Maria's Diary 14
So through the ocean tide of years,
The memory of the just appears;
So through the tempest and the gloom,
The good man’s virtues light the tomb.
When Mr. Bentham died, in Papa’s arms, it was a very sad time. But Mr. Bentham made his will so that Papa was given all his writing and the job of publishing it, and the house was available for him to use for the purpose. His nephew inherited all his other things, but not the writing and he couldn’t sell the house as long as Papa needed it to do the work of writing up Mr. Bentham’s work.
Papa and the rest of us had moved into Mr. Bentham’s second house, as soon as Mr. Mills, who didn’t like Papa at all, moved out. It was lovely to have a proper house again, and what a step up in the world for us that was. But now that Mr. Bentham has died, we have the running of that part too. The house is still furnished as he left it, except for a few things that his nephew specially wanted. Papa and 23 others were given a gold locket with a profile of Mr Bentham and some of his hair in it. Papa was very moved by the gift.
Anyway, let me describe his house. When you come in the front door, you immediately feel warm, no matter how cold it is outside, as the house has a form of heating that has nothing to do with gas or coal fires. It makes steam which is then distributed under the floors in the house, and it is very effective. What a treat it is on cold days to be so comfortable. There is also a sort of communication device where we can talk to anyone else in the house. Mr Bentham designed it and had it made.
The hall entrance is full of bales of his printed works which is what Papa has to sift through. He has asked me to help him in the problem of sorting it all out.
What is called the study is a pleasant room looking into the back garden; there is a grand piano-forte in it, which is unplayable unfortunately, and on it is placed a bust of Mr. Bentham, by David, the famous French sculptor, which has on it Bentham’s most famous motto, Maxima felicitas. Papa says he will get the piano tuned for me.
The parlour is nearest the front door.
The garden, is a spacious one - so large. Papa seems to take pride in telling the story that few noblemen if any had one so large.
In the inner or kitchen garden, the gardener can produce various vegetables, among which I noticed a mushroom bed; The garden contains a quarter of an acre or more.
The library is a large narrow room with many books in it covered with dust - oh an inch thick; the floor is strewed over with printed papers; also there is a collection of geraniums and some hot-house plants, but in the last stage of an invalid condition it must be confessed.
Our sitting room is the same size as the library, octagonal at one end in which are the windows. It has two large mirrors; a smaller one, over what elsewhere would be called the chimney-piece, only, though there is a chimney there is no fire; there is also a small oval one over the sideboard which stands in a recess.
And now for Blue Beard’s blue room, the mystery of mysteries, hermetically sealed to the world at large. One of Mr. Bentham’s eccentricities, as you would call them, was to give things odd names, and this room which was his pleasure to call his workshop; a strange lumbered up place it is. I observed a large organ, if not out of repair, as my ears told me certainly out of tune. On the floor is a raised platform some two feet high or so; where Mr. Bentham, the genius of the place sat thus enthroned, a movable bookcase on one side, a table in front which performs the double part of being a writing desk and our dinner table; on the opposite side is an arm chair, at each end, are two more seats.
Papa says Mr. Bentham lived at a high temperature; not having been used to such heat, it gave me a headache very like seasick headache, or perhaps a tendency to slight apoplexy; but after a little while this unpleasant sensation wore off; then I found how very agreeable it was, warm in whatever part of the room you were in.
We have lamp-lighting both stationary and portable, which someone had persuaded Mr. Bentham was a grand discovery! Without doubt a portable lamp is a greater security against fire than a lighted candle; but hardly gives more light.
The kitchen is on the ground floor; and we are attended by three female servants, Henrietta Wood who waits at dinner and generally upon us. The cook, Sarah West, and the chambermaid, Elizabeth Coxall. It is pleasant to have people to wait on us again, but also makes us feel rather awkward, as we are now used to doing things ourselves.
One of the pictures has this writing in it:
Were I as tall to reach the pole,
Or grasp the ocean in my span,
I must be measured by my soul, -
The mind’s the standard of the man.
Mr. Bentham was very short, so perhaps he felt this was a justification for any comments about his height.
On our first meal in this part of the house the old cook produced what she said were Mr. Bentham’s favourites: curried fish - flat fish; with boiled rice as usual; then the back of mutton roasted with onions in it, carrots, and sliced pickled cucumber; very good indeed; gravy thickened, and a millet pudding and my parents had white wine. It was all very good.
There was a service for Mr. Bentham, but not a funeral, as he willed his body to science, giving specific instructions on how it was to be done.
“My body I give to my dear friend Doctor Southwood Smith to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned, and I direct he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for 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 a 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. 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 the 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.
“My name at length with the letters ob: followed by the day of my decease. If it should so happen that my personal 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 therein to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall seem meet.”
I think it is appropriate to tell some more about Mr. Bentham’s life, as he was a very important man. I am getting help from Papa in doing this, as he knew the man so much better than I did.
He was born in 1748 and was a lawyer by training, called to the bar in 1769. But raw law frustrated his intellect and he evolved into a thinker, a legal philosopher, which he put into practice by the use of the pen.
He was ahead of his time in so many ways. His legacy, considered outrageous by some, includes promotion of individual rights and freedoms and even animal rights, the segregation of the church from political influence, abolition of slavery, and abolition of the death penalty, and criticism of corporal punishment upon children.
He was such a good friend to Papa, and thought the world of him.
When he first met Papa he wrote, “What I owe for Bowirng is unspeakable. His useful knowledge, talent, connections, disinterest and philanthropy conjoined far surpasses anything I could have believed possible. He and I are like father and son. He is one of the most extraordinary if not the most extraordinary man I ever saw in my life. He is the most loving creature God Almighty ever made.”
First, and all pursuant to his will, his body was rolled into a medical school and publicly dissected as part of an anatomy lecture. It was Dr. Smith himself who dissected Papa's best friend three days after Bentham's demise, announcing to the onlookers, as he raised his scalpel:
"If, by any appropriation of the dead, I can promote the happiness of the living, then it is my duty to conquer the reluctance I may feel to such a disposition of the dead, however well-founded or strong that reluctance may be."
After the dissection, the flesh was removed from his body. Jeremy Bentham's head, still intact, was re-attached to his skeleton, the latter stuffed out with hay and dressed up and placed in a glass cabinet for all to see his likeness, just as his Will had requested.
Some students from the University made up this poem.
Then lying on his deathbed, Jeremiah made a will.
Said he: "Preserve my body with the utmost of your skill,
And put me in the library, that folks may see me still,
A hundred years from now."
So they sat him in a cupboard in the science libraree
They dressed him with the clothes he wore that future folks might see,
Just what the beau ideal of an Englishman should be
A hundred years from now.