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Bad Jokes and Good Taste: an Essay on Bentham’s ‘Auto-Icon’

Blagues de bon et de mauvais goût ? Un essai sur l’ « Auto-Icon » de Bentham
Tsin Yen Koh

Résumés

Jeremy Bentham a répertorié une grande variété d'utilisations de cadavres dans ce qui était probablement son dernier essai, « Auto-Icon ». Les cadavres pouvaient être conservés et transformés en statues (auto-icônes, en quelque sorte) et utilisés, entre autres, comme accessoires de théâtre, statues commémoratives et matériaux de construction. L'auto-icône éliminerait le besoin de cercueils et de cimetières, ainsi que des rituels funéraires, ses membres du clergé chargés de présider aux funérailles et, sans doute, d'ensemble de l’establishment religieux. Cet essai propose de lire l’« Auto-Icon » comme une blague de mauvais goût : impolie, peu raffinée et de mauvais goût. L'idée est que l’« Auto-Icon » se moque du désir religieux d'immortalité – dans la droite ligne des attaques de Bentham contre l'establishment religieux à cet égard - ainsi que des propres prétentions de Bentham à l'immortalité, et des prétentions au bon goût en général. En tant blague de mauvais goût, l’« Auto-Icon » est un exercice à la fois de la liberté d'opinion et de la liberté de goût.

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Texte intégral

I thank Malcolm Quinn for the invitation to contribute to this special issue, and Malcolm Quinn, Stephen Engelmann and Anne Brunon-Ernst for helpful comments on the article.

1. Introduction

  • 1 Colls, John F., Utilitarianism Unmasked (London, George Bell, 1844), p.19. On this essay, see Conwa (...)

1 John F. Colls, for fourteen years Bentham’s reader and amanuensis, complained, among other things, about his former employer’s taste in jokes, in an essay following the publication of Bentham’s memoirs (as part of the multi-volume The Works of Jeremy Bentham, edited by John Bowring). Colls provided two examples of the ‘filthy and brutish’ jokes he had been subject to at Bentham’s table.1

  • 2 Colls, J., Utilitarianism Unmasked, pp.17-19, original emphases.

He [Bentham] was ever, too, on the watch, in his daily conversation, for an occasion, however slight, to turn into jest and ridicule the doctrines and principles of Christianity….And in these diabolical designs, I am sorry to say, he was too frequently supported by those who happened to be seated at the table with us. ‘Old Father Abraham,’ said he, on one of these occasions, ‘must have been provided with a most capacious shirt, to be able to hold all the proselytes that are said to be banqueting in his bosom; nor could that vestment be any of the cleanest, if he had many such Saints as the ulcered-beggar Lazarus to accommodate within its folds.’ The satisfaction and complacency with which this depraved and irreligious observation was uttered, and the boisterous laugh with which it was received from the lips of this hoary-headed infidel, I shall not easily forget….At another time, this Moral Philosopher revelled so far in his blasphemy, as to express a hope ‘that the Holy Patriarchs, and all those who had followed them to inherit the Promises, were supplied with a sufficiency of warm nether garments; or they must find the sitting all day long on the clouds of heaven, while they sang praises to God, a very cold and uncomfortable employment’.2

  • 3 On the liberty of taste, see Quinn, Malcolm, ‘Jeremy Bentham on Liberty of Taste’, History of Europ (...)

2This essay is about bad jokes and good taste, using Bentham’s Auto-Icon as the primary text, and drawing on Colls’s account of Bentham’s taste in humour for inspiration. The central thought is that ‘Auto-Icon’ should be read as a bad joke, and, as such, an exercise both in the liberty of opinion as well as the liberty of taste.3

  • 4 Bentham, Jeremy, ‘Auto-Icon’ in Bentham’s Auto-Icon and Related Writings, ed. James E. Crimmins (Br (...)
  • 5 Schofield, Philip, Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, Oxford U (...)
  • 6 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.2.
  • 7 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.1-2.

3 ‘Auto-Icon’ is a curious text. Bentham referred to it as his ‘last work’, according to his unidentified editor, and added passages to it as late as May 1832.4 It was printed for inclusion in the Works, but was excluded from that collection by Bowring (who also excluded other religious writings, such as Church-of-Englandism and Not Paul, But Jesus).5 It discusses the uses of the dead to the living: not the ‘anatomical, or dissectional’ uses of dead bodies, which had been canvassed by Bentham’s friend Thomas Southwood Smith, but the ‘conservative, or statuary’ uses of the dead.6 That is, the uses of dead bodies, now preserved and transformed into statues of the once-living person. The term ‘Auto-Icon’, Bentham suggested, was self-explanatory; as every man could, in the progress of time, be his own broker or his own biographer, so now could ‘every man be his own statue’.7

  • 8 There is a list in Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.
  • 9 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.7.
  • 10 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.
  • 11 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.
  • 12 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.5.
  • 13 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.
  • 14 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.12-15.
  • 15 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.
  • 16 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.4-5.
  • 17 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.7-10.

4 There were many ‘statuary’ uses of the dead, catalogued in typical Benthamite fashion. 8 There were, for example, moral and political uses: Auto-Icons could prompt the creation of new motives for thought and action, if people were inspired by ‘pilgrimages’ to Auto-Icons of benefactors to the human race, or moved to action by the thought of posterity passing judgment on their Auto-Icon.9 (Bentham included himself in the category of benefactors to the human race: ‘votaries of the greatest happiness principle’ might make pilgrimages to his ‘quasi sacred’ Auto-Icon, as well as to his unedited and unfinished manuscripts.10) There were ‘honorific’ and ‘dehonorific’ uses: Auto-Icons of eminent persons might be celebrated in a ‘temple of honour’, and that of criminals vilified in a ‘temple of dishonour’.11 There were commemorational and theatrical uses: commemoration clubs, for example, might have the Auto-Icon of the person so commemorated as chairman (Bentham again used himself as an example).12 A literary fund might collect and display the Auto-Icons of authors.13 Auto-Icons could be used as theatrical props. One might, for example, imagine a conversation between Bentham and a vast variety of interlocutors, from Socrates and Moses to Locke and Napoleon, on his vast and varied contributions to knowledge.14 Auto-Icons could be stored in churches or homes; they could be used as building materials (in walls, perhaps) or decorative detail (in a gentleman’s country estate, for example).15 They could be used to enhance religious ceremonies, or to prove aristocratic pedigrees.16 And there were economical uses: it would be cheaper, for example, to have Auto-Icons than to provide for funeral expenses and graveyard space.17

  • 18 Colls, Utilitarianism Unmasked, pp.57-59.
  • 19 ‘Art. VIII. – Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham. Including Autobiographical Conversations and Correspondenc (...)
  • 20 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.512.
  • 21 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.515.
  • 22 See for example Collings, David, ‘Bentham’s Auto-Icon: Utilitarianism and the Evisceration of the C (...)

