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because they were “poor,” but because they were "unclaimed.” Neither was any pain arising from this arrangement to be compared with that springing from the forcible seizure of bodies in the old times. Out of that arose, necessarily, scenes of horror revolting to all sense of the respect due to the dead; while their quiet removal from the hospital to the anatomical school, to be followed, after the necessary dissection, by their burial, is widely different. It seemed, moreover, that the interest of the poor specially demanded a widespread anatomical knowledge in medical men, since they, more than all others, suffered when the means of gaining it were limited. “Poverty, it is true,” my grandfather writes, “is a misfortune ; poverty, it is true, has terror and pain enough in itself.
No legislature ought by any act to increase its wretchedness; but the measure here proposed is pregnant with good to the poor, and would tend, more than can be estimated, to lessen the misery of their condition. For it would give knowledge to the lowest practitioners of the medical art—that is, to persons who are at present lamentably deficient, and into whose hands the great bulk of the poor fall. And, after all, the
true question is, whether the surgeon shall be allowed to gain knowledge by operating on the bodies of the dead, or driven to obtain it by practising on the bodies of the living. If the dead bodies of the poor are not appropriated to this use, their living bodies must be, and will be. The rich will always have it in their power to select, for the performance of an operation, the surgeon who has signalised himself by success; but that he has not obtained the dexterity which ensures success by dissecting and operating on the bodies of the dead, must have acquired it by making them on the living bodies of the poor.”
It was said at the time by objectors that the measure in question would deter patients from entering the hospitals, and add terrors to workhouses, but experience has proved that my grandfather was right : the adoption of his plan has not been found to have the slightest effect of the kind.
In considering the work of this period of my grandfather's life, I ought not to omit to mention his lectures, which were full of the same earnestness and originality that characterised all he did. He was lecturer at the Webb Street School of Anatomy, where he gave a course on “Forensic Medicine,” which made much impression at the time. He
gave also courses of popular lectures on physiology at the London Institution and elsewhere. To those at the London Institution ladies were admitted-a permission unusual in those times.
One lecture, delivered on a very remarkable occasion, must be mentioned here. My grandfather was the friend and physician of Jeremy Bentham, and was called upon, after his death, to perform a duty which he had solemnly undertaken. The venerable philosopher died in 1832 at the age of eighty-five, and by will desired that his body should be used for the purposes of dissection. He intrusted to Dr Southwood Smith, in conjunction with two other friends, the task of seeing this disposition properly fulfilled, trusting that they would not be deterred by opposition or obloquy This disposition of his body was not a recent
By a will, dated as far back as 1769, it was left, for the same purpose, to his friend Dr Fordyce. The reason at that time assigned for this is expressed by Bentham in the following remarkable words :
“This my will and special request I make, not out of affectation of singularity, but to the intent and with the desire that mankind may reap some small benefit by my decease, having hitherto had small opportunities to contribute thereto while living."
By a memorandum affixed to this document it is clear that it had undergone revision as lately as two months before his death, and that this part of it, originally made when he was twenty-one, was again deliberately and solemnly confirmed by him at eighty-five.
In thus appropriating his remains to the service of mankind, Bentham carried out, to the last moment of his life, and even after his death, his principle of “ Utility.”
The subject of dissection was agitating the public mind : the “ Anatomy Bill” was not yet passed, and the idea might well present itself to a benevolent mind such as his, that to show a thorough absence of horror or dislike to the idea of being dissected after death would be a means of lessening the prejudice which existed against it.
Whatever may be thought of the greatest happiness principle” of this philosopher, it did not cause him to lead a selfish or epicurean life. The long calm expanse of eighty - five years was filled with simple pleasures, with hard work, and contained many sacrifices to the cause of truth.
My grandfather bears his testimony to the wonderful energy and self-devotion of Bentham during his life in these words :
“ Bentham's object was no less a one than to construct an all-comprehensive system of morals and an all-comprehensive code of laws. For the accomplishment of a work so prodigious he put forth an energy commensurate to the end. The extent of mental labour required for this undertaking, and actually brought to it, is truly extraordinary. Every day for nearly half a century did he devote to it never less than eight hours, often ten, and sometimes twelve.”
And now, when this busy life was stilled, my grandfather was bound to carry out as fully as possible Bentham's wish that in death too he might be useful.
He delivered the oration over the body, in the Webb Street School of Anatomy, on the evening of the 9th of June 1832. One who was there thus writes of it: