Jeremy Bentham’s Head

James Bell
  1. Jeremy Bentham’s Head -:-- / 05:17

“But the head got damaged, now it’s leather and red / And if you see what’s stuck on the body instead…”


The eminent Enlightenment philosopher Jeremy Bentham let it be known that he wanted to be mummified after he died. He wanted his body to be publicly dissected so he could still be of service to medical science (only criminals were dissected at that time). And then he wanted to be turned into a mummy, and put in a display case for posterity (which can now be seen at University College London). But something went wrong with the process, and his head didn’t mummify properly. And something about that head fascinated me. I thought “There’s a head with a story…”


In a big glass shell in UCL there lies Jeremy Bentham’s head
With his 2 glass eyes just slightly surprised, as if he’s just realised he’s dead
The case is locked with 5 separate keys
2 you turn simultaneously
Just in case some UCL student tries to roll him around again

But back in his heyday, each day was like a payday
He lived so large they let him live on in his own way
That when death should come he’d be turned into a mummy
And put out on show like a tailor’s dummy
But the head got damaged, now it’s leather and red
And if you see what’s stuck on the body instead
Well, it looks more pretty
But it’s still a pity
Because that’s not really Jeremy Bentham’s head


Because the real head tried to find a key to open up the greatest door
And understand this thing called Happiness so we’d be in chains no more
Map it out with logical laws
Single out the logical flaws
I believe that this endeavour is still the greatest of all

And then there’s the vision of Utilitarianism
Felicific Calculus and cleaning up the prisons
A wider vote and an equal share, yeah
Rates laws, state schools, modern underwear, yeah
And that’s just a fraction, a moderate selection
Of ways that he helped to change society’s direction
A drop in the ocean
Of some of the notions
That started life in Jeremy Bentham’s head

But it was 1832 when he began his mortal slumber
And we’re a long way away from that ‘Greatest Happiness for the Greatest Number’
And with each passing year Doubt has trickled like a leak
Until the modern mind is too confused to speak
And our philosophers are up to their eyebrows, swimming in words words words…

Well, we can map out the world to the smallest degree, we can transplant a failing heart
We can travel in space, harness air and sea, we can pull an atom apart
But time goes on and still I see
Happiness is a mystery
What it is, how it fits together, well, we don’t even know where to start…

But we must start somewhere, or else we’ll end up nowhere
If we don’t make the effort then we’re never going to get there
I can’t just wait and leave it all to chance that
A man like Bentham will give me all the answers
Perhaps he had his own map laid outspread
Before he took his little detour to the land of the dead, but hey
I’ll never get it
I might as well forget it
Because it’s all locked up in Jeremy Bentham’s head

Credits & Copyright

Written in 2006 and recorded in 2009 by James Bell. Released in November 2009. Remastered in February 2017. (C) & (P) House of Lyra. All rights reserved.