Mini-lecture: Bentham's 'corpse and corpus' (UCL)

Uploaded by UCLTV on 04.02.2010

I'm Professor Philip Schofield. I'm Director of the Bentham Project in the Faculty of Laws
here at University College London.
I'm standing in the South Cloisters of the main building of the college
along with Mr Jeremy Bentham.
Bentham was born in 1748 in London.
And he died
in 1832
in London.
He was a great philosopher
and a reformer.
He wanted to promote
the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
When he died
he instructed his surgeon, Thomas Southwood Smith,
to create
what he called his auto-icon,
his self-image,
which is his skeleton dressed in his clothes,
sitting in his chair.
He intended that his own head should sit on top of the auto-icon,
but it looked so revolting when it was preserved that a wax head was made instead.
Now, it's often said that Bentham was the founder of
University College London in that
he left his body
to the college.
The founding to the college was
rather more complex than that,
but it's certainly true that his
ideas influenced
many of the people who were
active in the founding of the college.
On the other hand, he did not leave his body
to the college
In fact, it was Thomas Southwood Smith, who,
he when he moved to a smaller house, decided he no longer had room for Mr Bentham
and offered it to college, and so college then accepted
the mortal remains of Jeremy Bentham.
That was in 1850.
In 1849 perhaps an even more significant event occurred and that was the giving
of Bentham's manuscripts to the college library.
There are 60,000 sheets of manuscripts in the collection.
They've never been properly edited.
And they are of immense historical and philosophical importance.
The Bentham Project was established fifty years ago in order to edit this material.
we've so far produced
thirty volumes.
We have another forty to go
so it's going to take a long time
but it is
going to constitute a real monument to scholarship
when it's finished.