5 Bentham’s own Auto-Icon has been taken, perhaps inevitably, as a monument to human vanity. Colls, for example, considered his Auto-Icon, at the time sitting in a glass case in Southwood Smith’s consulting rooms, as ‘a miserable spectacle of the remains of human weakness, vanity and pride’.18 The Edinburgh Review article on Bentham’s memoirs (to which Colls’s essay was a response) described the memoirs as ‘[t]he portrait of a vain man’.19 Bentham, the reviewer reflected, had ‘most of the main elements of happiness in his life’, but his happiness and character were diminished by ‘voracious Vanity’.20 If he were to return to earth – implied in the instructions in his will to preserve not only his writings but also ‘the form of his outward man’ – he would not find the adulation he had hoped for.21 Closer to our time, ‘Auto-Icon’ has likewise been read as a display of Bentham’s ambition, and his failure, to transcend death.22

  • 23 Notes and Queries, 4th ser., Nov. 15 1873, vol. XII, p. 387. But see Marmoy, C. F. A., ‘The ‘Auto-I (...)
  • 24 Schofield, P., Utility and Democracy, p.338.
  • 25 Schofield, P., Utility and Democracy, p.342.

6 ‘Auto-Icon’ has also been read as a work of satire. The bibliographer Ernest Chester Thomas, upon discovering the manuscript in the Oxford Union Society library, suggested that it was not a genuine work, but ‘simply an elaborate “skit” aimed against the Benthamite philosophy’. His evidence included the style of writing: the ‘funereal jesting’ throughout the essay, as well as ‘a classification of the “uses” of Auto-Icons, marked by the Benthamian formidableness in terminology’. The principal object of the skit was probably ‘to laugh at the philosophy of utility and common sense’.23 Philip Schofield, in the conclusion to his book on Bentham’s political thought, noted that the tone of ‘Auto-Icon’ was ‘highly satirical’.24 Schofield argued that the essay continued Bentham’s critique of the English state, and particularly of ‘the legal establishment through his mockery of lawyers, the political establishment through his mockery of aristocracy, and the ecclesiastical establishment through his mockery of religion.’25

  • 26 Bentham used this method to similar effect in The White Bull, 2 vols. (London, J. Bew, 1764). The w (...)

7 This essay offers a reading of ‘Auto-Icon’ as a bad joke. ‘Auto-Icon’ should be read as a joke not only because it is ‘highly satirical’, but because the humorous elements in the text add to the satire. The joke works the same way as those Colls disapproved of: it considers the literal and material implications of a serious subject, and in doing so exposes the ridiculousness of the subject – though ‘Auto-Icon’ takes this rather further than the jokes above. 26 To read it as a bad joke is a trickier proposition. I would like to suggest that one sense of a ‘bad’ joke is a joke in bad taste, and this is the sense I will use for the rest of the paper. I would also like to suggest Shaftesbury’s ‘Sensus Communis’ as a guide to good taste and good humour; as will be seen, he is a foil for Bentham’s aesthetic and ethical views, and for roughly the same reasons. To proceed, then: the argument in this paper is that the humour in ‘Auto-Icon’ is in bad taste: it is comic, it is not particularly refined, it has something of the burlesque in it. The overall effect is deflationary: it depresses the pretensions of the ecclesiastical establishment, as well as Bentham’s own pretensions. To take the latter first: the thought is that Ernest Chester Thomas was right to read ‘Auto-Icon’ as a parody, but it is a self-parody; the self-aggrandisement in the essay is matched by its self-deprecation. The joke’s on Bentham, but he put it there himself.

8 That ‘Auto-Icon’ is irreligious should not be a problem on Shaftesbury’s account, since he did not exempt any subject, including that of morality and religion, from witty or humorous treatment (as discussed in the next section). But ‘Auto-Icon’ goes beyond Bentham’s other religious writings, I think, in attacking the idea of the sacred itself. Its target is the immortality of the soul, and with it the foundations of religious belief. As several writers have argued, ‘Auto-Icon’ does not quite manage to transcend death. I think that is the point: nothing quite manages to transcend death. All that is left of the person is the body, which can be preserved, petrified (so to speak), and used as a prop for the living.

9 ‘Auto-Icon’, then, is not a polite essay, not even allowing for the freedom of wit and humour in Shaftesbury’s sense. I suggest that Bentham meant it as a bad joke, or a joke in bad taste, and deliberately so: it is an exercise both of the liberty of opinion and the liberty of taste. If the liberty of taste means anything, it must mean the liberty to depart from the canons of good taste, whether these are established by a natural sense of beauty or by general convention. It must mean the liberty to make jokes about Abraham’s dirty shirt or the angels’ cold backsides, or the ‘statuary’ uses of dead bodies as domestic decoration or theatrical prop. The liberty of taste supports the liberty of opinion in this case: the joke is on the ecclesiastical establishment, and on religion more generally.

2. Shaftesbury on the Freedom of Wit and Humour

  • 27 ‘A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm’ and ‘Sensus Communis: an Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour in (...)

10 This section discusses the third Earl of Shaftesbury’s defence of the ‘freedom of wit and humour’, which is also the subtitle of his essay, ‘Sensus Communis’ (1709). ‘Sensus Communis’ was written as a response to critics to ‘A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm’ (1708), in which Shaftesbury defended good humour and toleration as remedies against enthusiasm.27 ‘Sensus Communis’ develops the argument by mounting a defence of good humour on all subjects, and by drawing an explicit connection between good humour and good breeding.

  • 28 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.30.
  • 29 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.36.

