Jeremy Bentham was at University College in London the other day.
He was sitting in an antique chair and had the not-quite-blank expression on his face of someone waiting patiently for a routine doctor's appointment. He looked like he didn't quite know what to do with his hands.
But then, Jeremy bentham is always at University College, and his expression doesn't change.
You see, he died at the ripe old age of 84-1832.
University College's Jeremy Bentham is none other than the Utilitarian philosopher and reformer, the man known for saying laws should bring the "greatest happiness of the greatest number," a man who believed education shoould be free of religious shackle and irrational social taboos.
He willed his body to science "with the desire that mankind may reap some small benefit in and by my decease, having hitherto had small opportunities to contribute thereto while living."
His body went to a doctor friend to be dissected in public while lectures were given to assembled medical students and friends. This was done, fans of gothic thrillers take note, "during a heavy thunderstrom with lightning flashing through the gloom," according to the reports of several persons present.
As Bentham specified, hgis skeleton was reassembled, padded out and dressed in his clothes, then placed on one of his favorite chairs and mounted in a glass-fronted mahogany case with his name in gold letters at the top. This "auto-icon", as Bentham labeled it, was fitted out with his walking cane, Dapple and a stand bearing one of his rings and a pair of his spectacles.
Bentham hoped his head could be preserved to crown his auto-icon. His doctor friend tried and "the head was rendered as hard as the skulls of the New Zealanders: but all expression was of course gone."
So a French artist was commissioned to create a wax bus tof Bentham. This "admirable likeness" was mounted on the skeleton with an iron spike, and remains there today.
(The mummified head was kept in an oaken chest on top of Bentham's case-until students of a rival college stole in a raid. The skull was recovered, but university officials decided to play it safe and keep it in the university vaults.)
The philosopher stayed with his doctor friend for nearly 20 years, until th M.D. moved and ran out of space. Officials of the still-young University College, perhaps thinking of Bentham's support in the founding of the university, readily agreed to assume custody of "the most vaulable wax figure" in 1850.
The image of the Utilitarian was shunted about the college, to places both closed and open to the public, until 19398 when World War II forced the evacuation of University College into the countryside. After an inspection, a sprucing up and more life-like stuffing, he spent a short time in the Professors' Common Room, then was transferred to a spot where all the world could drop by.
On the bicentennial of Bentham's birth in 1748, a former University College provost, Sir David Pye, observed that the philosopher had a major role in the formation of the University "and it is therefore proper that Bentham's bones in the form of his so-called Auto-Icon should rest with us. . . ."
And so Bentham sits in a dim corridor of the South Junction, a building that opens onto the South Cloisters, a wing of the main library.
He's been disturbed only once in 11 years, when someone took his ring. He's not entirely left to his own devices for entertainment, however.
Once a year he's presented to a group of honored guests. "When they have a Fellow Dinner they wheel him in," explained Provost Beadle Jack Rilley. Rilley, the highest ranking of the university's beadles-officials who act as combination oversees and question-answerers for passersby with problems-watches over the yearly spring outing.
The 120 or so Fellows, honorary trustees, gather in a dining hall for a meal as part of a traditional evening and are joined by Bentham who is wheeled in by two porters.
"I think everybody's quite pleased" by his appearance, Rilley added. He said the concensus is that the university is fortunate to have one of its most important benefactors still with it.
"I can't think of any other university that has anything like it," he added proudly.
If Bentham were as in as good health as he looks, he undoubtably would be pleased at the proceedings. In his will he mentioned: "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. . . ."
Rilley said having Bentham's image at the university causes no problems of maintenance and that, other than the two thefts, Bentham's existence has been quiet.
"I open him up in the morning and close him up at night," he said of the work involved. "I haven't even seen his window cleaned," he said, though the light bulb above his case has to be changed occasionally.
While Bentham doesn't cause much trouble, he does attract a good deal of attention. "Hundreds of people-I could say thousands -come and have alook at him," Rilley said. "You'd be surprised- a lot of people come from America."
Rilley said some are admirers of Bentham, while some are just curious and want to see the figure of the philosopher for themselves. Some are disconsolate if they find Bentham's been locked up for the night, but Rilley said he's easily persuaded to reopen, the case for someone who's gone out of his way to drop by.
"I've had my picture taken many times with him," he added.
Around the corner from Rilley's desk, an occasional passerby in the busy corridor pulls up short and takes a short detour to the case and the brief history hung on the door. Invariably, he or she looks unbelievingly at the figure, reads for a while, then turns away with a chuckle or shake of the head.
One student, introducing an acquaintance to Bentham, explained that his presence is widely known on the campus, but not elsewhere. The student was even able to recite a brief summary of Bentham's philosophy.
A professor walking past with a visitor suddenly pulled him out of the line of traffic and presented him to Bentham, saying, "Here's our founder." The eyes of the visitor hinted at a feeling that University College is no ordinary place.
No matter what the reaction, Jeremy Bentham fills his spot and seems to gaze out over his dim abode. He looks like someone who's see a lot and not been dismayed by it. With his straggly, shoulder-length hair (his own) he resembles a diminutive Ben Franklin.
He looks comfortable, even content, come to think of it, with the way his beloved University College is treating him. CAPTION: Picture, Jack Rilley, Provost Beadle of University College and Bentham, AP