“Swear not at all:” containing an Exposure of the Needlessness and Mischievousness, as well as Antichristianity, of the Ceremony of an Oath: A View of the Parliamentary Recognition of its Needlessness, implied in the Practice of both Houses: And an Indication of the unexceptionable Securities, by which whatsoever practical good Purposes the Ceremony has been employed to serve would be no more effectually provided for. Together with Proof of the open and persevering Contempt of moral and religious Principle, perpetuated by it, and rendered universal, in the two Church-of-England Universities; more especially in the University of Oxford …

London, R. Hunter, 1817.

8vo, pp. [iv], 97, [1] errata, [1] publisher’s advertisements, [1] blank; some light browning and foxing, but still a good copy, uncut in recent half calf.


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First published edition, originally printed in 1813 and ‘written to expose the mischief arising from the laws relating to the administration of oaths’ (Atkinson, Jeremy Bentham: his life and work, p. 173). ‘In some cases, so he declared, the Promissory Oath prevented a man from doing what he knew to be right; in others, it afforded him a ready excuse for the commission of some wrong. George III laid on his Coronation Oath the responsibility of the American War and of his resistance to the claims of the Catholics. He had sworn to maintain his dominions entire; he had sworn to preserve the Church of England. At Oxford, barbers, cooks, bedmakers, errand boys, and other unlettered retainers to the University were habitually sworn in English to the observance of a medley of statutes penned in Latin – the oath thus solemnly taken but never kept. On matriculating, he had himself been excused from taking the oaths by reason of his tender years; and this, said Bowring, relieved him from a state of very painful doubt, for even then he felt strong objections against needless swearing …

‘Bentham did not, however, regard Assertory or Judicial Oaths as open to the same serious objections; but, while recognising the necessity of some formal sanction, he did not approve of the ceremony being made a sacred invocation, for that was apt to obscure the real mischief of judicial falsehood – the mischief occasioned by the lie. If criminality be centred in the profanation of the ceremony, who is to say whether the sanction for truth be in operation or not? Who can say what are the religious opinions hidden in the breast of the witness? First went ordeal, he writes; then went duel; after that went, under the name of wager of law, the ceremony of an oath in its pure state; by-and-by this last of the train of supernatural powers, ultima cœlicolûm, will be gathered with Astræa into its native skies’ (op. cit., p. 174f).

Chuo S6-2; Everett, p. 533f.

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