Annie Besant
Annie Besant

Part 3 out of 5

which I did not hold, but agents of the Christian Evidence Society, in
their street preaching, made the foulest accusations against me of
personal immorality. Remonstrances addressed to the Rev. Mr. Engstroem,
the secretary of the society, brought voluble protestations of
disavowal and disapproval; but as the peccant agents were continued in
their employment, the apologies were of small value. No accusation was
too coarse, no slander too baseless, for circulation by these men; and
for a long time these indignities caused me bitter suffering,
outraging my pride, and soiling my good name. The time was to come
when I should throw that good name to the winds for the sake of the
miserable, but in those early days I had done nothing to merit, even
ostensibly, such attacks. Even by educated writers, who should have
known better, the most wanton accusations of violence and would-be
destructiveness were brought against Atheists; thus Miss Frances Power
Cobbe wrote in the _Contemporary Review_ that loss of faith in God
would bring about the secularisation _or destruction_ of all
cathedrals, churches, and chapels. "Why," I wrote in answer, "should
cathedrals, churches, and chapels be destroyed? Atheism will utilise,
not destroy, the beautiful edifices which, once wasted on God, shall
hereafter be consecrated for man. Destroy Westminster Abbey, with its
exquisite arches, its glorious tones of soft, rich colour, its
stonework light as if of cloud, its dreamy, subdued twilight, soothing
as the 'shadow of a great rock in a weary land'? Nay, but reconsecrate
it to humanity. The fat cherubs who tumble over guns and banners on
soldiers' graves will fitly be removed to some spot where their clumsy
forms will no longer mar the upward-springing grace of lines of pillar
and of arch; but the glorious building wherein now barbaric psalms are
chanted and droning canons preach of Eastern follies, shall hereafter
echo the majestic music of Wagner and Beethoven, and the teachers of
the future shall there unveil to thronging multitudes the beauties and
the wonders of the world. The 'towers and spires' will not be effaced,
but they will no longer be symbols of a religion which sacrifices
earth to heaven and Man to God."[25] Between the cultured and the
uncultured burlesques of Atheism we came off pretty badly, being for
the most part regarded, as the late Cardinal Manning termed us, as
mere "cattle."

The moral purity and elevation of Atheistic teaching were overlooked
by many who heard only of my bitter attacks on Christian theology.
Against the teachings of eternal torture, of the vicarious atonement,
of the infallibility of the Bible, I levelled all the strength of my
brain and tongue, and I exposed the history of the Christian Church
with unsparing hand, its persecutions, its religious wars, its
cruelties, its oppressions. Smarting under the suffering inflicted on
myself, and wroth with the cruel pressure continually put on
Freethinkers by Christian employers, speaking under constant threats
of prosecution, identifying Christianity with the political and social
tyrannies of Christendom, I used every weapon that history, science,
criticism, scholarship could give me against the Churches; eloquence,
sarcasm, mockery, all were called on to make breaches in the wall of
traditional belief and crass superstition.

To argument and reason I was ever ready to listen, but I turned a
front of stubborn defiance to all attempts to compel assent to
Christianity by appeals to force. "The threat and the enforcement of
legal and social penalties against unbelief can never compel belief.
Belief must be gained by demonstration; it can never be forced by
punishment. Persecution makes the stronger among us bitter; the weaker
among us hypocrites; it never has made and never can make an honest

That men and women are now able to speak and think as openly as they
do, that a broader spirit is visible in the Churches, that heresy is
no longer regarded as morally disgraceful--these things are very
largely due to the active and militant propaganda carried on under the
leadership of Charles Bradlaugh, whose nearest and most trusted friend
I was. That my tongue was in the early days bitterer than it should
have been, I frankly acknowledge; that I ignored the services done by
Christianity and threw light only on its crimes, thus committing
injustice, I am ready to admit. But these faults were conquered long
ere I left the Atheistic camp, and they were the faults of my
personality, not of the Atheistic philosophy. And my main contentions
were true, and needed to be made; from many a Christian pulpit to-day
may be heard the echo of the Freethought teachings; men's minds have
been awakened, their knowledge enlarged; and while I condemn the
unnecessary harshness of some of my language, I rejoice that I played
my part in that educating of England which has made impossible for
evermore the crude superstitions of the past, and the repetition of
the cruelties and injustices under which preceding heretics suffered.

