Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: Bentham’s Influence

March 12, 2012

 Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832). Izbrannyie sochinieniia Ieremii Bentama. Tom Pervyi. [Selected Works of Jeremy Bentham. Volume One. Introduction to the Bases of Morality and Legislation. Basic Principles of a Civil Code. Basic Principles of a Criminal Code], transl. A.N. Pypin & A.N. Nevedomskii. Preface by Iu. G. Zhukovskii. St. Petersburg, 1867. Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

Jeremy Bentham, the noted jurist and legal philosopher, spent nearly all of 1786 in Russia, visiting his younger brother Samuel (1757-1831), who was in Russian service for more than two decades. The two brothers were unusually close, Jeremy supporting Samuel financially, morally, and intellectually. Samuel made important contributions to Russian industry, shipping, naval victories, and commerce. The two brothers corresponded frequently.

While in residence at the estate of Prince G.A. Potemkin (1739-1791) at Krichev in modern Belarus, Jeremy Bentham composed and sent back to London for printing his celebrated Defence of Usury (1787) and commenced work on his ideas for a modern penal institution, eventually published as his Panopticon (an outline of which appeared in 1790). The Benthams were close to the Russian Ambassador in London, S.R. Vorontsov (1744-1832), and the family of Admiral N.S. Mordvinov (1754-1845).

M.M. Speranskii and Emperor Alexander I were attracted by Bentham’s early writings in French on codification and invited Bentham’s secretary, Etienne Dumont (1759-1829), to St. Petersburg to supervise a translation of Bentham’s writings on codification into the Russian language (published in three volumes, 1805-1810, omitting only Bentham’s strictures on press censorship). Every major law reform in Russia through the end of the Imperial Period was attended, in one fashion or another, by a translation and publication of one of Bentham’s works.

The present volume contains Bentham’s classic treatise on codification. First published in 1803, the edition shown here appeared soon after the celebrated Russian judicial reforms of 1864, in a fresh translation and with additional materials added from the Collected Works of Bentham edited by Sir John Bowring (1792-1872) and the French versions of Dumont. Only volume one appeared.

See: Ian Christie, The Benthams in Russia: 1780-1791 (1993).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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