John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The philosopher's mummy

On this date in 1832, the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham died at the age of 44. Pursuant to his instructions, his body was preserved; it now sits, dressed, in a glass case in University College London. (Image.)

If your interest extends beyond the sensational — the drive-by stare — to the historico-socio-politico-medico-theologico elements of the philosopher’s mummy, an essay by James E. Crimmins on Bentham’s will and the pamphlet “Auto-Icon” offers a considerable fund of information.

5 comments:

  1. [The novelist] Mr. [Thomas Love] Peacock talked [...] at much length about Jeremy Bentham, with whom he had been extremely intimate -- dining with him tête-à-tête once a week for years together. He mentioned among other things that when experiments were being made with Mr. Bentham's body after his death, Mr. James Mill had one day come into Mr. Peacock's room at the India House and told him that there had exuded from Mr. Bentham's head a kind of oil, which was almost unfreezable, and which he conceived might be used for the oiling of chronometers which were going into high latitudes. "The less you say about that, Mill," said Peacock, "the better it will be for you; because if the fact once becomes known, just as we see now in the newspapers that a fine bear is to be killed for his grease, we shall be having advertisements to the effect that a fine philosopher is to be killed for his oil."

    --Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff, Notes from a Diary

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  2. One would think that the mind behind Utilitarianism might choose to dispose of his body in a method that was more...utilitarian.

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  3. Ooh, I love the idea of a "Jeremy Bentham's Patented Philospher's Oil."

    I liked the essay's description of the public debate about the supply of corpses for medical research. That the politicans of the day thought it was a persuasive argument to claim that the doctors will experiment on you when you're alive if they can't get their hands on you when you're dead was particularly amusing.

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  4. @Abigail, if you read the essay and/or the text explanation on the image page, you'll see that it was utilitarian, in its way.

    --jessicaink

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  5. I BELIEVE THE BOOK DUNSANY, AN IRISH STORY, WAS WRITTEN BY THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK.
    THIS ANON. AUTHOR HAS MOUNTSTUART, AS ONE OF HIS MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK.
    THE NAMES IN THE BOOK HAVE BEEN CHANGED FROM THE PEOPLE THEY ARE MEANT TO BE.JEFFREYS BEING ONE OF NOTE. THE SUBSCRIBERS TO THE BOOK, GIVE CLUES AS TO THE IDENTIY OF THE CHARACTERS, WITH THE EXCEPTION THAT IS, OF JEFFREYS.

    REGARDS,

    Geoffrey Betton.

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