But my extreme political views had also much to do with the general
feeling of hatred with which I was regarded. Politics, as such, I
cared not for at all, for the necessary compromises of political life
were intolerable to me; but wherever they touched on the life of the
people they became to me of burning interest. The land question, the
incidence of taxation, the cost of Royalty, the obstructive power of
the House of Lords--these were the matters to which I put my hand; I
was a Home Ruler, too, of course, and a passionate opponent of all
injustice to nations weaker than ourselves, so that I found myself
always in opposition to the Government of the day. Against our
aggressive and oppressive policy in Ireland, in the Transvaal, in
India, in Afghanistan, in Burmah, in Egypt, I lifted up my voice in
all our great towns, trying to touch the consciences of the people,
and to make them feel the immorality of a land-stealing, piratical
policy. Against war, against capital punishment, against flogging,
demanding national education instead of big guns, public libraries
instead of warships--no wonder I was denounced as an agitator, a
firebrand, and that all orthodox society turned up at me its most
respectable nose.



From this sketch of the inner sources of action let me turn to the
actions themselves, and see how the outer life was led which fed
itself at these springs.

I have said that the friendship between Mr. Bradlaugh and myself dated
from our first meeting, and a few days after our talk in Turner Street
he came down to see me at Norwood. It was characteristic of the man
that he refused my first invitation, and bade me to think well ere I
asked him to my house. He told me that he was so hated by English
society that any friend of his would be certain to suffer, and that I
should pay heavily for any friendship extended to him. When, however,
I wrote to him, repeating my invitation, and telling him that I had
counted the cost, he came to see me. His words came true; my
friendship for him alienated from me even many professed Freethinkers,
but the strength and the happiness of it outweighed a thousand times
the loss it brought, and never has a shadow of regret touched me that
I clasped hands with him in 1874, and won the noblest friend that
woman ever had. He never spoke to me a harsh word; where we differed,
he never tried to override my judgment, nor force on me his views; we
discussed all points of difference as equal friends; he guarded me
from all suffering as far as friend might, and shared with me all the
pain he could not turn aside; all the brightness of my stormy life
came to me through him, from his tender thoughtfulness, his ever-ready
sympathy, his generous love. He was the most unselfish man I ever
knew, and as patient as he was strong. My quick, impulsive nature
found in him the restful strength it needed, and learned from him the
self-control it lacked.

He was the merriest of companions in our rare hours of relaxation; for
many years he was wont to come to my house in the morning, after the
hours always set aside by him for receiving poor men who wanted advice
on legal and other matters--for he was a veritable poor man's lawyer,
always ready to help and counsel--and, bringing his books and papers,
he would sit writing, hour after hour, I equally busy with my own
work, now and then, perhaps, exchanging a word, breaking off just for
lunch and dinner, and working on again in the evening till about ten
o'clock--he always went early to bed when at home--he would take
himself off again to his lodgings, about three-quarters of a mile
away. Sometimes he would play cards for an hour, euchre being our
favourite game. But while we were mostly busy and grave, we would make
holiday sometimes, and then he was like a boy, brimming over with
mirth, full of quaint turns of thought and speech; all the country
round London has for me bright memories of our wanderings--Richmond,
where we tramped across the park, and sat under its mighty trees;
Windsor, with its groves of bracken; Kew, where we had tea in a funny
little room, with watercress _ad libitum_; Hampton Court, with its
dishevelled beauties; Maidenhead and Taplow, where the river was the
attraction; and, above all, Broxbourne, where he delighted to spend
the day with his fishing-rod, wandering along the river, of which he
knew every eddy. For he was a great fisherman, and he taught me all
the mysteries of the craft, mirthfully disdainful of my dislike of the
fish when I had caught them. And in those days he would talk of all
his hopes of the future, of his work, of his duty to the thousands who
looked to him for guidance, of the time when he would sit in
Parliament as member for Northampton, and help to pass into laws the
projects of reform for which he was battling with pen and tongue. How
often he would voice his love of England, his admiration of her
Parliament, his pride in her history. Keenly alive to the blots upon
it in her sinful wars of conquest, in the cruel wrongs inflicted upon
subject peoples, he was yet an Englishman to the heart's core, but
feeling above all the Englishman's duty, as one of a race that had
gripped power and held it, to understand the needs of those he ruled,
and to do justice willingly, since compulsion to justice there was
none. His service to India in the latest years of his life was no
suddenly accepted task. He had spoken for her, pleaded for her, for
many a long year, through press and on platform, and his spurs as
member for India were won long ere he was member of Parliament.

