the negative sentiments associated with the practice of anatomy, and Southwood Smith took full advantage of the opportunity afforded by Bentham’s gesture to stress the significance of this approach to the audience assembled in the Web Street school.

Southwood Smith’s lecture over Bentham’s remains was printed as a pamphlet, with a frontispiece showing Bentham’s corpse laid out on a table, with the body partly covered by a sheet. The plate was lithographed by Weld Taylor (fl. 1832–52) from a drawing by Henry Hall Pickersgill (1812–61), the son of the portrait artist Henry William Pickersgill (1782–1875) who had painted Bentham only a few years before.83 In this oration (as it should more properly be described) Southwood Smith offered a eulogy of the life and thought of the dead philosopher laid out before him.84 It is included in the present volume because it stands out as the first attempt by a contemporary of Bentham’s to summarize his career, and to draw public attention to the breadth and significance of his thought and its implications for legal, social, and political practice. As a substitute for a funeral oration it contains all the praise one would expect, but for its sympathetic appraisal of the importance of Bentham’s philosophy and efforts to reform the central institutions of British political life it was unique and unsurpassed, until the more critically inclined assessment of J.S. Mill’s well-known essay on ‘Bentham’ (1838). Southwood Smith described Bentham’s intellectual engagement with the principle of utility, his critique of English law and efforts to see it supplanted by a complete code of legislation based on the utility principle, and provided explanatory notes to flesh out some of the ideas which shaped Bentham’s philosophy. To this, he added a brief account of Bentham’s decision to leave his body for anatomical dissection, and a justification of the entirely utilitarian practice of donating bodies for medical research. Subsequently, Bowring included an extensive extract from Southwood Smith’s lecture in his ‘Memoirs’ of Bentham. However, it is symptomatic of Bowring’s equivocation about the auto-icon that he pointedly omitted the final pages containing all references to the disposal of Bentham’s remains after his death.85

Southwood Smith delivered his oration against the backdrop of a thunderstorm, adding to an already charged drama. William Munk (1816–1898), an eminent physician and medical historian, who was in the audience that day in the Web Street school, wrote that Southwood Smith’s oration was delivered ‘with thunder pealing overhead and lightning flashing through the gloom’; his words were spoken ‘with a clear unfaltering voice, but with a face as white as that of the dead philosopher before him’.86 Another who attended the event underscored the dramatic nature of the spectacle in an elegant report:

None who were present can ever forget that impressive scene. The room is small and circular, with no windows, but a central skylight, and was filled, with the exception of a class of medical students and some eminent members of that profession, by friends, disciples, and admirers of the deceased philosopher, comprising many men celebrated for literary talent, scientific research, and political activity. The corpse was on the table in the centre of the room, directly under the light, clothed in a night-dress, with only the head and hands exposed. There was no rigidity in the features, but an expression of placid dignity and benevolence. This was at times rendered almost vital by the reflection of the lightning playing over them; for a storm arose just as the lecturer commenced, and the profound silence in which he was listened to was broken, and only broken, by loud peals of thunder, which continued to roll at intervals throughout the delivery of his most appropriate and often affecting address. With the feelings which touch the heart in the contemplation of departed greatness, and in the presence of death, there mingled a sense of the power which that lifeless body seemed to be exercising in the conquest of prejudice for the public good, thus cooperating with the triumphs of the spirit by which it had been animated. It was a worthy close of the personal career of the great philosopher and philanthropist. Never did corpse of hero on the battle-field, with his martial cloak around him, or funeral obsequies chanted by stoled and mitred priests in Gothic aisles, excite such emotions as the stern simplicity of that hour in which the principle of utility triumphed over the imagination and the heart.8

It is commonly assumed that Southwood Smith performed the dissection of Bentham’s corpse. This is based on the Dictionary of National Biography life of Southwood Smith, which states that he performed the dissection of Bentham’s corpse on the 9th June, the day he gave his lecture. This erroneous statement of fact has often been repeated since.88 However, neither the Examiner report of 10th June nor the Times reports of the 11th and 12th June relate that a dissection was performed on 9th June when Southwood Smith gave his lecture. To the contrary, on the 11th the Times reported: ‘On this occasion [9th June] no demonstration of any of the parts was given. Dissection was not actually begun – even the brain had not been removed; and Mr. Bentham was as in life, except that the living spirit had departed.’ The Times concluded by announcing that ‘Tomorrow, Dr. Southwood Smith will begin his demonstrations upon the body, making it precisely as his friend wished – useful for instruction.’89 It is unclear whether the Times reporter intended by ‘tomorrow’ to signify the 10th June (the day after Southwood Smith’s lecture) or 11th June (the day after the column was published). However, it seems likely that Bentham’s corpse was dissected on 10th June behind closed doors, possibly before an audience of medical students. If so, Bentham’s wish, expressed in the 1824 codicil to his will, to be ‘anatomised in the most public manner,’90 was not fulfilled. The next day, that is 11th June, a public lecture illustrated by Bentham’s dissected remains was given, but not by Southwood Smith. Rather, the Times for the 12th reported in some detail the substance of a lecture given on this occasion by Southwood Smith’s associate, the anatomist Richard Dugard Grainger (1801–65), younger son of Edward Grainger.

Richard Grainger had assumed ownership of the Web Street school after his father’s death in 1824, and was its Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology until the school closed in 1842. Southwood Smith made use of the school’s facilities for his own investigations in anatomy, knew Grainger well, and assisted him in the publication of his Elements of General Anatomy (1829),91 one of the leading anatomy texts of the day. The Times states that Grainger was requested to give the lecture by Southwood Smith, but this seems an odd request if Southwood Smith had performed the dissection, either on the 10th, the day after he gave his own oration, or on the 11th before Grainger delivered his address. Who better to give a lecture on Bentham’s body parts than the person who had actually performed the dissection? But no mention is made of Southwood Smith’s role in the dissection by the Times in its report dated 12th June, and it could easily be concluded that the operation was performed by Grainger, one of the foremost physiologists of the day. In his lecture Grainger surveyed and applauded Bentham’s reasons for donating his body for medical research, and noted that Bentham’s dissection inaugurated ‘an important era in the progress of anatomy, as it is one of the first that in this country has been employed for the purposes of science, under the direct sanction of the individual expressed during his lifetime’. In concluding his address Grainger stressed the indispensability of dissection to medical progress and illustrated his points by the several parts of Bentham’s dissected corpse laid out before him.92

Did Grainger perform the dissection? He may well have done, though some sort of collaboration between Southwood Smith and Grainger seems more likely. Then, as now, the principals in such dissections and autopsies were generally assisted, often by medical students, which enabled the procedure to be conducted expeditiously. Given Bentham’s fame and stature, it is reasonable to suppose that the hands turned to the task in this instance belonged to two of the metropolis’ most highly reputed medical researchers, Southwood Smith and Grainger. Unfortunately, neither has left us anything in writing from which we can draw a firm conclusion.

Whatever the truth about the respective roles of Southwood Smith and Grainger in the dissection conducted at the Web Street school, Southwood Smith took entire responsibility for Bentham’s remains thereafter and executed his friend’s auto-icon plan as best he could. The process of auto-iconisation may appear to be unrelated to the task of dissection, but this is not so. For Bentham it was part and parcel of the same philosophical commitment to the utilitarian cause. The objective was to eke out – to the very last drop of blood, one might say – the optimum utility from a body that ceased to be able to contribute of its own will to the maximization of utility. In death, as in life, Bentham sought to be of service to the public interest; he ensured that utility would be served when his body could breath no longer, and this encompassed the service he believed could be derived by posterity from auto-iconisation.

