Jeremy Bentham’s Head

James Bell

The Wilderness EP

  1. Jeremy Bentham’s Head
"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.