A place on the staff of the _National Reformer_ was offered me by Mr.
Bradlaugh a few days after our first meeting, and the small weekly
salary thus earned--it was only a guinea, for national reformers are
always poor--was a very welcome addition to my resources. My first
contribution appeared in the number for August 30, 1874, over the
signature of "Ajax," and I wrote in it regularly until Mr. Bradlaugh
died; from 1877 until his death I sub-edited it, so as to free him
from all the technical trouble and the weary reading of copy, and for
part of this period was also co-editor. I wrote at first under a _nom
de guerre_, because the work I was doing for Mr. Scott would have been
prejudiced had my name appeared in the columns of the terrible
_National Reformer_, and until this work--commenced and paid for--was
concluded I did not feel at liberty to use my own name. Afterwards, I
signed my _National Reformer_ articles, and the tracts written for Mr.
Scott appeared anonymously.

The name was suggested by the famous statue of
"Ajax Crying for Light," a cast of which may be seen
in the centre walk by any visitor to the Crystal Palace,
Sydenham. The cry through the darkness for light,
even though light should bring destruction, was one
that awoke the keenest sympathy of response from my

"If our fate be death
Give light, and let us die!"

To see, to know, to understand, even though the seeing blind, though
the knowledge sadden, though the understanding shatter the dearest
hopes--such has ever been the craving of the upward-striving mind in
man. Some regard it as a weakness, as a folly, but I am sure that it
exists most strongly in some of the noblest of our race; that from the
lips of those who have done most in lifting the burden of ignorance
from the overstrained and bowed shoulders of a stumbling world has
gone out most often into the empty darkness the pleading, impassioned

"Give light!"

The light may come with a blinding flash, but it is light none the
less, and we can see.

And now the time had come when I was to use that gift of speech which
I had discovered in Sibsey Church that I possessed, and to use it to
move hearts and brains all over the English land. In 1874, tentatively, and in 1875 definitely, I took up this keen weapon, and have used it ever
since. My first attempt was at a garden party, in a brief informal
debate, and I found that words came readily and smoothly: the second
in a discussion at the Liberal Social Union on the opening of museums
and art galleries on Sunday. My first lecture was given at the
Co-operative Institute, 55, Castle Street, Oxford Street, on August
25, 1874. Mr. Greening--then, I think, the secretary--had invited me
to read a paper before the society, and had left me the choice of the
subject. I resolved that my first public lecture should be on behalf
of my own sex, so I selected for my theme, "The Political Status of
Women," and wrote thereon a paper. But it was a very nervous person
who presented herself at the Co-operative Institute on that August
evening. When a visit to the dentist is made, and one stands on the
steps outside, desiring to run away ere the neat little boy in buttons
opens the door and beams on one with a smile of compassionate
superiority and implike triumph, then the world seems dark and life is
as a huge blunder. But all such feelings are poor and weak as compared
with the sinking of the heart and the trembling of the knees which
seize upon the unhappy lecturer as he advances towards his first
audience, and as before his eyes rises a ghastly vision of a
tongue-tied would-be lecturer, facing rows of listening faces,
listening to--silence. But to my surprise all this miserable feeling
vanished the moment I was on my feet and was looking at the faces
before me. I felt no tremor of nervousness from the first word to the
last, and as I heard my own voice ring out over the attentive
listeners I was conscious of power and of pleasure, not of fear. And
from that day to this my experience has been the same; before a
lecture I am horribly nervous, wishing myself at the ends of the
earth, heart beating violently, and sometimes overcome by deadly
sickness. Once on my feet, I feel perfectly at my ease, ruler of the
crowd, master of myself. I often jeer at myself mentally as I feel
myself throbbing and fearful, knowing that when I stand up I shall be
all right, and yet I cannot conquer the physical terror and trembling,
illusory as I know them to be. People often say to me, "You look too
ill to go on the platform." And I smile feebly and say I am all right,
and I often fancy that the more miserably nervous I am in the
ante-room, the better I speak when once on the platform. My second
lecture was delivered on September 27th, at Mr. Moncure D. Conway's
Chapel, in St. Paul's Road, Camden Town, and redelivered a few weeks
later at a Unitarian Chapel, where the Rev. Peter Dean was minister.
This was on the "True Basis of Morality," and was later printed as a
pamphlet, which attained a wide circulation. This was all I did in the
way of speaking in 1874, but I took silent part in an electioneering
struggle at Northampton, where a seat for the House of Commons had
fallen vacant by the death of Mr. Charles Gilpin. Mr. Bradlaugh had
contested the borough as a Radical in 1868, obtaining 1,086 votes, and
again in February, 1874, when he received 1,653; of these no less than
1,060 were plumpers, while his four opponents had only 113, 64, 21 and
12 plumpers respectively; this band formed the compact and personally
loyal following which was to win the seat for its chief in 1880, after
twelve years of steady struggle, and to return him over and over again
to Parliament during the long contest which followed his election, and
which ended in his final triumph. They never wavered in their
allegiance to "our Charlie," but stood by him through evil report and
good report, when he was outcast as when he was triumphant, loving him
with a deep, passionate devotion, as honourable to them as it was
precious to him. I have seen him cry like a child at evidences of
their love for him, he whose courage no danger could daunt, and who
was never seen to blench before hatred nor change his stern immobility
in the face of his foes. Iron to enmity, he was soft as a woman to
kindness; unbending as steel to pressure, he was ductile as wax to
love. John Stuart Mill had the insight in 1868 to see his value, and
the courage to recognise it. He strongly supported his candidature,
and sent a donation to his election expenses. In his "Autobiography"
he wrote (pp. 311, 312):--