11 ‘Sensus Communis’ offered a defence of the use of wit and humour on all subjects, including and especially those of morality and religion. In the first place, there was no need to exempt such grave subjects as morality and religion from witty and humorous treatment, since no true belief could be harmed by such treatment. ‘Truth,’ Shaftesbury argued, ‘May bear all lights, and one of those principal lights, or natural mediums, by which things are to be viewed, in order to a thorough recognition, is ridicule itself, or that manner of proof by which we discern whatever is liable to just raillery, in any subject.’28 In fact, the use of wit and humour could help us think more clearly about morality and religion, by separating the wheat from the chaff: whatever could not stand up to ridicule did not bear more sober examination. The ancient Greek and Roman writers, he pointed out, knew this; ‘[i]t was the saying of an ancient sage that “humour was the only test of gravity, and gravity, of humour. For a subject which would not bear raillery was suspicious, and a jest which would not bear a serious examination was certainly false wit.”’29 A ponderous tone and magisterial air, as adopted by some writers on morality and religion, might intimidate listeners and readers into agreeing with what was being said, but would not persuade them of its truth. The task was not to bludgeon or terrify people into submission, but to teach them to reason better.

  • 30 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.33.
  • 31 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.33.
  • 32 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.37.

12 Good humour, on the other hand, invited listeners and readers to think for themselves, and to participate in the conversation. Neither the authority of writers and speakers (and preachers), not the eloquence of their writings or speeches (or sermons), could teach people to reason well. ‘It is the habit alone of reasoning which can make a reasoner’, and people were more likely to cultivate this habit if they were invited to do so, and if it were pleasant to do so.30 That is, if they were allowed ‘[a] freedom of raillery, a liberty in decent language to question everything, and an allowance of unravelling or refuting any argument without offence to the arguer’.31 Good humour served the cause of reason, and of rational conversation, by improving our ability both to reason for ourselves, and to converse with others. ‘We shall grow better reasoners,’ he concluded, ‘By reasoning pleasantly and at our ease, taking up or laying down these subjects as we fancy.’32

  • 33 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.30.
  • 34 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.
  • 35 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.

13 But what was good humour? Shaftesbury acknowledged that wit and humour could be, and were often, perhaps, taken to extremes. In his time, the use of wit had ‘passed from the men of pleasure to the men of business. Politicians have been infected with it, and the gravest affairs of state have been treated with an air of irony and banter. The ablest negotiators have been known the notablest buffoons; the most celebrated authors, the greatest masters of burlesque.’33 There was ‘a mean, impotent and dull sort of wit’ which sought to confound and perplex its readers, and left both sensible men and even friends in doubt as to the real meaning of the writer.34 ‘This,’ Shaftesbury explained, ‘Is that gross sort of raillery which is so offensive in good company. And indeed there is as much difference between one sort and another as between fair dealing and hypocrisy, or between the genteelest wit and the most scurrilous buffoonery.’35 Shaftesbury, then, was not defending all kinds of wit and humour, though he did defend its application to all subjects. It was possible to take a jest too far, and to carry ridicule to ridiculous extremes.

  • 36 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.34.
  • 37 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.35.
  • 38 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.34-35.

14 Ironically enough, it was persecution that led to the excessive use of wit and humour. If men could not speak their minds seriously, or freely, then they would have to resort to an ironic or impenetrable manner, and ‘thus raillery is brought more in fashion and runs into an extreme’.36 The pedagogues had only themselves to thank for the ‘buffooning rustic air’ of many works.37 ‘It is,’ Shaftesbury argued, ‘the persecuting spirit has raised the bantering one, and want of liberty may account for want of a true politeness and for the corruption or wrong use of pleasantry and humour.’38

  • 39 See Klein, Lawrence, Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: Moral Discourse and Cultural Politi (...)
  • 40 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.
  • 41 See Klein’s ‘Introduction’ in Klein, L., Characteristics, pp.xiii-xiv: he implies that ‘polite’ wri (...)
  • 42 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.32.
  • 43 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.36-37.
  • 44 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.36.
  • 45 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.

15 If good humour was not buffoonery or burlesque, it if was not impolite or extreme, then what was it? The last quote above suggests a connection between good humour and ‘true politeness’. Lawrence Klein has argued that ‘politeness’ was at the centre of Shaftesbury’s philosophical and political project, and that Shaftesbury used the term to refer to a kind of ‘refined sociability’. Polite culture was gentlemanly culture, idealized and generalized.39 ‘To describe true raillery,’ Shaftesbury suggested, ‘Would be as hard a matter, and perhaps as little to the purpose, as to define good breeding.’40 The comparison was not coincidental; Klein has argued that good humour was part of politeness, and as such part of gentlemanly culture.41 Shaftesbury noted, later in the essay, that ‘[i]n a gentleman, we allow of pleasantry and raillery as being managed always with good breeding and never gross or clownish.’42 He defended the use of wit and humour on all subjects, but not in all situations; he was not defending, for example, the use of wit and humour in public assemblies, in starting questions or managing debates which ‘offend[ed] the public ear’. It would be a breach of ‘good breeding’, and therefore of liberty, to force men to hear what they disliked, and in a manner which they might not be used to. But the converse was true for ‘private society, and what passes in select company’, among friends; there the conversation might be as free and as witty the company wished.43 The freedom Shaftesbury was defending was ‘the liberty of the Club and…that sort of freedom which is taken among gentlemen and friends who know one another perfectly well.’44 It was in exercising this freedom that men would learn to distinguish between the gross and offensive kind of wit and humour, and the polite and pleasant kind. ‘[W]it will mend upon our hands and humour will refine itself,’ Shaftesbury argued, ‘If we take care not to tamper with it and bring it under constraint by severe usage and rigorous prescriptions. All politeness is owing to liberty. We polish one another and rub off our corners and rough sides by a sort of amicable collision. To restrain this is inevitably to bring a rust upon men’s understandings. It is a destroying of civility, good breeding and even charity itself, under pretence of maintaining it.’45

  • 46 This loosely follows the reading of Shaftesbury in Klein, L., Shaftesbury and the Culture of Polite (...)
  • 47 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.37-38 for different opinions.
  • 48 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.48.
  • 49 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.50-53.