In a letter to Munk of 14 June 1857 Southwood Smith detailed his role in Bentham’s auto-iconisation, and what procedures were undertaken to preserve the head. He wrote:

I endeavoured to preserve the head untouched, merely drawing away the fluids by placing it under an air pump over sulphuric acid. By this means the head was rendered as hard as the skulls of the New Zealanders; but all expression was of course gone. Seeing this would not do for exhibition, I had a model made in wax by a distinguished French artist taken from David’s bust, Pickersgill’s picture, and my own ring. The artist succeeded in producing one of the most admirable likenesses ever seen. I then had the skeleton stuffed out to fit Bentham’s own clothes, and this wax likeness fitted to the trunk. This figure was placed seated in the chair on which he usually sat; and one hand holding the walking stick which was his constant companion when he was out, called by him Dapple. The whole was enclosed in a mahogany case with folding glass doors. When I removed from Finsbury-square I had no room large enough to hold the case. I therefore gave it to University College, where it now is. Any one may see it who enquires there for it, but no publicity is given to the fact that Bentham reposes there in some back room. The authorities seem to be afraid or ashamed to own their possession.9

The ‘distinguished French artist’ was Jacques Talrich (d. 1851), a French doctor and successful anatomical modeller. Talrich modelled the auto-icon’s wax head based on the bust of Bentham executed by Pierrre Jean David (David d’Angers, 1788–1856) in 1828, the famous portrait of the eighty-one year old Bentham by Henry Pickersgill, and the silhouette of Bentham painted in 1822 by John Field (1771–1841) and subsequently used in the mourning rings left to Southwood Smith and others by the terms of Bentham’s last will.94 Preparing the auto-icon for exhibition in its glass case seems to have taken several months. In a letter to Mrs Bowring (in the absence of her husband), dated 3 March 1833, Southwood Smith enquired ‘if there be enough of Mr. Bentham’s hair to be put on the wax model of his head’, and asked that it be sent directly to Talrich ‘as the head is now ready, and the hair is wanted.’95 At some point later that year the auto-icon was complete, with Bentham’s mummified head placed inside the wire rib-cage for safe keeping.

Initially, the auto-icon was installed in Southwood Smith’s home at 36 New Broad Street. There it would have been seen by his many visitors, possibly including Southwood Smith’s close friend Charles Dickens, with whom he became acquainted through their shared concern with improving social conditions in East London.96 Soon afterwards it was removed to the physician’s consulting rooms at 38 Finsbury Square, where it may have disturbed a good many patients into considering their own mortality. For a short time the auto-icon was loaned to the artist Margaret Gillies (1803–1887), a mutual acquaintance of Southwood Smith and Dickens, who resided in Percy Street. Finally it was relocated to University College in 1850,97 where it gave birth to the myth of Bentham’s founding role in the establishment of the university (then known as the University of London, established in 1826). As J.H. Burns, the noted historian and Bentham scholar, somewhere pointed out, to be caught with the body is usually taken as evidence of complicity in the crime. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief Bentham was not directly involved in the project to establish a secular university in the metropolis to rival the old confessional universities of Oxford and Cambridge.98 Nor has his posthumous career at University College been an entirely glorious one.

C.F.A. Marmoy, whose work I have used extensively in this introduction, has told much of the story of the auto-icon’s tenure at University College up to the middle of the twentieth century. Marmoy relates that the College Council Minutes for 23 March 1850 recorded Southwood Smith’s offer of the auto-icon through a letter, dated 20 March, from Lord Henry Brougham (1795–1886) to the Council Secretary, Charles C. Atkinson. Brougham commented at the time that ‘the likeness is so perfect that it seems as if alive’.99 Unfortunately, during the auto-icon’s first few decades in the possession of the university it appears to have been kept from public view. As noted above, Southwood Smith informed Munk in 1857 that ‘the authorities seem to be afraid or ashamed to own their possession.’ Evidently, the university did not know what it should do with its unusual gift. In 1891 Frederick Montague complained that ‘it has long been screened from the eyes of the public’.100 A few years after this it was moved to the university’s Anatomical Museum, where in 1897 it was examined by Professor George Thane and the Curator of the Museum, T.W.P. Lawrence. Their report of 3 January 1898 is particularly instructive regarding the condition of Bentham’s head:101

We opened the case containing the figure of Jeremy Bentham, and took out the latter. It was rather dusty, but not very much so. The clothes were much moth eaten, especially the undervest, and if taken off it would probably have been impossible to get the last on again. We undid the clothes, and found that they were stuffed with hay and tow, around the skeleton, which had been macerated and skilfully articulated. Both hands are present inside the gloves – the feet were not examined

In place of the head is a wax bust, which is supported on an iron spike. The head was found wrapped in cloth saturated with some bituminous or tarry substance (a sort of tarpaulin) and then in paper, making a parcel in the cavity of the trunk’s skeleton, being fashioned by strong wire running from the ribs to the vertebral column. On unpacking this the head itself was found to be mummified, dried, and prepared, by clearing any suboccipital soft parts, so that it looks not unlike a New Zealand head. In the sockets are glass eyes. The atlas, which had been macerated, is fastened in its natural place below the occipital bone. At the top of the head is a small hole in the skull, where the tip of the spike had doubtless come through, and round the hole is an impression formed by a circular washer and nut which had fitted the screw on the end of the spike, and by which the head was formerly fixed on the trunk.

The face is clean shaved – hair scanty, grey and long.10

Bentham’s head was removed from the auto-icon’s rib cage and transferred to a separate box;103 then for a time it was on display at the feet of the auto-icon in its display cabinet. It seems that the head frequently went missing, on one occasion being kidnapped and held to ransom by students from King’s College, and on another turning up in a luggage locker at Aberdeen Station. Understandably, thereafter the head was moved to the security of the College vaults.104

The auto-icon has also experienced a much travelled existence. It remained in the anatomical museum until the centenary of University College in 1926,105 when it was moved to the College Library. In 1939 it was again examined, this time in the Department of Egyptology by the Museum Curator, Violette Lafleur, assisted by Dr Una Fielding of the Department of Anatomy. Restoration work and cleaning was successfully carried out by a firm of cleaners and dyers, who treated the clothes with paradichlorbenzene as a preservation against moths. Only the vest and the skeleton’s padding were found to be in need of replacement. A new vest was donated by Dr G.R. Lomer, the Librarian of McGill University in Canada. The original padding was comprised of cotton wool, wood wool, straw, hay and paper ribbon, with a bunch of lavender and a bag of naphthalene at the base of the ribs, but was found to be in a disproportionate shape to the size of the skeleton. Based on contour measurements of the figure calculated by Dr Fielding, the original padding was replaced with a padding of tow. Finally, a deposit of copper carbonate in the joints of the bones from the wire used to articulate the bones was treated.106 In the same year the auto-icon was placed in the Cloisters at University College, but then moved for the duration of the Second World War to temporary College administrative offices at Stansted Bury, Stansted Abbotts, near Ware.107 With the end of war in Europe in 1945 it returned to University College, for a short time in the Professor’s Common Room and then, in 1965, back to its present location in the South Cloisters.108 In 1980–81, in preparation for the 150th anniversary of Bentham’s death, the auto-icon was sent for inspection and further renovation to the Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court, where the clothes were cleaned, the many moth holes patched, and the padding inside the skeleton once more replenished.109 In November 2001, in preparation for an exhibition of the auto-icon in Germany, an inspection was carried out by experts from the Textile Conservation Centre of Southampton University, and an infestation of beetles (called ‘woolly bear’) discovered in the clothes. It was hoped the infestation would by removed by a process of freeze-drying in time for the German exhibition in the spring and early summer of 2002.

Another of the myths associated with the auto-icon’s career at University College, one of the better known, has its origins in Bentham’s final will of 30 May 1832. In the will he expressed the wish ‘If it should so happen that my previous friends and other Disciples should be disposed to meet together on some day or days of the year for the purpose of commemorating the Founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation my executor will from time to time cause to be conveyed to the room in which they meet the said Box or case with the contents there to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall seem meet.’110 Subsequent to the auto-icon’s removal to the university, the mythology has it that it was wheeled out for College Council meetings, with its presence always recorded in the minutes with the words ‘Jeremy Bentham – present but not voting’. In fact, the auto-icon has attended very few meetings. The only such meeting of record was hosted by the Bentham Club on 24 February 1953 in the men’s staff Common Room. Otherwise, with the exception of the German exhibition planned for 2002, its appearances have been of the ceremonial sort: a dinner party to celebrate the centenary of Bentham’s death on 5 June 1932; the launch of the International Bentham Society in 1986; and a 250th birthday party on 6 June 1998 convened in the South Cloisters, which was linked by satellite to a simultaneous celebration in Austin, Texas.111

Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living

As the sub-title to Auto-Icon suggests, in the quiet of his study Bentham imagined ‘farther uses of the dead to the living’ in addition to their anatomical or dissectional purpose. The tract has little to say of the latter; Bentham simply referred the reader to Southwood Smith’s 1824 Westminster Review article. Rather, its primary concern is with what he termed the ‘conservative’ or ‘statuary’ function of auto-icons, and Bentham tells us that ‘For many a year this subject has been a favourite one at my table.’ He explained that he coined the nomenclature ‘auto-icon’ to indicate (absurdly enough, it might seem) ‘a man who is his own image’ (AI 2). After a cursory discussion of the preservative techniques of the New Zealanders, commonly known in Britain from the reports of Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820), Captain Cook’s naturalist on board the Endeavour,112 Bentham proposed to discuss the many uses of auto-icons under the following heads: ‘1. Moral; including 2. Political; 3. Honorific; 4. Dehonorific; 5. Economical, or Money saving; 6. Lucrative, or Money getting; 7. Commemorational, including 8. Genealogical; 9. Architectural; 10. Theatrical; and 11. Phrenological’ (AI 3). In general, the tract is written with a good deal of humour and a degree of irony, characteristic of Bentham’s correspondence and occasionally found in his writings. Nevertheless, there is a serious purpose. It is to provide a discussion of the utility to be derived from auto-icons, and to promote the idea of ‘auto-iconism’ as an economic and efficacious substitute for traditional funeral arrangements and rituals. Having said this, the tongue-in-cheek style in which Bentham occasionally sets out his observations leaves the reader puzzling just how seriously she should consider certain of his proposals. Also, the essay is not entirely executed as planned, with the discussion proceeding for the most part under only six of the heads listed at the outset – commemorative, moral, medical, phrenological, economic, and theatrical – and with a good deal of overlap between them. This underscores the incomplete and disjointed character of the material that Bowring located in Bentham’s papers and put together for the printed tract.

Commemorative Uses. In the churches of his day Bentham found a ready-made theatre for the commemorative use of the auto-icons of all classes. The auto-icons of the rich and poor alike would replace the traditional monuments to the dead made of stone and marble and, in the process, make graveyards redundant. The rich would find an additional arena for family auto-icons in the grounds of their mansions, where their illustrious forebears would stand as permanent reminders of past glories. Where complete auto-icons proved to be too expensive, only the heads would be embalmed, and this would make their exhibition possible in cupboards or embedded in the stone walls of house or garden. For the complete auto-icon the choice of clothing would be optional. However, we might be forgiven for thinking that the idea that the auto-icons ‘be varnished as pictures are varnished, and thus perpetually renovated’ (AI 4), would be less workable for auto-icons placed in the open and subject to the ravages of the elements.

In addition, Bentham proposed the establishment of ‘Commemoration Clubs’, such as those founded to celebrate the lives of William Pitt (1759–1806) and Pitt’s Whig opponent Charles James Fox (1749–1806). The difference would be that ‘the names they bear will preside bodily in the Auto-Icon form.’ (AI 5) Chapels and literary clubs, too, might arrange the auto-icons of their preachers and writers in order of merit, the order to be decided by a ballot of the congregation or the club members. Echoing an idea previously stated in the 1824 codicil to his will, Bentham illustrated his proposal by suggesting the establishment of the Bentham Club, and enquired, modestly, ‘whom shall the Bentham Club have for its chairman? Whom but Bentham himself? On him will all eyes will be turned – to him will all speeches be addressed.’ (AI 5)113

Moral Uses. Bentham argued that the prospect of ‘auto-iconism’ would produce a positive moral effect in two ways. First, the auto-icons of those ‘who had been living benefactors of the human race’ would provide virtuous examples for subsequent generations. A miniature ‘Mount Parnassus of Auto-Icons’ could be established, inspired by the French example, which ‘had, for its object, the preserving men of letters in honourable remembrance, and allotting to each his due place in the scale of honour’, at the summit of which stood Voltaire (AI 6). Such auto-icons ‘in their silence would be eloquent preachers. “Go thou and do likewise,” would be the lessons [sic] they would teach.’ A second moral effect would accrue by providing individuals with an additional motive toward virtuous conduct while living. Since a ‘good report obtained by good conduct will attach to the man after death…he must anticipate the judgement of his fellow-men.’ (AI 7) Bentham did not explain why a person’s concern for reputation would be enhanced by the prospect of auto-iconisation; he seems to have assumed that imagining the spectacle of our physical auto-iconised selves after death would reinforce our desire to do good while alive, though why this should be so is not entirely clear.

Medical Uses. Among the medical benefits of ‘auto-iconism’ Bentham included the reduction in the ‘danger to health from the accumulation of putrid bodies’ and, of course, the dissipation of ‘the prejudices and delusions which object to dissection’. Beyond this, he proposed, for its educational value, the establishment of a museum display of embalmed and representative heads of different races from around the world ‘in conjunction and comparison with those of clever animals, as the ape, the dog, &c.’ (AI 7). The latter suggestion is closely linked to Bentham’s reflections on the nascent field of phrenology, and influenced by the example of museums and exhibitions that combined instruction with entertainment, and which were then becoming popular in Europe.

Phrenological Uses. In developing the auto-icon idea Bentham was clearly inspired by some of the contemporary literature on phrenology, though it is doubtful that he devoted any time to a serious study of the subject. Nevertheless, he believed this newly emerging field of study of the mind and its functions would benefit from ‘auto-iconism’. Indeed, the benefits would be mutual: ‘Auto-Iconism would throw light upon phrenology, – phrenology would encourage Auto-Iconism.’ (AI 8) Among ‘the goodly fellowship of phrenologists’ from whom Bentham expected support for his auto-icon plan, he included the phrenological pioneers, Dr Franz Josef Gall (1758–1828) and Dr Johann Caspar Spurzheim (1776–1832).114 He argued that iconised heads would provide the phrenologist with numerous ‘subjects for the anatomico-moral instruction which belongs to him to administer.’ (AI 7) The phrenologist would find in ‘auto-iconism’ regular opportunities to ‘gather together multitudinous facts by which to test the truth of his system.’ To illustrate, he offered the curious example of Socrates: ‘suppose him Auto-Iconized, and the Auto-Icon deposited in the British Museum, would the Auto-Icon justify Xenophon’s character of him and the portrait drawn in his “Memorabilia?”’ (AI 8) The irony of Bentham’s observations is unrestrained when he imagines the possibility of each parish appointing a ‘phrenological curate’ to read ‘the phrenological course of lectures’, with parallel ranks to the clergy presided over by ‘phrenological bishops and archbishops’ (AI 8).

The humorous turn of Bentham’s phrenological musings is evident when he refers the reader to George Alexander Stevens (1710–84), the author of many songs, several popular farces for the stage, and the celebrated Lecture on Heads based on his stage monologues. The Lecture was first produced on stage in 1764, and first published in 1765, though it went through many editions up until 1825.115 In this tour de force monologue Stevens adopted the stance of a witty amateur phrenologist, examining a series of recognisable types of heads and pointing out the salient and humorous characteristics of their ‘owners’. Bentham was clearly familiar with the content of the Lecture, which he may have read or witnessed on the stage (there were numerous London productions). In the Auto-Icon he related the form of Stevens’s presentation, standing before a table on which were displayed an assortment of papier-mâché busts, each intended to be a representative of the ‘most conspicuous and influential occupations, professions, and offices’, each supplying ‘the subject-matter of descriptions and observations, or occupied in addressing themselves to the audience, or in conversing with one another.’ (AI 8) This form of popular entertainment helped to lay the ground for the more morbid offerings of Madame Tussaud, who introduced her touring wax museum to England in 1802, containing the modelled heads of the executed Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre.116 Such was Tussaud’s success that Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, and Queen Victoria were all modelled by her while still living, and in 1835 she opened the famous wax museum that still bears her name – with its chilling Chamber of Horrors – on the corner of Baker Street and Portman Square in London. Bentham’s own fascination with heads, not the least the preservation of his own, would not have seemed quite so strange in an age which amused itself by attending pseudo-phrenological theatrical lectures and by viewing Madame Tussaud’s modelled heads of the great, the good, and the infamous (and not forgetting the severed heads of the theatre guillotine in France).

