Box 120 contains material relating to Bentham's panopticon prison, specifically a series of unpublished, angry complaints about his treatment at the hands of the British government. Only a part of this material has ever been published, in Panopticon versus New South Wales. It contains a particularly interesting polemic against the Duke of Portland, the then Lord President of the Council, whom Bentham alleged had illegally exercised his power.
This batch of manuscripts, composed mostly in 1802, illustrate Bentham's anger and sense of betrayal towards the British legislature who, despite having passed the 1794 Penitentiary for Convicts Act, had failed to build Bentham's prison. In Bentham's eyes, the panopticon had been thwarted by the failure to find a site, first at Battersea Rise, thanks to the opposition of George Spencer (the 2nd Earl Spencer), and then at Tothill Fields owing to the opposition of Richard Grosvenor (1st Earl Grosvenor). Thanks to the vested interests of landlords, Bentham ended up purchasing a small and boggy site at Millbank, and became aware that politicians had little real commitment to the panopticon.
In June 1803, after a campaign of many years, it became clear that the panopticon was to be abandoned. The scheme's failure was the greatest disappointment of Bentham's life: ‘They have murdered my best days’, he remarked. The experience left him incensed at the treachery of British politicians, and he turned his attention to detailing their perfidy. According to Bentham, the 1794 Penitentiary Act was for no ‘better or other intention than of serving as a bait for gulling me out of money'’, and in JB/115/145/001, he wrote:
‘My hairs, already grey, are pointing to the grave. It remains for me to try whether my country be as devoid of faith and feeling, as those whom the jumble of events has given to it for its rulers … It may then be said—simple neglect would have been sufficient: disappointment and ruin, at the end of five years of treachery and oppression, were too much’.
It was perhaps during this period that Bentham fully developed the idea of 'sinister interests' - that legislators did not necessarily act in the interests of the happiness of those they ruled, but rather to satisfy their own vested interests. By transcribing this set of manuscripts, you will be going some way to exploring this theory, and the timing of Bentham's conversion into a political radical, convinced of the need for a representative parliament with universal adult suffrage. It seems likely, as Prof. Philip Schofield contends, that it was 'the panopticon experience which began to convince him [Bentham] that nothing worthwhile could be achieved through the existing political structure in Britain'. (Schofield, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed, New York, 2009, pp.12-13).
The material is divided as follows:
The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 1,370 total.(previous page) (next page)