16 This is a reading of Shaftesbury’s defence of the freedom of wit and humour as a defence of the freedom of polite wit and humour: refined, well-bred, and in good taste.46 The connection between good humour and good breeding was based in part on his theory of ‘common sense’ (which was the title of the essay under discussion). ‘Common sense’ did not refer to a universally agreed-upon set of religious or moral beliefs, which evidently did not exist, but to a sense of the common interest.47 The term could be used ‘to signify sense of public weal and of the common interest, love of the community or society, natural affection, humanity, obligingness, or that sort of civility which rises from a just sense of the common rights of mankind, and the natural equality there is among those of the same species’.48 This was a natural and innate principle, found universally in humankind, though often in perverse ways; it could manifest, for example, in the ‘personal love’ subjects had for a tyrannical prince, or in the emergence of factional politics, or in war between nations.49

  • 50 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.65.
  • 51 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.63.

17The natural sociability of mankind was analogous to another natural and innate principle: a sense of beauty. This had an ethical aspect, as well as an aesthetic one; ‘the most natural beauty in the world is honesty and moral truth’, and in fact ‘all beauty is truth’. This was true of art and architecture, as of literature: ‘[t]rue features make the beauty of a face and true proportions, the beauty of architecture as true measures, that of harmony and music. In poetry, which is all fable, truth is still the perfection’.50 As with the sense of public affection, the sense of beauty could manifest in different people in different ways. It was present, for example, even in the love of the beauty of women; admirers of female beauty had to allow that there was ‘a beauty of the mind’ as well as of the body, and might find that what they admired in the outward features of a woman was in fact ‘only a mysterious expression and a kind of shadow of something inward in the temper’.51

  • 52 Klein, L., Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p.198.

18On this reading, politeness requires, among other things, the direction and refinement of both the sense of beauty and the sense of public affection: towards true beauty (which includes the love of truth in all its forms) and towards true public affection (instead of its more common form, the love of one’s own, small community, which leads to factional conflict). Good humour has its part to play in refining the sense of natural sociability, by teaching people to be better reasoners, and teaching them to get along with one another. The link between the sense of beauty and sense of public affection is, I think, good taste: developing one’s taste is part of developing one’s sense of beauty, and of developing a more refined wit and humour. As Klein argued, Shaftesbury’s connection between politeness and liberty, and its emphasis on the social and cultural conditions for liberty, ‘put the improvement of taste and the elaboration of criticism at the center of the moral and political endeavor’.52

3. Reading ‘Auto-Icon’ as a Bad Joke

19 The central claim of this essay is that ‘Auto-Icon’ should be read as a bad joke: impolite, unrefined, and in bad taste. Both parts of this claim are tricky to argue for; it may be that bad jokes, like ‘true raillery’ and ‘good breeding’, are pointless to define. The rest of this section will illustrate the claim.

  • 53 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.1, 17-19.
  • 54 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.18.

20 To begin with, ‘Auto-Icon’ is concerned with dead bodies. The dead are to remain among the living: in our homes and gardens, churches and museums. The essay begins with a reminder that ‘animal bodies have been preserved for ages’ by various means, and closes with a discussion of different ways of preserving or disposing of dead bodies, including inhumation, with or without a coffin; the dissolution of the flesh in quick-lime before the interment of the bones; immuration in tombs and mausoleums; the cremation of corpses and even live bodies (though that is only a ‘partial…improvement’); mummification; and even geriatricide (to coin a Benthamism) and infanticide (as a way, presumably, of pre-empting the issue).53 Auto-Iconism was equal to mummification in duration, but considerably lower in expense.54

  • 55 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.
  • 56 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.
  • 57 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

21 A good deal of the humour in ‘Auto-Icon’ is comic, absurd and ironic. As mentioned earlier, Bentham juxtaposes the serious with the silly, the sacred with the mundane, and the effect is to cast ridicule on the serious and the sacred. Take the discussion of the storage of Auto-Icons, for example. There could be ‘whole-length’ and ‘head-length’ Auto-Icons. ‘Whole-length’ Auto-Icons might be displayed in an apartment designated for that use, or even in the grounds attached to one’s country seat (alternating with the trees, perhaps); ‘head-length’ Auto-Icons might be more modestly stored ‘on a few shelves, in a moderate sized cupboard’.55 Auto-Icons might also be stored in churches, which were ‘ready-provided receptacles for Auto-Icons’, regardless of one’s station in life; in pyramids, perhaps, as cannon-balls and bomb-shells were stored, or stacked perpendicularly like bricks in a wall, as the skulls of men slain in a great battle in Persia were reportedly stored.56 ‘At Brighton,’ Bentham observed, ‘and other places on the sea-coast of England, the walls of houses are faced by globular pebbles, embedded in mortar’; a wall studded with ‘head-length’ Auto-Icons might perhaps conjure up something of the atmosphere of a seaside resort for passers-by.57

  • 58 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.
  • 59 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.

22 Or take the commemorative use of Auto-Icons, and in particular the placement of Auto-Icons of eminent or infamous persons in temples of honour or dishonour respectively. Bentham observed that Paris once had in one of its museums a ‘pigmy Mont Parnasse’ to honour men of letters, with Voltaire at the summit; one could use Auto-Icons to recreate a life-sized version, as it were. ‘How much more attractive a Mount Parnassus of Auto-Icons!’58 There might be ‘vibrations’ of Auto-Icons between the temples of honour and dishonour, as public opinion changed; the same man, for example, might at one time be regarded as a beneficent patriot, and at another as a mischievous traitor.59

  • 60 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.
  • 61 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.13.
  • 62 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

23 Most of the uses of Auto-Icons are theatrical, in one way or another. A literary fund, for example, could collect the Auto-Icons of authors and arrange them, in order of chronology (by birth or death) or merit (democratically determined by ballot), to ‘surround the living’.60 Auto-Icons could be paraded on stage, for the entertainment and education of the public; one might stage a series of conversations in Elysium between, for example, Bentham and his interlocutors. Bentham, like Jove, might be enthroned on stage, with each interlocutor presenting him to the next one, and ‘noticing, in regard to each new interlocutor, the principal improvements made by him in that same branch of art and science’.61 These imaginary conversations take up three pages out of a short essay of eighteen pages, not including appendices, and close with the image of a commemorative theatrical festival for ‘an eminently beneficent individual’: ‘Astrea flying down from heaven to crown a law-reformer sitting in his chair, before a statue of Justice, with her sword and scales; audience of suitors, judges, and advocates.’62

  • 63 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.4-5.
  • 64 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.11.
  • 65 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.3, 9-12.
  • 66 In ‘A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm’, for example.