Bentham would, no doubt, have been gratified and not a little amused to find his own mummified head featuring in the phrenological and psychological debates later in the century over the nature of genius and the means of measuring intelligence.117 As a noted and innovative philosopher and by reputation a child prodigy, Bentham frequently figured in the earliest attempts by psychologists to fathom the factors bearing on the cultivation of genius,118 though the empirical quirkiness of not a few of these studies seemed to tarnish the enterprise in the eyes of some. Respectable psychologists, seeking to gain legitimacy for their discipline, disparaged colleagues who argued from the dubious insights provided by phrenological speculation. In the context of these academic exchanges, in 1904 Bentham’s mummified head became embroiled in the notorious debate over the measurement of the intelligence of different races based on cranial measurements. In the medical journal Biometrika the psychologists M.A. Lewenz and Karl Pearson mounted a critical analysis of the work of Dr J. Beddoe, and by extension Dr Alice Lee upon whose methodology Beddoe had relied in his intelligence calculations. On the first page Lewenz and Pearson warn the reader: ‘It will be clear that the above results [referring to those of Lee] emphasize the need for judicious caution in using the cranial capacity formulae, and also offer hints from experience to those anxious to discover new formulae’.119 What Beddoe had attempted was a ranking of races down through history, including the Romans of Britain, Anglo-Saxons, and modern English, as well as the Thracians, modern Russians, ancient Egyptians, Papua New Guineans, Vikings, Picts, Scots, etc, etc. Breaking off from their general attack on the formulae used and the conclusions drawn by Beddoe, Lewenz and Pearson sought to demonstrate that his modern English calculations cannot be made to support his conclusions by providing an exhaustive table of Bentham’s cranial measurements (over thirty measurements in all). Pearson, a lecturer in psychology at University College London, would have had easy access to Bentham’s mummified head, which was then on display at the feet of the auto-icon following the examination of Thane and Lawrence in 1897 and its removal from the auto-icon’s rib-cage. In their debate with Beddoe, Lewenz and Pearson explained their good fortune:

we are in a unique position of being able to test his formula on the head of one of the most distinguished Englishmen not only of his own time, but of all time. For width of view, logical clearness, and intellectual grasp, there were but few Englishmen in his own day, and there have been few since, whom we can consider as surpassing Jeremy Bentham.12

Perhaps we should not be too surprised at the findings of Lewenz and Pearson based on their exhaustive measurements:

…the head of this man of first-class intellect shows no single measurement – least of all its capacity – which would serve to differentiate it from that of the average Englishman of his time. Statistically, it is idle of course to argue from a single instance; but it is certainly worthy of note that Jeremy Bentham if judged by head-capacity would have been simply mediocre.12

Whatever irony we might detect in Lewenz and Pearson’s conclusion, it was doubtfully intended to be so.

Economic Uses. In Bentham’s utilitarian lexicon this is ‘the value maximising question’. In an age in which funerary ritual was becoming ever more elaborate and ever more costly, the primary saving produced by ‘auto-iconism’ is the expense of traditional funerals, which according to Bentham is ‘a sort of tax’ upon capital that falls hardest on those who can ill afford it. The expense presents itself as a tax upon income when it involves regular contributions to the various burial clubs and societies beginning to emerge in Bentham’s day.122 After the passage of the Anatomy Act, these various funeral insurance schemes were bolstered by the fear of being left at the mercy of the poor house or hospital and, by the terms of the Act, thereby risking falling into the hands of the anatomist. By the time Edwin Chadwick published his report Internment in Towns (1843), it was reckoned that between £6m and £8m was held in various burial clubs in England, often run by undertakers and publicans, with weekly contributions of 1½d or 2d.123 In Bentham’s view, the object of these insurance policies is ‘the formation of a fund for defraying the expense of so many ostentatious funerals of the members as it shall happen to them to die off.’ However, the indefinite number of years in which contributions are made underscores the folly: ‘instead of addition, what is this but subtraction from human happiness.’ Bentham offered an entirely fanciful financial comparison between conventional funerals and ‘auto-iconism’. He asks, if the cost of a funeral is £4, but the same happiness can be derived from the auto-icon system for £1, ‘leaving thus three times the amount of the sacrifice free to be applied to the purpose of bodily comfort and enjoyment – the exclusion of the pain of hunger – the perception of the pleasure of the palate – would this not be so much clear gain?’ (AI 9) Quite so, if the projected costs are accurate, but about this Bentham says no more. Apart from the projected financial savings from opting for ‘auto-iconism’ instead of a traditional funeral, Bentham pondered the prospect of other financial gains accruing to the use of auto-icons, resulting in the creation of a ‘new subject-matter of property’. This led him to a lengthy discussion of the laws relevant to this potential species of property, from which he concludes: ‘In truth, so various and so perplexing are the questions of property in reference to Auto-Iconism, – so interesting to autocratical and aristocratical dynasties, – that it is humbly suggested to the influential and writing few to anticipate grievances, and provide remedies by an Auto-Icon statute law.’ (AI 12)

Theatrical or Dramatic Uses. Under this head Bentham envisaged the dramatic presentation of ‘dialogues of the dead’ between the auto-icons of the famous conversing together in a veritable Elysian Field of the great. The previous century witnessed the publication of numerous such dialogues, devoted to theological issues, political and philosophical questions, but none of their authors imagined such discussions actually taking place. Bentham’s dialogues were to be conducted in physical fact, between the recognizably famous in auto-iconised form. He proposed to enhance the dramatic presentation of such dialogues by actors, hidden from view, speaking the words of great philosophers and other notables (AI 13). At a time when people were flocking in droves to sit before the booths of the flourishing puppeteers of the day, this was not such a strange proposal. Yet, here again Bentham walked a haphazard path through the farcical and the serious, scripting dialogues between his own auto-iconised self and other experts in several fields, with many of whom he did not agree.124 Ethics he proposed to discuss with Socrates, Plato, Cicero, St Paul and others; posology and algebra would provide the subject-matter of dialogues with Euclid, Apollonius, Newton, Legendre, and La Place; the Encyclopedia of Art and Science would be discussed with Bacon, Chambers, and D’Alembert; jurisprudence would engage, among others, Justinian, Coke, Blackstone, Eldon, Peel, and Brougham; politics would provide material for dialogues with Solon, Numa, Bacon, Locke, and Montesquieu; legislation would be debated with Solon, Numa, Moses, Confucius, Justinian, Theodosius, Cocceius, and Napoleon Bonaparte; architecture could be discussed with Vitruvius and Bentham’s own brother Samuel, the originator of the panopticon design; Richard Hurd and Bishop Warburton would be tackled on the subject of church discipline; and universal grammar would be discussed with John Horne Tooke (AI 13–14). It is intriguing to think about the sort of ‘voice’ an actor might project for the auto-iconised Bentham in these dialogues – sonorous and commanding? shrill and unsettling? In all the commentary on Bentham’s life we do not have even one remark to guide us, and the auto-icon at University College must remain eternally silent on the question. However, one thing is clear from the proposed dialogues: Bentham had an inflated sense of his historical place in the debates of the western philosophical tradition. His primary objective may have been educational, but the suggested dialogues could not hope to escape the ridicule that was their due, and in this regard Bentham was surely fortunate that Auto-Icon appeared posthumously and with a limited circulation.

Secularization of Death

In concluding Auto-Icon Bentham anticipated that spurious objections of various kinds would be raised against the auto-icon system – ‘abstract, visionary, theoretical, Utopian, heretical, schismatical, atheistical!’ However, he discussed only the objections on the score of religion, a gnawing issue with Bentham since early life, when he first became a closet critic of organized religion in England.125 Subsequently, he made his anti-clerical views public in 1818, when he published the first of his writings on religion, Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined.126 This was followed by a searching empirical test applied to the belief in the Deity’s benevolence in An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind (1822) and to the belief in Paul’s miracles in Not Paul, but Jesus (1823). In part, at least, and entirely consistent with the critical thrust of these writings, Auto-Icon was intended to show the irrelevance of religion to the issue of the disposal of the dead. In this respect, Bentham’s approach was consistent with the emerging tendency of the age to demystify death, strip it of its Christian symbolism and ritualized terror, in favour of a focus on the material means of increasing human happiness on earth. This trend was the product of a combination of Enlightenment theory, medical advances, neoclassical aesthetics, and the opening up of new cemeteries away from the shadows of the parish churches.127

