The Case of Jeremy Bentham
Sometimes I amaze myself by how my brain works. I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast, but I can recall an odd fact or a strange tale.
Case in point, this past weekend on Darkness Radio, I told Dave about a man who still attends college board meetings even though he’s been dead for over 100 years.
This was the first time Dave had heard of this and thought it would make an interesting blog.
Great! Now I just have to research “stuffed, dead man attends college board meetings”. How hard could it be? Is there more than one?
Much to my dismay, my quest wasn’t as easy as I had originally thought, but eventually, I discovered the man’s name.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).
“He will always be associated with the doctrine of Utilitarianism and the principle of `the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. This, however, was only his starting point for a radical critique of society, which aimed to test the usefulness of existing institutions, practices and beliefs against an objective evaluative standard.
He was an outspoken advocate of law reform, a pugnacious critic of established political doctrines like natural law and contractarianism, and the first to produce a utilitarian justification for democracy.
He also had much to say of note on subjects as diverse as prison reform, religion, poor relief, international law, and animal welfare. A visionary far ahead of his time, he advocated universal suffrage and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
By the 1820s Bentham had become a widely respected figure, both in Britain and in other parts of the world. His ideas were greatly to influence the reforms of public administration made during the nineteenth century, and his writings are still at the centre of academic debate, especially as regards social policy, legal positivism, and welfare economics.
Although Bentham played no direct part in the establishment of UCL, he still deserves to be considered as its spiritual father. Many of the founders, particularly James Mill (1773-1836) and Henry Brougham (1778-1868), held him in high esteem, and their project embodied many of his ideas on education and society.
He strongly believed that education should be made more widely available, and not only to those who were wealthy and members of the established church, as was the case at the traditional universities, Oxford and Cambridge. As the first English University to open its doors to all, regardless of race, creed or political belief (provided they could afford reasonable fees!), UCL went a long way to fulfilling Bentham’s vision of what a University should be.
He took a great interest in the new institution, and was instrumental in securing the appointment of his pupil John Austin (1790-1859) as the first Professor of Jurisprudence at UCL in 1829.
Thus it was only right that UCL should provide a home both for Bentham’s voluminous manuscripts, now in the library, and for his other tangible memorial, his famous (or perhaps notorious) “Auto-Icon”". ~UCL Bentham Project
Now you may be asking yourself, “Auto-Icon”, what the heck is that? Well, that’s actually Mr. Bentham himself!
Per his request, Mr. Bentham’s preserved skeleton, dressed in his own clothes, sits in a wooden cabinet, located in the main building on University College London’s campus.
Could you imagine the shock you would have if you had mistakened the cabinet for a broom closet?
It is said that he regularly attends meetings of the College Council by being wheeled into the Council Room, and his presence is recorded in the minutes as “Jeremy Bentham-present but not voting”.
A fun, little, gruesome fact about Mr. Bentham is that it’s actually a wax head that sits on top of his body.
Supposedly, the process to preserve the head went terribly wrong and left his face showing lack of expression therefore, unattractive. So, his head was replaced with the wax substitute and placed on the floor between his legs.
Over the years, his real head has had quite the adventure.
It now sits in storage, safe and sound, but it was reported that his head was once stolen and found in a locker in Scotland, was kidnapped and held for ransom (ransom was paid for the head’s safe return), and it was used once for football practice on campus!
I’m sure Mr. Bentham would never have guessed the excitement he would have in death.
So, that’s the story of Mr. Bentham (1748-1832). Don’t ask me why I remembered it. It’s just another odd thing, taking up space in my head.
Sending you lots of paranormal love,