24 The comic and absurd elements in ‘Auto-Icon’ support its satirical intent. As Schofield has argued, ‘Auto-Icon’ continues themes found in Bentham’s political writings (and especially in the later writings), by mocking the aristocracy, the legal establishment, and the Church. Auto-Icons might supersede portrait galleries as a way of establishing, or inventing, an aristocratic pedigree. And so, ‘Hark! what a noise – what is that crash? – that tremendous crash? whence does it come? It comes from the Herald’s office. The edifice is shaken to its foundation.’63 Auto-Icons brought up interesting legal questions about property, especially about the disposal of one’s property in one’s person after death. ‘What a door opened to interesting and instructive pleadings!’64 And Auto-Icons had economical uses too: they eliminated the need for funeral expenses, churchyards, and possibly the clergy; it might, for example, be more economical to maintain phrenologists rather than clerics.65 But this is not necessarily impolite humour, by Shaftesbury’s standards; one function of wit and humour is to puncture pretension, including the pretensions of the political, legal, and religious establishments. Shaftesbury himself, for example, thought little of the denunciation of wit and humour by ‘zealots’, and argued that good humour was one of the best remedies against the transports of enthusiasm.66

  • 67 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.
  • 68 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.4.
  • 69 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.3-4.
  • 70 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.7.
  • 71 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.
  • 72 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.2.

25 More damning was the attack on the sacred. If there is one belief that is shared by most, if not all, religions, it is the belief that this present life is not all there is to it – that there is a distinction between the sacred and the profane, true enlightenment and conventional existence; that there is something else, of more importance, beyond our brief lives on earth, whether this be the afterlife, heaven or hell, the immortality of the soul, or the nothingness which is attained only through enlightenment. More than anything else, ‘Auto-Icon’ mocked the immortality of the soul: all that was left of a person after death was not his soul but his body, the lifeless thing, preserved and petrified and transformed into a statue. Churches, Bentham suggested, were ‘ready-provided receptacles for Auto-Icons’.67 Auto-Icons could last forever, like mummies, but at lower cost; they could be varnished as pictures were varnished, ‘and thus perpetually renovated’.68 Auto-Icons could be used to enhance what we might today call the viewing experience at religious ceremonies.69 They might be a focal point for secular devotion; there could be ‘pilgrimages to Auto-Icons, who had been living benefactors of the human race, – not to see miracles, – not for purposes of imposture, – but to gather from the study of individuals, benefits for mankind.’70 In fact, Bentham’s own Auto-Icon might prove one such focal point. ‘Pilgrims, [being] the votaries of the greatest-happiness principle’, might make ‘pilgrimages’ to his ‘quasi sacred Auto-Icon, (if by the adverb, the attribute sacred may be rendered endurable,)’. And why, Bentham demanded, should not people make a ‘Quasi-Hadji’ to such a monument as his Auto-Icon, surrounded perhaps by his unedited manuscripts? ‘Why not to this receptacle? Is not Bentham as good as Mahomet was? In this or that, however distant, age, will he not have done as much good as Mahomet will have done evil to mankind? But earlier than the last day of the earth, what will be the last day of the reign of the greatest-happiness principle?’71 It is irresistible, perhaps, not to see Bentham as setting man in place of God. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, but what if the image is one’s own self? The term ‘Auto-Icon’ referred, after all, to ‘a man who is his own image’.72

26 Perhaps the joke’s on Bentham. Perhaps we should follow the Edinburgh Review and Colls in seeing Bentham’s Auto-Icon, in its display case at University College London, with a wax head on its body and his own preserved head at its feet, as a graphic illustration of the futility of pretensions to a secular immortality. In this light, ‘Auto-Icon’ appears as nothing so much as a testament to Bentham’s vanity.

  • 73 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.2, 4-5.
  • 74 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.13.
  • 75 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

27 Or perhaps the joke’s on us. As mentioned, ‘Auto-Icon’ is a satirical essay, and one of the things it satirizes are illusions of immortality, including the author’s own illusions. I suggested above that some of the humour in this essay is generated by the juxtaposition of the serious and the silly, the effect of which is to cast ridicule on the serious; this is no less true of Bentham’s own hopes for immortality. He compared Auto-Icons not only to marble statues and funeral effigies, which were perhaps to be expected, but also to Mrs Salmon’s wax statues in Fleet Street, street puppets, stone statues in fairy-tales, and Bluebeard’s wives – the last being one of the ‘historical analogies’ to Auto-Icons.73 Bentham exposed the ‘Machinery’ behind the theatrical uses of Auto-Icons, literally and metaphorically. Just before the long interlude in which he staged imaginary dialogues between himself and a variety of learned interlocutors, he discussed the means by which Auto-Icons might be seen to move on stage: ‘[b]y means of strings or wires, by persons under the stage, or if the Auto-Icon were clothed in a robe, by way of a boy stationed within, and hidden by the robe, the eyes being already made in imitation of his, the eyelids might be made to move; and in so far as needful or conducive to keeping up the illusion, the hands and feet, one, more, or all.’74 After his dialogues with the dead, and his reveries about the ‘pilgrims’ who might pay their respects to the Auto-Icon of the founder of the greatest-happiness principle, Bentham moved on to other theatrical uses of Auto-Icons. He likened these uses to the ‘metamorphosis’ of a pair of barber poles into a couple of fashionably-dressed ladies, as seen at Astley’s Theatre: ‘wholly unexpected, and proportionably astonishing, was the exhibition then made to an admiring audience, as the company on these occasions are called, whether there be anything for them to hear or not.’75

28 The joke, I think, is that the Auto-Icons are all there is. All that is left of the person, after death, is the body, which can be preserved, and transformed into a statue, and displayed in museums or gardens (or kept in a cupboard, like Bluebeard’s wives), and trotted out on stage on appropriate occasions. Auto-Icons are things, no less than barber poles; they might be dressed up for the edification and entertainment of the public, but they are no more alive than the barber poles are. In the appendices to ‘Auto-Icon’, Bentham provided extracts from books and newspapers on various methods of dealing with dead bodies, including a passage from the Globe titled ‘The Utilitarian System’:

  • 76 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.21.