In certain obvious ways Bentham’s proposals drew upon the same anticlerical traditions as the ‘dechristianization’ experienced in post-revolutionary France. Like most informed Englishmen, Bentham had followed closely the revolutionary events in France and, initially, was inspired to consider the utilitarian grounds for democratic reform in England as well as France.128 His contribution to the debates of the national assembly over legislative procedures and judicial reform led to an honorary citizenship in the new republic (bestowed upon him on 9 September 1792).1291 But following the massacres of August and September 1792, Bentham’s consternation at the turn of events in France was epitomized in the language in which he accepted the offer of citizenship, suggesting that if he was willing to encourage constitutional reform on the far banks of the English Channel he remained a monarchist on the near side.1301 By 1794 he had distanced himself from both his previous consideration of democratic ideas and his support for the state with which England was then at war. Later in life he retained a vivid memory of the path of the revolution, particularly its attack on Church institutions and its various efforts to construct a secular substitute upon which to base and encourage the patriotic support of the people. There was much with which he sympathized, even while he was dismayed at the illiberal and destabilizing measures with which such innovations in worship were accompanied. In revolutionary France the Catholic All Souls’ Day was replaced by the ‘fête des martyrs morts pour la liberté’ in the republican calendar, Catholic churches were appropriated for the ceremonies of the ‘cult of reason’ (and then the ‘cult of the Supreme Being’, when Robespierre promulgated its creed and set 8 June 1794 as its first feast-day), and the Church of Sainte-Geneviève, renamed the Panthéon, became the home of the remains of those whom the new France chose to honour, first among them Mirabeau, Voltaire, and Rousseau. The Athenian and Roman influences at work in the revolutionaries’ patriotic regard for the new republic’s fallen heroes is well known,131 and Bentham almost certainly had in mind such a posterity for the auto-icons of the good and the great. This would have been the sort of thing voiced by David in his speech of 16 July 1793 honouring the slain Marat: ‘Cato, Aristides, Socrates, Timoleon, Frabricus, and Phocion, I admire your worthy lives; I did not live in your time, but I knew Marat…Posterity will give him justice.’132

The anticlerical measures which accompanied the laicization of funerals in revolutionary France, also find an echo in Bentham’s attack on the costs of extravagant funerary arrangements and additional charges laid by the clergy who conducted the required rituals and burial services. In this vein, his response to the anticipated objections of religion to ‘auto-iconism’ was delivered in typically dismissive language in Auto-Icon:

Has religion anything to do with the matter? Nothing at all. Free as air does religion leave the disposal of the dead…. Religion is neuter. Religion is silent. True religion knows that she has nothing to do with the business. The religion of Jesus takes no cognizance of the matter. The religion of Jesus leaves it to rank among things indifferent. (AI 16

Having said this, however, Bentham knew that this would not satisfy the clergy of organized religion, detecting in ‘priestcraft’ a vested interest in the maintenance of the rituals and practices associated with funerals, an interest he detected at work in the many other rituals that attend the living. Like the French revolutionaries of the Covention before him,133 Bentham would have preferred that priests be banished from the churches. His anticlericalism is fully displayed in Auto-Icon when he summarized his view of the relationship between priests and their congregations:

From its birth to its death, the priest keeps his fixed predatory eye on the prey he covets, and this prey is everything human that either breathes or has breathed. Not a human operation but furnishes him an occasion and a pretence, – the operation by which the individual is continued in existence, – the operation by which the species is continued in existence. No sooner are you born, than priestcraft lays hold of you, and till you have paid toll to it, keeps shut against you the gate of the road which conducts you to your rights, and in return for the money, perhaps the “uttermost farthing” thus extorted from your friends, tells them that he has christened you; and unless this be done to you, and done by him to you, heaven, he informs them, has no comforts for you, nor will earth have any of which it is in his power to deprive you. (AI 16

On this score, then, religious objections barely warrant serious consideration, and the tract ends with some disjointed material on the disposal of the dead in different cultures, to which is appended several illustrative extracts from books and newspaper reports suggestive of the uses of the dead to the living.

Having dismissed the anticipated objections of organized religion to the proposals contained in Auto-Icon, the ‘religious’ character of elements of Bentham’s own discussion can hardly be missed. A corollary of the superstition that dissection of mortal remains placed the immortal soul in jeopardy, was the belief that the willingness to bequeath one’s own body for that purpose was a sign of infidelity. In Bentham’s case the perception was not misplaced, but the further step of auto-iconisation must surely have been seen in some quarters as the very celebration of blasphemy. In this context, the ‘religious’ dimension of Bentham’s auto-icon proposals are worth exploring further, particularly in regard to the core idea of ‘auto-iconism’ as the means to ensure the memory of a person in posterity. Here the immortality promised by Comte’s Positivism – the survival in memory, in the thoughts and affections of those whom an individual benefited and loved – finds an antecedent in Bentham’s proposals. For both men, the only real sense in which a person lives on is in posterity, a more virtuous object than the personal kind of immortality promised by Christianity. Consider the language and character of Bentham’s commemorative suggestions. He writes: ‘On certain days the Auto-Icons might be exhibited, and their exhibition associated with religious observances. Every sect would choose its own exhibition-day…. Out of Auto-Icons, a selection might be made for a Temple of Fame – not in miniature – a temple filled with a population of illustrious Auto-Icons’ (AI 4). In emulation of the French revolutionary cults,134 he envisaged ‘Temples of Honour and Dishonour’, with the transference of auto-icons from one to another depending on the current state of public opinion about their contributions to social utility. To this he added an ‘Auto-Icon purgatory’ in which were to stand, with their heads turned away from public view, those auto-icons temporarily out of favour (AI 6, 7). Auto-icons, rich, poor, famous, and infamous, were to replace the monuments of conventional religion in the churches, realizing the Christian equality which escapes individuals in life: all are ‘on the same level’ and ‘the beautiful commandment of Jesus would be obeyed; they would indeed “meet together”’ (AI 3).

It is clear that Bentham found it almost impossible to divorce his train of thought from the practices of conventional religion. No doubt, the auto-icon can also be associated with his less than humble concern with the posthumous status of his own thought and name, and we might recall that early in his philosophic career in 1781 he had a ‘dream’, which is preserved in manuscript, of himself as the founder of a sect of utilitarians.135 His own auto-iconised remains could be said to represent a final attempt to ensure he would live on in the most complete sense possible, not only as an intellectual presence but in physical form as well. Nevertheless, Bentham insisted on the difference between ‘auto-iconism’ and the rituals of conventional religion: in his secular humanistic proposals no spiritual content is to be found. In the idealized Utilitarian society there would be no God and the absurd idea of an immortal soul would be replaced by the posterity of the auto-icons. People would live on only through their achievements and their presence as ideas in the minds of those who came after them. There being no credible supernatural sanction for morality, the reward for contributions to the public good would be affectionate remembrance by one’s family and public commemoration by one’s fellow citizens. Religious rewards and punishments in a future life would be replaced by the verdict of future generations, a verdict renewed century after century in the case of the truly great.

The parallel between the proposals of Bentham and Comte and his revolutionary precursors, then, has its limitations. Bentham desired to diminish the influence of traditional religious beliefs, to substitute auto-icons for the statuary of saints, and to focus attention on the practical achievements of the past to the enhancement of human well-being. This contrasts with the ‘cult of Supreme Being’ and with Comte’s attempt to construct a secular equivalent to Christian belief and practice – a Religion of Humanity. The utilitarian schema is devoid of the dogmas that characterized the practices of the revolutionary cults and Comte’s scheme of social worship. For Bentham, as for his associate and political collaborator James Mill,136 the reformed churches were meant to serve first and foremost as centres of instruction, not places in which the faithful are to reaffirm their devotion to humanity. In the idealized Utilitarian society individuals are bound to each other by the ordinary arrangements of the state and by the knowledge that ultimately their own happiness is dependent upon the actions of others. The only notion of common ‘faith’ they share is trust in utility and in their ability to function in a new society free from the superstitions which plagued the old order. There is to be no Comtean Positivist priesthood, no modes of public or private worship, no religious signs or symbols, however devoid of mysticism they might appear, no idolization of the feminine virtues, and no ‘Great Being’ or ‘Goddess’ to be contemplated.137 True, Bentham’s Elysian Field was to be occupied by a record of the species’ great men (no women are mentioned) similar to those in Comte’s Calendar of ‘saints’ (heroes and benefactors serving as objects of veneration each with its own special day), but it was not humanity that was to be worshipped. For all Bentham’s dependence on the theoretical principles of natural science, he could not elevate reason to a position where it became the object of a cult, and neither could he comprehend a Religion of Humanity. The notion of ‘humanity’ for Bentham could only be an abstraction, a fiction; the presuppositions of his nominalist view of the world dictate that there are only particular individuals in the world, and it was these in their iconized form that he intended to be admired, respected, held in affection, or condemned for misconduct. In Bentham’s imagined spectacle, auto-icons serve a useful function entirely divorced from spiritual or mystical considerations. They inspire or disgust and are aids to instruction, but no more than this. From the stories of their lives, their failings and achievements, their contributions to the public good, and their crimes against the community we can learn how best to conduct our own lives. But there is no use in our praying at their feet for guidance or forgiveness, for grace or salvation. In this they are impotent.

