To be exact, Bentham’s clothed skeleton will be in display in New York at the Breuer branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His head was mummified poorly and is therefore not usually shown to the public. But it was on display this winter in London.
A Telegraph story told me some other news about the head:
…scientists have taken samples of Bentham’s DNA to test theories that he may have had Asperger’s or autism, both of which have a strong genetic component. . . .Lucas and Sheeran’s study was “Asperger’s Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham” in the Journal of Bentham Studies; a P.D.F. file can be downloaded here.
he was notably eccentric, reclusive and difficult to get hold of. He called his walking stick Dapple, his teapot Dickey, and kept an elderly cat named The Reverend Sir John Langbourne.
In 2006, researchers Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran suggested his unique character was driven by Asperger’s syndrome, after studying biographies which described a young Bentham as ‘having few companions his own age’; and being ‘morbidly sensitive.’
There are some obstacles to a genetics test of that hypothesis. First, while autism has a heritable aspect, nobody has identified specific genes as switches or markers. Instead, at least sixty-five genes have been linked to the condition, so it would be at least complex and perhaps impossible to say Bentham had the combination of genes that gives rise to autism.
Second, so far it’s been hard to isolate Bentham D.N.A. from, well, other D.N.A. The Telegraph quotes the curator who looks after Bentham’s head that “99 per cent of the DNA taken has come from bacteria in his mouth.” But at least the geneticists haven’t announced that Bentham was in fact a bacterium.
(Click on the Telegraph link for photos of Bentham’s head today. It’s not pretty.)