The skeleton of Corder, the murderer, has been placed in a recess of the museum of the Suffolk Infirmary, Bury St Edmund’s. It is covered with a glass case, beneath which is a box to receive contributions. Every visiter is expected to put silver into this box, which money is applied to the wants of the necessitous patients. By an ingeniously constructed spring, the arm of the skeleton points towards the box as soon as the visiters approach it. The receipts are said to average £50 per annum.76

29The passage above encapsulates of the spirit of ‘Auto-Icon’: it is both ludicrous and useful. It exposes our illusions about the dignity and sanctity of death, it takes advantage of the greed and vulgar curiosity of the masses – and it is an affirmation of life, for all that.

4. Bad Jokes and Good Taste

  • 77 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.7.

30 The organizing thought of this essay is that ‘Auto-Icon’ should be read as a bad joke. In the first place, the humour in the essay is comic, absurd, and ironic. It is not polite, not in Shaftesbury’s sense, though it does perhaps bear out his observation that it is the persecuting spirit that raises the bantering one; if men feel that they cannot speak their minds freely, they will do so satirically and obscurely. Second, the essay is impertinent, in mocking the idea of the immortal soul, and so undermining a foundational belief of Christianity (and other religions). ‘Auto-Iconism’ makes of man himself a graven image, and then shows it to be lacking. Immortality is not to be had by preserving the body, and giving it a new lease of life, as it were. It might be won, perhaps, by lasting contributions to humankind; ‘pilgrimages’ might be made out of ‘virtuous curiosity’, to see those who had been ‘living benefactors of the human race, – not to see miracles, – not for purposes of imposture, – but to gather from the study of individuals, benefits for mankind.’77 Auto-Icons are not miracles, but that is the point; all that we can do after death is to contribute to the anatomical and statuary uses of the dead.

  • 78 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, 514.
  • 79 The phrase is from Bentham, Jeremy, Book of Fallacies, ed. Philip Schofield (Oxford, Oxford Univers (...)
  • 80 I have in mind published works such as Bentham, Jeremy, Swear Not At All (London, R. Hunter, 1817) (...)

31 ‘Auto-Icon’, on this reading, is an exercise in the liberty of opinion. The humorous uses Bentham finds for the Auto-Icons is not a digression from the point, but the point itself. As Shaftesbury argued, truth may bear all lights, including the light of ridicule; what cannot bear ridicule cannot bear serious examination, either. Wit and humour could be used to puncture pretension, and so help us distinguish real concerns, which should be considered seriously, from pomp and pretence, which could be laughed at. The author of the Edinburgh Review article on Bentham’s memoirs remarked that Bentham, in attempting to ‘realize his conceptions in some positive and familiar form’, was ‘never deterred by the fear of ridicule. Indeed, the sense of the ridiculous appears to have been wanting in him – a remarkable thing for so great a humorist.’78 This essay argues, in contrast, that Bentham did have a sense of the ridiculous, and used it to satirical effect. Ridicule was one of Bentham’s weapons against authority – or, perhaps more accurately, ‘authority-begotten prejudice’, as he said in a different work – whether the authority came from the legal establishment, the aristocracy, or the Church.79 All three came in for their share of ridicule in ‘Auto-Icon’, but the last was the particular target of this work; ‘Auto-Icon’ reveals Bentham’s hostility to established religion in all its forms, to a greater extent than in his published writings.80

  • 81 Bentham, Jeremy, ‘The Rationale of Reward’ in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. John Bowring (New Yo (...)
  • 82 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, pp.508-09.
  • 83 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.513.

32 ‘Auto-Icon’ was also an exercise in the liberty of taste. Bentham is well-known for his remark that push-pin was as valuable as poetry. Pleasure was for him the only measure of taste: if push-pin furnished more pleasure than poetry or music, he declared, then it was more valuable than either.81 The same reviewer decried the narrowness of Bentham’s literary tastes – quoting, for example, Bentham’s advice to young ladies that poetry was ‘a great misapplication of their time’ – but went on to admire his insistence on his own taste. ‘On the other hand, it might be admitted that [Bentham] makes a gallant stand-up fight against Joseph Addison and the critics; – people who dare to interfere with the enjoyments of their fellow creatures, by arbitrary distinctions between different kinds of taste, good and bad. “Liberty of conscience, liberty of the press, liberty of opinion at large – all these are in one place or another established. The last that remains to be established, and which yet, in its whole extent, is scarcely so much as advocated, is liberty of taste”’.82 The last quote is from Bentham’s memoirs. The reviewer returned to the point later; ‘[Bentham] was a great thinker on great subjects, and might have been a great wit but for his passion for caricature, and his resolution not to be bullied out of the liberty of taste by the literary tyranny of your Addisons and Swifts.’83

  • 84 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.514.

33 As an example of Bentham’s inimitable style, and his insistence on the liberty of taste, the reviewer pointed to his instructions for the disposal of his body and his writings after his death. Most authors, the reviewer observed, would have limited their desire for immortality to commissioning a complete edition of their writings and a memoir of their lives.84

  • 85 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.515.

But Bentham was far too original to stop here. We have observed on his buffa humour for mixing the serious and ludicrous together. The Venetian gentleman, who gave directions for tying crackers to the weepers of the mourners, and amused his deathbed by imagining the confusion into which, when they went off, they would throw his funeral, is the most suitable comparison that occurs to us – the image of Bentham almost superintending the stuffing of his own body, entertaining his visitors by taking out of his pocket the eyes which were to adorn it, and pleasing his fancy with the part he was to take, (a silent guest,) with Dapple in his hand, at the great utilitarian festival on Founder’s day. There is something to our mind of the philanthropic ambition of a Howard, and the comic vivacity of Punch – a vivacity irrepressible even by death – in his testamentary instructions upon this subject. He ordains by will that the form of his outward man should be kept together, and preserved (as far as science can preserve our poor anatomies) in the attitude in which he sate when engaged in thought – his black coat, chair, and staff as usual; and he suggests that his disciples should meet, once a-year or oftener, to commemorate the founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation, on which occasion his executor is to wheel him in, to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall seem meet.85

  • 86 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

34This is to damn Bentham with faint humour. But it seems to me that the reviewer was right: that the same spirit – the ‘buffa’ mixture of the serious and the ludicrous, the ‘comic vivacity of Punch’ – pervades ‘Auto-Icon’. The mockery is robust and gleeful, and alive to its own ridiculousness – including the ridiculousness of the author’s own desire for immortality. Bentham, I think, writing this essay at the end of his life, was poking fun at himself as well; he could acknowledge the laughability of his ‘reverie[s]’, flights of fancy no more real or likely than the flights of Phaeton or the ‘hapless modern aeronauts’ (which is not to say that he did not really desire to be celebrated after his death).86 ‘Auto-Icon’ is deliberately, impertinently, and gleefully ‘buffa’; the liberty of taste, after all, must include the liberty to be in bad taste.