In a story rich in ironies, we might conclude this introductory essay by noting two further ironies. In an article by Michael Oakshott published in 1932, on the centenary of Bentham’s death, titled with heavy irony ‘The New Bentham’, he offered this disparaging comment: ‘What was mortal survived; what was immortal was buried and forgotten’.138 Oakshott, of course, was incorrect on both counts. From the perspective of the opening years of the twenty-first century, Bentham’s thought remains of considerable consequence in the British tradition of legal philosophy, and contemporary moral and political philosophers still grapple with the issues posed by his utilitarian theory. Added to which, there is not much that is mortal about the auto-icon, seated in its corner of the South Cloister at University College. But, among the ironies dotted about the auto-icon story surely the real irony of ironies is that the dead philosopher should ever have wished to be remembered in this form, with the disciples of the Bentham Club chaired by the auto-icon, brought together to discuss the ideas of ‘the Founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation’.139 After all, the philosopher who entertained this eccentric thought was the same keen-eyed critic who condemned the slavish adherence to authorities, whether in law or philosophy, as ‘the worship of deadmen’s bones’.140 Secular veneration is still veneration, minus the trappings of mysticism, and its tendencies are not fool-proof against the inclination to avoid criticism. Even so, we cannot doubt that the old philosopher would have revelled in the attention and, perhaps, offered a knowing smile at the wonder stirred by his effigy.

1 Jeremy Bentham, Auto-Icon: Or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living. A Fragment. From the MSS. Of Jeremy Bentham [not published, n.d., 1842?]. I am aware of the existence of four copies: at University College London, the British Library, U.S. Library of Congress, and the Houghton Library at Harvard University – the latter with a mss. note: ‘Not Published & the few copies printed were Suppressed’. Henceforth AI in this introduction.

2 The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring, 11 vols. (Edinburgh 1838–43). Henceforth Bowring.

3 See Bentham’s Will, 24 August 1769, pp. 1–5 below.

4 Bowring, x, 54.

5 Ernest C. Thomas, Notes and Queries, 4th Series, XII (15 November 1873), p. 387.

6 C.F.A. Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-Icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, Medical History, vol. II, no.2 (April 1958), p. 79.

7 Bentham Papers, University College London, Box cxlix, fol. 204 (26 June 1820). Henceforth UC cxlix. 204.

8 As sometimes occurred in Bentham’s papers, it may be that the manuscript’s heading ‘Auto-Icon’ was added at a later date. However, it should be noted that if the heading is contemporaneous with the manuscript’s date, then this would appear to be Bentham’s first use of the nomenclature ‘auto-icon’.

9 Eyton was an avid collector; a large part of his library was sold to the British Library in 1848, though not Auto-Icon; see Catalogue of the Library of Joseph Walter King Eyton, British Library 11906.f.21.

10 This letter is bound into the front of the British Library copy of Auto-Icon (BL 7420.d.3) and stamped ‘7 JU 52’ (7 July 1852).

11 Thomas Southwood Smith, Lecture Delivered over the Remains of Jeremy Bentham, Esq., in the Webb-Street School of Anatomy & Medicine, on the 9th June, 1832 (London 1832), p. 73 below.

12 Published anonymously in the Edinburgh Review, vol. LXXVIII (1843), p. 515.

13 Marmoy mentioned another copy of Auto-Icon sent by Burton to one Arnold Muirhead, which contains the inscription in an unknown hand: ‘From Mr. Burton – not for sale’. The Library, 5th series (1946), I. 6, quoted Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-Icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 79.

14 John Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections of Sir John Bowring (London 1877), p. 339.

15 Jeremy Bentham, Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined (London 1818), An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, by Philip Beauchamp [ed. George Grote] (London 1822), and Not Paul, but Jesus, by Gamaliel Smith (London 1823). For a discussion of these and other published and unpublished writings on the subject of religion see James E. Crimmins, Secular Utilitarianism: Social Science and the Critique of Religion in the Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford 1990).

16 Bowring, xi, 76.

17 Bowring, x, 556.

18 Much of the remainder of this paragraph is from James E. Crimmins, ‘The Genius Debate and Jeremy Bentham’, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol. 362 (1998), pp. 283–302.

19 The school of legislation is discussed in UC cvii. 53–61 (1792, 1794), and the canal proposal is in Principles of International Law, ‘Appendix. – Junctiana Proposal’ (1822–23), Bowring, ii, 561–71; on the latter see also Mary Williford, Jeremy Bentham on Spanish America: An Account of his Letters and Proposals to the New World (Baton Rouge and London, 1980), Ch. 6.

20 On Bentham’s ingenuity in devising new political machinery see Graham Wallas, ‘Bentham as Political Inventor’, Contemporary Review, vol. 129 (1926), pp. 308–19.

21 See UC cvi. 4–7 (1793).

22 The flash pump is discussed in UC cvi. 8–14 (1793), and the frigidarium in UC cvi. 17–75 (variously dated 1794, 1796, 1798–1800, and 1808–9).

23 In the 1770s Bentham drew up a ‘Proposal for rendering Forgeries more difficult by Paper-marks, indischargeable Inks, and other expedients’. In 1800 he expanded it into a pamphlet on forgery prevention (UC iii. 341–57; see also iii. 303–40) and incorporated aspects into his plan for a government-controlled currency, the Annuity Note scheme (1800–1); Jeremy Bentham’s Economic Writings, 3 vols., ed. Werner Stark (London, 1952–54), ii, 74 (for the Annuity Note scheme see introduction passim).

24 Also see the essay on ‘Nomenclature and Classification’ in Chrestomathia (CW), ed. M.J. Smith and W.H. Burston (Oxford 1983), App. IV, for the following neologisms (and innumerable others) coined by Bentham: maximize, minimize, rationale, eulogistic, demoralize, deontology, methodization, meliorability, anti-pathetic, dynamic, unilateral, confederative, detachable, self-regarding, deteriorative, imperation, exhaustive, cross-examination, forthcomingness, and false consciousness. There were other linguistic inventions which have not gained currency, among them ‘catastatico-chrestic physiurgics’, ‘coenonesioscopic noology’, ‘ipsedixitism’, ‘archetypation’, ‘phraseoplerosis’, ‘disambiguation’ (the demystification of terminology, an objective dear to Bentham’s heart), and ‘ante-jentacular vibration’ and ‘post-prandial circum-gyration’.

25 The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham (CW), vols. 1–2, 1752–76, 1777–80, ed. T. L. S. Sprigge (London 1968,) i, 136; p. 4 below.

26 Ibid., i, 134; pp. 4–5 below. Some two months before Bentham’s death he sent a copy of his first will to Southwood Smith, who quoted the final sentence from the will in his Lecture Delivered over the Remains of Jeremy Bentham, p. 4.

27 The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham (CW), vols. 4–5, 1788–93, 1794–97, ed. A.T. Milne (London, 1981), iv, 373; p. 5 below.

28 Ibid., vol. 9, 1822–24, ed. Catherine Fuller (Oxford 2000), pp. 427–28; pp. 5–7 below.

29 Ibid., p. 428; p. 6 below.

30 Ibid.

31 Pp. 6–7 below

32 Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections, p. 343.

33 There is a certified typescript of the will in Somerset House dated 18 April 1928, and a draft in UC clv. 23–35; for the complete will see pp. 7–18 below.

34 See p. 16 below.

35 Quoted by Mrs C.L. Lewes, Dr Southwood Smith: A Retrospect (Edinburgh and London 1898), p. 24.

36 Westminster Review, i (1824), pp. 43–79.

37 See the editorial introduction to Chrestomathia (CW), pp.xxii–xxiv; see pp. 3–7 for Southwood Smith’s introduction to the 1843 edition, written in 1841. The first part of Chrestomathia was published in 1815, to which was added the second part in the 1817 edition.

38 Bowring, viii: ‘Fragment on Ontology, pp.193–211; ‘Essay on Logic’, pp. 213–93; ‘Essay on Language’, pp. 295–338; ‘Fragments on Universal Grammar’, pp. 339–57. These essays are currently being reconstructed from extant manuscripts at the Bentham Project, University College London, for publication in the Collected Works. Southwood Smith says he ‘reordered’ the manuscripts (ibid., p.192), but the mixing of manuscripts from different dates and periods of writing undermined the coherence of Bentham’s original work and has made the current work of reconstruction arduous.