"He had the support of the working classes; having heard him speak I
knew him to be a man of ability, and he had proved that he was the
reverse of a demagogue by placing himself in strong opposition to the
prevailing opinion of the Democratic party on two such important
subjects as Malthusianism and Proportional Representation. Men of this
sort, who, while sharing the democratic feeling of the working
classes, judge political questions for themselves, and have the
courage to assert their individual convictions against popular
opposition, were needed, as it seemed to me, in Parliament; and I did
not think that Mr. Bradlaugh's anti-religious opinions (even though he
had been intemperate in the expression of them) ought to exclude him."

It has been said that Mr. Mill's support of Mr. Bradlaugh's
candidature at Northampton cost him his own seat at Westminster, and
so bitter was bigotry at that time that the statement is very likely
to be true. On this, Mr. Mill himself said: "It was the right thing to
do, and if the election were yet to take place, I would do it again."

At this election of September, 1874--the second in the year, for the
general election had taken place in the February, and Mr. Bradlaugh
had been put up and defeated during his absence in America--I went
down to Northampton to report electioneering incidents for the
_National Reformer_, and spent some days there in the whirl of the
struggle. The Whig party was more bitter against Mr. Bradlaugh than
was the Tory. Strenuous efforts were made to procure a Liberal
candidate, who would be able at least to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh's
return, and, by dividing the Liberal and Radical party, should let in
a Tory rather than the detested Radical. Messrs. Bell and James and
Dr. Pearce came on the scene only to disappear. Mr. Jacob Bright and
Mr. Arnold Morley were vainly suggested. Mr. Ayrton's name was
whispered. Major Lumley was recommended by Mr. Bernal Osborne. Dr.
Kenealy proclaimed himself ready to come to the rescue of the Whigs.
Mr. Tillett, of Norwich, Mr. Cox, of Belper, were invited, but neither
would consent to oppose a good Radical who had fought two elections at
Northampton and had been the chosen of the Radical workers for six
years. At last Mr. William Fowler, a banker, accepted the task of
handing over the representation of a Liberal and Radical borough to a
Tory, and duly succeeded in giving the seat to Mr. Mereweather, a very
reputable Tory lawyer. Mr. Bradlaugh polled 1,766, thus adding another
133 voters to those who had polled for him in the previous February.