  • 87 Shaftesbury,‘Sensus Communis’, pp.65-67.

35I suggested earlier that Shaftesbury’s ideas about good taste and good breeding were based on his conception of a common sense of beauty. Shaftesbury made politeness a part of gentlemanly culture, and in the process reinvented and expanded the concept of politeness and of gentlemanly culture. On the reading of Shaftesbury that I have sketched out, it is arguable that the connection between philosophy and practice, ethics and aesthetics, was based on the notion that there was a common sense of beauty – which might be present in different degrees in different people, and might manifest itself in different ways, but was nonetheless founded on an acknowledgement of and response to truth. ‘Truth’ in this case encompassed ‘honesty and moral truth’, the ‘graphical or plastic truth’ in poetry (staying true to human nature, even in a fictional narrative), ‘[n]arrative or historical truth’, as well as ‘natural rules of proportion and truth’ in art and architecture.87

  • 88 Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ed. J. H. Burns and H (...)
  • 89 Bentham, Jeremy, Deontology Together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitari (...)

36 Bentham named Shaftesbury as one of the proponents of the ‘principle of sympathy and antipathy’ in his Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation. A long footnote giving examples of this principle begins, ‘One man (Lord Shaftesbury, Hutchinson, Hume, etc.) says, he has a thing made on purpose to tell him what is right and what is wrong; and that it is called a moral sense: and then he goes to work at his ease, and says, such a thing is right, and such a thing is wrong – why? “because my moral sense tells me it is.”’88 The speculation here is that the common sense of beauty in Shaftesbury’s account was analogous to (what Bentham called) his ‘moral sense’: it could serve as a cloak for the arbitrary imposition of one’s own tastes, or the tastes of one’s class, on the public. A common standard of taste was no less a case of ‘ipse-dixitism’ than a standard of morality based on the principle of sympathy and antipathy. 89

  • 90 Bentham, J., ‘Rationale of Reward’, p.254. I thank Malcolm Quinn for drawing my attention to this p (...)
  • 91 Bentham, J., ‘Rationale of Reward’, p.254.
  • 92 Bentham, J., ‘Rationale of Reward’, p.254.

37 As mentioned above, pleasure was for Bentham the only standard of taste. Further along in the Rationale of Reward, he argued that the efforts of critics like Joseph Addison to set down laws of taste had only resulted in ‘depriv[ing] mankind of a larger or smaller part of the sources of their amusement’.90 ‘There is no taste which deserves the epithet good,’ Bentham declared, ‘unless it be the taste for such employments which, to the pleasure actually produced by them, conjoin some contingent or future utility: there is no taste which deserves to be characterized as bad, unless it be a taste for some occupation which has a mischievous tendency.’91 To declare particular amusements in good or bad taste – and in particular to ‘ridicul[e] enjoyments, by attaching to them the fantastic idea of bad taste92 – was to apply the principle of sympathy and antipathy to the aesthetic realm: to set up one’s own sentiment or opinion as an external standard. And the effect, no less than with the principle of sympathy and antipathy, was tyrannical. To make a bad joke like ‘Auto-Icon’, then, was to strike a blow for freedom.

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Bibliographie

‘Art. VIII. – Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham. Including Autobiographical Conversations and Correspondence.’, Edinburgh Review, 78, no. 158 (Oct 1843)

[Bentham, Jeremy] The White Bull, 2 vols. (London, J. Bew, 1764).

Bentham, Jeremy, Swear Not At All (London, R. Hunter, 1817)

Beauchamp, Philip [Bentham, Jeremy], Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion (London, R. Carlile, 1822)

Smith, Gamaliel [Bentham, Jeremy], Not Paul, But Jesus (London, John Hunt, 1823)

Bentham, Jeremy, ‘The Rationale of Reward’ in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. John Bowring (New York, Russell & Russell, 1962 [1843]), Vol. III

Bentham, Jeremy, Deontology Together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism, ed. Amnon Goldworth (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983)

Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ed. J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995 [1970])

Bentham, Jeremy, Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined, ed. James E. Crimmins and Catherine Fuller (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011)

Bentham, Jeremy, Book of Fallacies, ed. Philip Schofield (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015)

Collings, David, ‘Bentham’s Auto-Icon: Utilitarianism and the Evisceration of the Common Body’, Prose Studies, 23, no. 3 (2000), pp.95-127

Colls, John F., Utilitarianism Unmasked (London, George Bell, 1844)

Conway, Stephen, ‘J. F. Colls, M. A. Gathercole, and Utilitarianism Unmasked: A Neglected Episode in the Anglican Response to Bentham’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 45, no. 3 (July 1994), pp.435-47.

Cooper, Anthony Ashley, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Lawrence E. Klein (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Klein, Lawrence, Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: Moral Discourse and Cultural Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Koh, Tsin Yen, ‘Bentham on Asceticism and Tyranny’, History of European Ideas, 45, no. 1 (2019), pp.1-14

Lindsay, Shana G., ‘Motui Docent Vivos: Jeremy Bentham and Marcel Broodthaers in Figures of Wax’, Oxford Art Journal, 36, no. 1 (2013), pp.93-107

Marmoy, C. F. A., ‘The ‘Auto-Icon’ of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, Medical History, 2, no. 2 (April 1958), pp.77-86

Notes and Queries, 4th ser., Nov. 15 1873, vol. XII, p. 387

Quinn, Malcolm, ‘Jeremy Bentham on Liberty of Taste’, History of European Ideas, 43, no. 6 (2017), pp.614-27

Schofield, Philip, Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

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Notes

1 Colls, John F., Utilitarianism Unmasked (London, George Bell, 1844), p.19. On this essay, see Conway, Stephen, ‘J. F. Colls, M. A. Gathercole, and Utilitarianism Unmasked: A Neglected Episode in the Anglican Response to Bentham’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 45, no. 3 (July 1994), pp.435-47.