39 Westminster Review, ii (1824), pp. 59–97, and published as a tract (London 1828). The latter is included in this volume below. Henceforth UDL.

40 Hopefully, the full extent of this collaboration will become known when the final volumes of Bentham’s correspondence are published in the coming years in the Collected Works.

41 Bentham to Edward Livingston (23 February 1830), MS in the possession of the John Ross Delafield Foundation, New York, quoted in the editorial introduction to Chrestomathia (CW), pp. xxii–xxiii.

42 Richard A. Hunter, A Short History of Anatomy (London 1931), pp. 59–60.

43 Southwood Smith mentioned several exceptions to this history of ignorance and neglect in UDL 32–3 below.

44 Robert Cecil, The Masks of Death: Changing Attitudes in the Nineteenth Century (Lewes, Sussex, 1991), pp. 93–4.

45 Based on a report in the Times (9 December 1822), Julie Rugg adds a further source of prejudice against dissection related to its sexual connotations: the harrowing image of the body of a mother, sister or wife being ‘subjected to the gaze of lads learning to use the incision knife’; ‘From Reason to Regulation: 1760–1850’, in Peter C. Jupp and Clare Gittings (eds.), Death in England: An Illustrated History (Manchester 1999), p. 225.

46 The law did not view the removal of a corpse from a graveyard as punishable, but stealing the clothing of the deceased was a criminal act; see M.J. Durey, ‘Body Snatchers and Benthamites: The Implications of the Dead Body Bill for the London Schools of Anatomy, 1820–42’, The London Journal (1976), pp. 200–25; and Ruth Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (1987; 2nd edn., Chicago 2000), passim.

47 Hunter, A Short History of Anatomy, pp. 41, 65–6.

48 Southwood Smith’s proposals had an antecedent in Edinburgh, where a Town Council motion in 1694 requested permission to give surgeons access to the bodies of the unclaimed poor who died in Paul’s Workhouse, promising subsequent burial at the town’s expence. The permission was granted, but the supply of subjects from this source, which was limited to the winter months, could never keep pace with the growing number of medical students requiring medical instruction; see Hunter, A Short History of Anatomy, pp. 64–5.

49 See note 48 above.

50 Rugg, ‘From Reason to Regulation: 1760–1850’, in Jupp and Gittings (eds.), Death in England, p. 217.

51 For a discussion see Ruth Richardson, ‘Bentham and Bodies for Dissection’, Bentham Newsletter, No.10 (1986), pp. 22–33; and, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, pp.108–16. Richardson’s work is the best available on these matters and I am greatly indebted to her scholarship, particularly concerning Bentham’s involvement in the agitation for reform.

52 UC xi. 180–3 (1 April 1826).

53 Later, in the Constitutional Code, Bentham extended this to include the bodies of any ‘person unknown, or of a person for whom no such trustee has appeared, nor…is likely to be found’; Bowring, ix, 628.

54 UC xi. 184 (4 April 1826); the complete letter is quoted by Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, p.111.

55 UC xi. 193–5. Other correspondence on this subject between Bentham and Peel can be found at UC xi. 80–3, 189–92; see also Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, p. 112.

56 UC xi. 193–5, and 220–4 (6 Nov. 1826).

57 T.V.N. Persaud, A History of Anatomy: The Post-Vesalian Era (Springfield, Illinois, 1997), p. 270.

58 Commons’ Journal, xxii, 4 (1828), p. 260.

59 Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, pp. 108–9. Among the Benthamites on the Select Committee Richardson lists Henry Warburton, Joseph Hume (1777–1855), Sir Thomas Baring (1799–1873), Sir James Graham (1799–1874?), Thomas Spring-Rice (1790–1866?), Charles Edward Poulett Thompson (1799–1841, later Baron Sydenham), and Thomas Hyde Villiers (1801–1832).

60 Ibid., p. 109. Richardson based this conclusion on the findings of S.E. Finer and his analysis of other Benthamite parliamentary successes during this period, notably the Factory Inquiry 1833, Poor law Report 1834, Report of the Commission on Municipal Corporations 1834–5, and Commission on the Health of Towns 1844–5; see Finer’s ‘The Transmission of Benthamite Ideas’, in Gillian Sutherland (ed.), Studies in the Growth of Nineteenth-Century Government (London 1972), pp. 11–32.

61 Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, p. 112.

62 Ibid., pp. 113–14; for a summary of the bill see Persaud, A History of Anatomy, pp. 271–2.

63 Thomas Southwood Smith, ‘Anatomy’, Westminster Review, x (1829), pp. 116–48.

64 Ibid., pp. 117–20.

65 Ibid., pp. 127–33. William Burke (1792–1829) and William Hare (dates not known) murdered individuals and sold the corpses to medical schools for anatomical research. For a discussion of the significance of their activities in the context of the anatomy agitation see Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, Ch. 6.

66 Southwood Smith, ‘Anatomy’, p.136.

67 Ibid., p. 139.

68 Ibid., pp.141–4.

69 Ibid., p. 148.

70 Lancet, 5 June 1829, p. 319, cited by Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, p. 157.

71 Richardson, ibid., pp. 157–8.

72 Ibid., p. 198.

73 Ibid., p. 178.

74 Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Facts Relating to the Punishment of Death in the Metropolis…Second Edition; with an Appendix, Concerning Murder for the Sale of the Dead Body (London 1832), Appendix, pp. 208–9.

75 Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register (7 July 1832), pp. 41–2.

76 ‘An Act for Regulating the Schools of Anatomy’ (3 and 4 Geo. IV c. 75), received Royal Assent on 1 August 1832.

77 Following the fashion of the day, Bentham’s image was painted, so it was said, with a brush made of his own hair; Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-Icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 82 note. For the complete list of intended recipients of mourning rings see Bentham’s Last Will, 30 May 1832, pp. 12–14 below.

78 British Library, Add. Mss. 34661, quoted by Ruth Richardson and Brian Hurwitz, ‘Jeremy Bentham’s Self-image: An Exemplary Bequest for Dissection’, British Medical Journal, vol. 295 (18 July 1987), p. 195.

79 ‘The Last Act of Jeremy Bentham’, The Examiner (10 June 1832), p. 31 below.

80 Wakefield, Facts Relating to the Punishment of Death in the Metropolis, Appendix, pp. 211–12.

81 Southwood Smith, A Lecture Delivered over the Remains of Jeremy Bentham, pp. 71–2 below.

82 Southwood Smith, ‘Anatomy’, p. 139.

83 Pickersgill’s portrait was painted in c.1829, and now resides in the College Art Collections, University College London.

84 A précis of the lecture – following an identical structure with similar turns of phrase and use of illustrations – presumably authored by Southwood Smith, was published as an obituary; see ‘Death of Jeremy Bentham’, The Examiner (10 June 1832), pp. 21–30 below. Southwood Smith may have received assistance from Bowring in writing both the newspaper obituary and the lecture delivered at the Web Street school, since certain of the details seem to be derived from the latter’s (not then published) ‘Memoirs’ of Bentham. Bowring’s own obituary notice appeared under the same title in The Times (7 June 1832), pp. 19–20 below.

85 Bowring, xi, 83–95, excerpted from Southwood Smith’s lecture, omitting

pp. 61–73 below.

86 William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd edn., 3 vols. (London 1878), iii, 236.

87 Quoted by Lewes, Dr Southwood Smith, pp. 46–7, but she does not say who was the author.

88 See the editorial introduction to Chrestomathia (CW), p.xxii.

89 ‘Dissection of Mr. Bentham’, The Times (11 June 1832), p. 35 below.

90 Correspondence (CW), xi, 428, p. 6 below.

91 R.D. Grainger, Elements of Anatomy, containing an Outline of the Organization of the Human Body (London 1829), p. viii.

92 ‘Anatomical Lecture on the Body of Mr. Bentham’, The Times (12 June 1832), p. 37 below. No other source for Granger’s lecture has been found.

93 Thomas Southwood Smith to William Munk (14 June 1857), in Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, iii, 237 note, partially reprinted in Notes and Queries, 3rd Series (8 September 1866), p. 188.