That election gave me my first experience of anything in the nature of
rioting. The violent abuse levelled against Mr. Bradlaugh by the
Whigs, and the foul and wicked slanders circulated against him,
assailing his private life and family relations, had angered almost to
madness those who knew and loved him; and when it was found that the
unscrupulous Whig devices had triumphed, had turned the election
against him, and given over the borough to a Tory, the fury broke out
into open violence. One illustration may be given as a type of these
cruel slanders. It was known that Mr. Bradlaugh was separated from his
wife, and it was alleged that being an Atheist, and, (therefore!) an
opponent of marriage, he had deserted his wife and children, and left
them to the workhouse. The cause of the separation was known to very
few, for Mr. Bradlaugh was chivalrously honourable to women, and he
would not shield his own good name at the cost of that of the wife of
his youth and the mother of his children. But since his death his only
remaining child has, in devotion to her father's memory, stated the
melancholy truth: that Mrs. Bradlaugh gave way to drink; that for long
years he bore with her and did all that man could do to save her; that
finally, hopeless of cure, he broke up his home, and placed his wife
in the care of her parents in the country, leaving her daughters with
her, while he worked for their support. No man could have acted more
generously and wisely under these cruel circumstances than he did, but
it was, perhaps, going to an extreme of Quixotism, that he concealed
the real state of the case, and let the public blame him as it would.
His Northampton followers did not know the facts, but they knew him as
an upright, noble man, and these brutal attacks on his personal
character drove them wild. Stray fights had taken place during the
election over these slanders, and, defeated by such foul weapons, the
people lost control of their passions. As Mr. Bradlaugh was sitting
well-nigh exhausted in the hotel, after the declaration of the poll,
the landlord rushed in, crying to him to go out and try to stop the
people, or there would be murder done at the "Palmerston," Mr.
Fowler's headquarters; the crowd was charging the door, and the
windows were being broken with showers of stones. Weary as he was, Mr.
Bradlaugh sprang to his feet, and swiftly made his way to the rescue
of those who had maligned and defeated him. Flinging himself before
the doorway, from which the door had just been battered down, he
knocked down one or two of the most violent, drove the crowd back,
argued and scolded them into quietness, and finally dispersed them.
But at nine o'clock he had to leave Northampton to catch the mail
steamer for America at Queenstown, and after he had left, word went
round that he had gone, and the riot he had quelled broke out afresh.
The Riot Act was at last read, the soldiers were called out, stones
flew freely, heads and windows were broken, but no very serious harm
was done. The "Palmerston" and the printing-office of the _Mercury_,
the Whig organ, were the principal sufferers; doors and windows
disappearing somewhat completely. The day after the election I
returned home, and soon after fell ill with a severe attack of
congestion of the lungs. Soon after my recovery I left Norwood and
settled in a house in Westbourne Terrace, Bayswater, where I remained
till 1876.

In the following January (1875), after much thought and self-analysis,
I resolved to give myself wholly to propagandist work, as a
Freethinker and a Social Reformer, and to use my tongue as well as my
pen in the struggle. I counted the cost ere I determined on this step,
for I knew that it would not only outrage the feelings of such new
friends as I had already made, but would be likely to imperil my
custody of my little girl. I knew that an Atheist was outside the law,
obnoxious to its penalties, but deprived of its protection, and that
the step I contemplated might carry me into conflicts in which
everything might be lost and nothing could be gained. But the desire
to spread liberty and truer thought among men, to war against bigotry
and superstition, to make the world freer and better than I found
it--all this impelled me with a force that would not be denied. I
seemed to hear the voice of Truth ringing over the battlefield: "Who
will go? Who will speak for me?" And I sprang forward with passionate
enthusiasm, with resolute cry: "Here am I, send me!" Nor have I ever
regretted for one hour that resolution, come to in solitude, carried
out amid the surging life of men, to devote to that sacred cause every
power of brain and tongue that I possessed. Very solemn to me is the
responsibility of the public teacher, standing forth in Press and on
platform to partly mould the thought of his time, swaying thousands of
readers and hearers year after year. No weighter responsibility can
any take, no more sacred charge. The written and the spoken word start
forces none may measure, set working brain after brain, influence
numbers unknown to the forthgiver of the word, work for good or for
evil all down the stream of time. Feeling the greatness of the career,
the solemnity of the duty, I pledged my word then to the cause I loved
that no effort on my part should be wanted to render myself worthy of
the privilege of service that I took; that I would read and study, and
would train every faculty that I had; that I would polish my language,
discipline my thought, widen my knowledge; and this, at least, I may
say, that if I have written and spoken much, I have studied and
thought more, and that I have not given to my mistress Truth that
"which hath cost me nothing."