2 Colls, J., Utilitarianism Unmasked, pp.17-19, original emphases.

3 On the liberty of taste, see Quinn, Malcolm, ‘Jeremy Bentham on Liberty of Taste’, History of European Ideas, 43, no. 6 (2017), pp.614-27. On the liberty of taste and religion, see Koh, Tsin Yen, ‘Bentham on Asceticism and Tyranny’, History of European Ideas, 45, no. 1 (2019), pp.1-14.

4 Bentham, Jeremy, ‘Auto-Icon’ in Bentham’s Auto-Icon and Related Writings, ed. James E. Crimmins (Bristol, Thoemmes Press, 2002), p.1.

5 Schofield, Philip, Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham (Oxford, Oxford University Press), p.338. On the history of the text and Bentham’s Auto-Icon, see Marmoy, C. F. A., ‘The ‘Auto-Icon’ of Jeremy Bentham at University College, London’, Medical History, 2, no. 2 (April 1958), pp.77-86.

6 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.2.

7 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.1-2.

8 There is a list in Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

9 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.7.

10 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

11 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.

12 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.5.

13 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.

14 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.12-15.

15 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

16 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.4-5.

17 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.7-10.

18 Colls, Utilitarianism Unmasked, pp.57-59.

19 ‘Art. VIII. – Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham. Including Autobiographical Conversations and Correspondence.’, Edinburgh Review, 78, no. 158 (Oct 1843), p.461.

20 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.512.

21 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.515.

22 See for example Collings, David, ‘Bentham’s Auto-Icon: Utilitarianism and the Evisceration of the Common Body’, Prose Studies, 23, no. 3 (2000), pp.95-127; Lindsay, Shana G., ‘Motui Docent Vivos: Jeremy Bentham and Marcel Broodthaers in Figures of Wax’, Oxford Art Journal, 36, no. 1 (2013), pp.93-107.

23 Notes and Queries, 4th ser., Nov. 15 1873, vol. XII, p. 387. But see Marmoy, C. F. A., ‘The ‘Auto-Icon’ of Jeremy Bentham’, on the authenticity of ‘Auto-Icon’.

24 Schofield, P., Utility and Democracy, p.338.

25 Schofield, P., Utility and Democracy, p.342.

26 Bentham used this method to similar effect in The White Bull, 2 vols. (London, J. Bew, 1764). The work is a translation of Voltaire’s fable of the same name (and so the effect comes from Voltaire’s original text), but Bentham uses the same method in his preface to the translation, which comprises the first volume of the work.

27 ‘A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm’ and ‘Sensus Communis: an Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour in a Letter to a Friend’ are in Cooper, Anthony Ashley, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Lawrence E. Klein (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999). See Klein’s ‘Introduction’, p.xi.

28 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.30.

29 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.36.

30 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.33.

31 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.33.

32 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.37.

33 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.30.

34 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.

35 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.

36 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.34.

37 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.35.

38 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.34-35.

39 See Klein, Lawrence, Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: Moral Discourse and Cultural Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), especially the introduction and chs. 5 and 10.

40 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.

41 See Klein’s ‘Introduction’ in Klein, L., Characteristics, pp.xiii-xiv: he implies that ‘polite’ writing (as opposed to lectures or sermons, for example) was characterized, for Shaftesbury, by humour, playfulness, variety, open-endedness, informality, a conversational quality, and skepticism.

42 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.32.

43 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.36-37.

44 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.36.

45 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.31.

46 This loosely follows the reading of Shaftesbury in Klein, L., Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness. Klein argued that Shaftesbury brought together philosophy and good breeding, ethics and aesthetics, and in doing so emphasized the social and cultural context of liberty.

47 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.37-38 for different opinions.

48 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.48.

49 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, pp.50-53.

50 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.65.

51 Shaftesbury, ‘Sensus Communis’, p.63.

52 Klein, L., Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p.198.

53 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.1, 17-19.

54 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.18.

55 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

56 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

57 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

58 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.

59 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.

60 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.6.

61 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.13.

62 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

63 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.4-5.

64 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.11.

65 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.3, 9-12.

66 In ‘A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm’, for example.

67 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.3.

68 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.4.

69 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.3-4.

70 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.7.

71 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

72 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.2.

73 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, pp.2, 4-5.

74 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.13.

75 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

76 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.21.

77 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.7.

78 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, 514.

79 The phrase is from Bentham, Jeremy, Book of Fallacies, ed. Philip Schofield (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015).

80 I have in mind published works such as Bentham, Jeremy, Swear Not At All (London, R. Hunter, 1817) and Bentham, Jeremy, Church-of-Englandism and its Catechism Examined, ed. James E. Crimmins and Catherine Fuller (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011), which stop short of declaring open war on Christianity. ‘Auto-Icon’ goes further too, I think, than Bentham’s pseudonymously published works such as Smith, Gamaliel, Not Paul, But Jesus (London, John Hunt, 1823), which ostensibly defends the religion of Jesus against the incursions of Paul, and Beauchamp, Philip, Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion (London, R. Carlile, 1822), which ostensibly confines its criticism to natural religion, and not to revealed religion.

81 Bentham, Jeremy, ‘The Rationale of Reward’ in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. John Bowring (New York, Russell & Russell, 1962 [1843]), Vol. III, p.253.

82 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, pp.508-09.

83 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.513.

84 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.514.

85 ‘Memoirs of Jeremy Bentham’, Edinburgh Review, p.515.

86 Bentham, J., ‘Auto-Icon’, p.15.

87 Shaftesbury,‘Sensus Communis’, pp.65-67.

88 Bentham, Jeremy, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ed. J. H. Burns and H. L. A. Hart (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995 [1970]), p.26, note d.

89 Bentham, Jeremy, Deontology Together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism, ed. Amnon Goldworth (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983), p.26.

90 Bentham, J., ‘Rationale of Reward’, p.254. I thank Malcolm Quinn for drawing my attention to this passage.

91 Bentham, J., ‘Rationale of Reward’, p.254.

92 Bentham, J., ‘Rationale of Reward’, p.254.

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Tsin Yen Koh, « Bad Jokes and Good Taste: an Essay on Bentham’s ‘Auto-Icon’ », Revue d’études benthamiennes [En ligne], 20 | 2021, mis en ligne le 18 décembre 2021, consulté le 25 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudes-benthamiennes/9139 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudes-benthamiennes.9139

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Tsin Yen Koh

Yale-NUS College

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