Jeremy Bentham, who lived in England from 1748 until his death in 1832, was a lawyer by training, called to the bar in 1769.

But raw law frustrated his intellect and he evolved into a thinker, a legal philosopher, which he put into practice by the use of the pen.

He was ahead of his time in so many ways. His legacy, considered outrageous at the time, included promotion of individual rights and freedoms and even animal rights, the segregation of the church from political influence, abolition of slavery in the death penalty, the acceptance of homosexuality and criticism of corporal punishment upon children. These ideas were developed through hundreds of hours of discussion and debates with his peers and colleagues including John Stuart Mill, John Austin and Robert Owen.

A week before he died, well into his eighties, he wrote his will:

"My body I give to my dear friend Doctor Southwood Smith to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned, and I direct (that) he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my Will and at the top of which I have written Auto Icon.

"The skeleton he will cause to be put together in such a manner as that the whole figure may be seated in a chair usually occupied by me when living, in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of time employed in writing. I direct that the body thus prepared shall be transferred to my executor. He will cause the skeleton to be clad in one of the suits of black occasionally worn by me.

"The body so clothed, together with Bentham's headthe chair and the staff in the my later years borne by me, he will take charge of and for containing the whole apparatus he will cause to be prepared an appropriate box or case and will cause to be engraved in conspicuous characters on a plate to be affixed thereon and also on the labels on the glass cases in which the preparations of the soft parts of my body shall be contained ... my name at length with the letters OB followed by the day of my decease.

"If it should so happen that my personal friends and other disciples should be disposed to meet together on some day or days of the year for the purpose of commemorating the founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation, my executor will from time to time cause to be conveyed to the room in which they meet the said box or case with the contents therein to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall ... meet.

"Jeremy Bentham, Queens Square Place, Westminster, Wednesday, 30 May, 1832."

When he died on June 6, 1832, his Will was given to his executor, Dr. Thomas Southword Smith (1788-1861), and read. Though shocking, it was complied with.

First, and all pursuant to his will, his body was rolled into a medical school and publicly dissected as part of an anatomy lecture. It was Dr. Smith himself who dissected his best friend three days after Bentham's demise, announcing to the onlookers, as he raised his scalpel:

"If, by any appropriation of the dead, I can promote the happiness of the living, then it is my duty to conquer the reluctance I may feel to such a disposition of the dead, however well-founded or strong that reluctance may be."

After the dissection, the flesh was removed from his body. Jeremy Bentham's head, still intact, was re-attached to his skeleton, the latter stuffed out with hay and dressed up and placed in a glass cabinet for all to see his likeness, just as his Will had requested. On several occasions, the cabinet was rolled out to various meetings hosted by his known friends, again, as his Will had requested.

The cabinet with his remains were given to the University College of London (UCL) in 1850. And kept on public display. In fact, according to UCL records:

"At the centenary (100) and sesquicentenary (150) of the College, he was brought out to the College Committee meeting. He sat at one end of the table, the Provost at the other, and the minutes record Jeremiah Bentham, present but not voting."1

Eventually, his head was damaged and replaced by a wax likeness, complete with straw hat and wig and it remains on public display, known fondly by UCL staff as the Auto-Icon.

The original head is held in a wooden box which can only be opened by four keys.

The official UCL song includes these two verses:

Then lying on his deathbed, Jeremiah made a will.
Said he: "Preserve my body with the utmost of your skill,
And put me in the library, that folks may see me still,
A hundred years from now."

So they sat him in a cupboard in the science libraree
They dressed him (with) the clothes he wore that future folks might see,
Just what the beau ideal of an Englishman should be
A hundred years from now.

His Will gives no hint as to what, if any message, this lawyer-philosopher was trying to make with his outrageous Will. The best guess remains that he was trying to suggest to society that the heavy religious overtones society imposed upon dying and death, are silly and could use a little macabre levity.

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