94 David Bindman has commented on the influences shaping Talrich’s wax model of David d’Angers’ noble and Romanesque bust; ‘The Skeleton in the Cupboard: Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon’, in Catherine Fuller (ed.), The Old Radical: Representations of Bentham (University College London 1998), pp. 9–15. Fuller provides useful information on all the various images of Bentham in The Old Radical, pp. 25–59. On Field’s mourning ring also see Bentham’s Last Will, 30 May1832, p. 7 ff. below.

95 UC clxxiii. 32a; Marmoy quotes the complete letter, ‘The “Auto-Icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 82.

96 Una Pope-Hennessy, Charles Dickens, 1812–1870 (London 1947), pp. 108–9.

97 Fuller (ed.), The Old Radical, p. 52.

98 See Negley Harte, ‘The Owner of Share No.633: Jeremy Bentham and University College London’, in Fuller (ed.), The Old Radical, pp. 5–8. The myth of Bentham’s role in the founding of University College is misleadingly propagated by the Joseph Durham (1814–77) statue of Bentham in thoughtful pose (1869) on the façade of the former London University Building, Burlington Gardens, and by the Henry Tonks (1862–1937) painting of Bentham (1922) discussing the plans for the new university with its original architect William Wilkins (1788–1839), in the College Art Collections, University College London; see Fuller (ed.), The Old Radical, pp. 20, 48.

99 University College London, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Council, 23 March 1850 (mss. in UCL Records Department), quoted by Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 83.

100 A Fragment on Government, ed. F.C. Montague (Oxford 1891), introduction, p. 14.

101 See illustrations, pp. lxviii–lxix below.

102 T.W.P. Lawrence and G.D. Thane, Note on Examination of Effigy of Jeremy Bentham…January 3, 1898 (typescript copy in University College Library), quoted Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-Icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 84.

103 Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p.84.

104 See p. lvii below.

105 Sir Rickman J. Godlee spoke of the auto-icon being located ‘in the gallery of the anatomical museum’ in 1906; The Past, Present and Future of the School of Adavanced Medical Studies of University College, London, &c. (London 1907), pp. 4–5, quoted Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 84.

106 Violette C. Lafleur, Interim Report on Jeremy Bentham, February 27th, 1939 (typescript, with covering letter from professor S.R.K. Glanville dated 22 June 1939, in the Records Department at University College London), the relevant details from Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 85.

107 Not before, it would seem, Helen Smith Bevington penned her hilarious blitz-inspired poem ‘A Bomb for Jeremy Bentham’ (1940), in Nineteen Million Elephants and Other Poems (Boston 1950), pp. 33–4.

108 Marmoy, ‘The “Auto-icon” of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, p. 85.

109 Richardson and Hurwitz, ‘Jeremy Bentham’s Self Image’, p. 196, with photographs of the auto-icon undergoing conservation work at Hampton Court (p. 197).

110 See p. 8 below.

111 Fuller (ed.), The Old Radical, p. 52.

112 Banks kept a journal of the 1768–71 expedition, later used by John Hawkesowrth (1715?–1773) in his report of Cook’s voyage in An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere: and Successively Performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret and Captain Cook in the Dolphin, the Swallow and the Endeavour: Drawn up from the Journals which were kept by the Several Commanders, and from the papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. (London 1773).

113 See the Codicil to Bentham’s Will, 29 March and 9 April 1824, pp. 5–7 below.

114 Their many publications in the field of phrenology include: Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, The Physiognomical System of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim, Founded on an Anatomical and Physiological Examination of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular; and Indicating the Dispositions and Manifestations of the Mind (London 1815); Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, Examination of the Objections made against the Doctrines of Gall and Spurzheim (Edinburgh 1817), and Phrenology; Or, The Doctrine of the Mental Phenomena, 2 vols. (Boston 1833); Franz Joseph Gall, On the Functions of the Brain and of Each of its Parts, 6 vols., trans. W. Lewis (Boston 1835).

115 George Alexander Stevens, A Lecture on Heads, Which has been exhibited upwards of one hundred successive Nights, to crowded Audiences, and met with the most universal Applause. By G. Alexander Stevens (Dublin 1765). Stevens’ satire was a resounding success. It was frequently quoted, pirated, adapted, satirized and applauded, and produced on stages throughout the English-speaking world. In subsequent editions many revisions were made by Stevens and by others who performed and published the Lecture. The ‘first authentic edition’ appeared a year after Stevens’ death, entitled A Lecture on Heads, with additions by Mr. Pilon; as delivered by Mr. Charles Lee Lewes. To which is added an Essay on Satire. With Twenty-four Heads by Nesbit, from designs by Thurston (London 1785). For the various editions of the Lecture, its production history, and other writings by Stevens see Gerald Kahan, George Alexander Stevens and The Lecture on Heads (Athens, Georgia 1984).

116 Marie Tussaud (née Grosholtz; 1761–1850) first became famous for modelling the heads of guillotined nobles and fallen revolutionaries in France in the 1790s.

117 Pioneers in this area include Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Causes and Consequences (1869; 2nd edn., London 1892); J. McKeen Cattell, ‘A Statistical Study of Eminent Men’, Popular Science Monthly (February 1903), pp.359–77; Havelock Ellis, A Study of British Genius (1904; 2nd edn., London [1926]); Lewis Madison Terman, Genius and Stupidity (1906; New York, 1975); and Catharine M. Cox, The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses, in L.M. Terman (ed.), Genetic Studies of Genius, vol.2 (Stanford 1926).

118 See, for example, Bentham’s place in the lists compiled by Cattell, Havelock Ellis, and Cox (note 117 above).

119 M.A. Lewenz and K. Pearson, ‘On the Measurement of Internal Capacity from Cranial Circumferences’, Biometrika, vol. 3 (1904), p. 366.

120 Ibid., p. 393.

121 Ibid., p. 395.

122 See James Mill, ‘Benefit Societies’, in the Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1824), ii, 263–9.

123 Edwin Chadwick, A Supplementary Report on the Results of a Special Enquiry into the Practice of Internment in Towns (London 1843); see Rugg, ‘From Reason to Regulation: 1760–1850’, in Jupp and Gittings (eds.), Death in England, p. 225.

124 See Annotations to the Text for biographical information about the following figures, pp. 6–12 below.

125 Bentham first set down views on organized religion in still extant manuscripts on subscriptions to religious oaths in c. 1773/74; see UC v. 1–32, and xcvi. 263–341.

126 See note 15 above.

127 Rugg, ‘From Reason to Regulation: 1760–1850’, in Jupp and Gittings (eds.), Death in England, p. 209; and Cecil, The Masks of Death, p. 97.

128 See James E. Crimmins, ‘Bentham’s Political Radicalism Reexamined’, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 55, no.2 (1994), pp. 259–81.

129 Jean Marie Roland de la Platière, Minister of the Interior of the French Republic, to Bentham (10 October 1792), Correspondence (CW), iv, 398.

130 Bentham to Roland de la Platière (16 October 1792), ibid., p.401. This letter also contains a strong plea for toleration of the regime’s opponents. Others receiving honorary French citizenship at this time included Priestley, Wilberforce, Paine, and Washington.

131 See, for example, George Armstrong Kelly, Mortal Politics in Eighteenth Century France (Waterloo, Ontario, 1986), Ch. 11.

132 Quoted Kelly, ibid., p. 277.

133 See John McManners, The French Revolution and the Church (London 1969), pp. 98–105.

134 John McManners, Death and the Enlightenment; Changing Attitudes to Death among the Christians and Unbelievers in Eighteenth Century France (Oxford 1981), p. 362.

135 For the text of the dream see Crimmins, Secular Utilitarianism, pp. 313–16.

136 James Mill, ‘The Church, and Its Reform’, The London Review, vol. 1, No. 2 (July 1835), pp. 257–95, reproduced in James E. Crimmins Utilitarians and Religion (Bristol 1998), pp. 423–57.

137 See Auguste Comte, The Catechism of Positive Religion, trans. R. Congreve (1858; 3rd edn. 1891; New Jersey 1973), introduction and Pt I.

138 Michael Oakshott, ‘The New Bentham’, Scrutiny, No.1 (1932–33), p. 114.

139 Bentham’s Last Will, 30 May1832, p. 8 below.

140 Bentham’s Handbook of Political Fallacies, ed. Harold H. Larrabee (New York, 1952), p. 26.

Utilitarian Philosophers :: Jeremy Bentham :: 'Introduction', by James E. Crimmins