Literary Daybook, June 6

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published June 6, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On June 6, 1916, Dr. John Hathaway arrives at Roderick Burgess' home.
-- "Sleep of the Just (Sandman #1)" (1990)
by Neil Gaiman

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1832, the radical British philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham died. Though a prolific writer -- the complete works run to 36 volumes -- Bentham's most famous connection to literature is as satiric target in Dickens' "Hard Times." Dickens shared many of Bentham's enthusiasms, such as prison reform and the guarantee of a minimum wage, but he was horrified by the Utilitarian approach. Bentham wrote of arriving at "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" through a "felicific calculus" in which pleasure and pain were clearly quantified, and upon which laws could incontestably operate; Dickens wrote of Mr. Dick and his kite, of "what larks!" Pip and Joe Gargery shared, of such incalculables as Tom-All-Alone's and the Marshalsea. And, of course, of Mr. Gradgrind's school of hard facts, in which the circus girl Sissy Jupe stands condemned for thinking a horse might be more than the graminivorous quadruped that Bitzer dutifully anatomizes:

"'Girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, 'I don't know that girl. Who is that girl?'

'Sissy Jupe, sir,' explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

'Sissy is not a name,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'Don't call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.'

'My father as calls me Sissy, sir,' returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.

'Then he has no business to do it,' said Mr. Gradgrind.

'Tell him he mustn't. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?'

'He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.' Mr. Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

'We don't want to know anything about that, here. You mustn't tell us about that, here ... Give me your definition of a horse.'

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours ...'"

Bentham died wealthy, and used his estate to finance University College in London. As dictated in his will, his embalmed and dressed body continues to sit today on a chair in a cabinet in a corridor of one of the main College buildings.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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