This same year (1875) that saw me launched on the world as a public
advocate of Freethought, saw also the founding of the Theosophical
Society to which my Freethought was to lead me. I have often since
thought with pleasure that at the very time I began lecturing in
England, H.P. Blavatsky was at work in the United States, preparing
the foundation on which in November, 1875, the Theosophical Society
was to be raised. And with deeper pleasure yet have I found her
writing of what she called the noble work against superstition done by
Charles Bradlaugh and myself, rendering the propaganda of Theosophy
far more practicable and safer than it would otherwise have been. The
fight soon began, and with some queer little skirmishes. I was a
member of the "Liberal Social Union," and one night a discussion arose
as to the admissibility of Atheists to the Society. Dr. Zerffi
declared that he would not remain a member if avowed Atheists were
admitted. I promptly declared that I was an Atheist, and that the
basis of the union was liberty of opinion. The result was that I found
myself cold-shouldered, and those that had been warmly cordial to me
merely as a non-Christian looked askance at me when I had avowed that
my scepticism had advanced beyond their "limits of religious thought."
The Liberal Social Union soon knew me no more, but in the wider field
of work open before me, the narrow-mindedness of this petty clique
troubled me not at all.

I started my definite lecturing work at South Place Chapel in January,
1875, Mr. Moncure D. Conway presiding for me, and I find in the
_National Reformer_ for January 17th, the announcement that "Mrs.
Annie Besant ('Ajax') will lecture at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, on
'Civil and Religious Liberty.'" Thus I threw off my pseudonym, and
rode into the field of battle with uplifted visor. The identification
led to an odd little exhibition of bigotry. I had been invited by the
Dialectical Society to read a paper, and had selected for subject,
"The Existence of God." (It may be noted, in passing, that young
students and speakers always select the most tremendous subjects for
their discourses. One advances in modesty as one advances in
knowledge, and after eighteen years of platform work, I am far more
dubious than I was at their beginning as to my power of dealing in any
sense adequately with the problems of life.) The Dialectical Society
had for some years held their meetings in a room in Adam Street,
rented from the Social Science Association. When the members gathered
as usual on February 17th, the door was found to be locked, and they
had to gather on the stairs; they found that "Ajax's" as yet
undelivered paper was too much for Social Science nerves, and that
entrance to their ordinary meeting-room was then and thenceforth
denied them. So they, with "Ajax," found refuge at the Charing Cross
Hotel, and speculated merrily on the eccentricities of religious

On February 12th I started on my first provincial lecturing tour, and
after speaking at Birkenhead that evening went on by the night mail to
Glasgow. Some races--dog races--I think, had been going on, and very
unpleasant were many of the passengers waiting on the platform. Some
Birkenhead friends had secured me a compartment, and watched over me
till the train began to move. Then, after we had fairly started, the
door was flung open by a porter, and a man was thrust in who half
tumbled on to the seat. As he slowly recovered he stood up, and as his
money rolled out of his hand on to the floor, and he gazed vaguely at
it, I saw to my horror that he was drunk. The position was not
pleasant, for the train was an express, and was not timed to stop for
a considerable time. My odious fellow-passenger spent some time on the
floor, hunting after his scattered coins; then he slowly gathered
himself up and presently became conscious of my presence. He studied
me for some time, and then proposed to shut the window. I assented
quietly, not wanting to discuss a trifle and feeling in deadly
terror--alone at night in an express with a man not drunk enough to be
helpless, but too drunk to be controlled. Never before nor since have
I felt so thoroughly frightened. I can see him still, swaying as he
stood, with eyes bleared and pendulous lips--but I sat there quiet and
outwardly unmoved, as is always my impulse in danger till I see some
way of escape, only grasping a penknife in my pocket, with a desperate
resolve to use my feeble weapon as soon as the need arose. The man
came towards me with a fatuous leer, when a jarring noise was heard
and the train began to slacken.

"What is that?" stammered my drunken companion.

"They are putting on the brakes to stop the train," I answered very
slowly and distinctly, though a very passion of relief made it hard to
say quietly the measured words.

The man sat down stupidly, staring at me, and in a minute or two the
train pulled up at a station--it had been stopped by signal. My
immobility was gone. In a moment I was at the window, called the
guard, and explained rapidly that I was a woman travelling alone, and
that a half-drunken man was in the carriage. With the usual kindness
of a railway official, he at once moved me and my baggage into another
compartment, into which he locked me, and he kept a friendly watch
over me at every station at which we stopped until he landed me safely
at Glasgow.

At Glasgow a room had been taken for me at a temperance hotel, and it
seemed to me so new and lonely a thing to be "all on my own account"
in a strange hotel in a strange city, that I wanted to sit down and
cry. This feeling, to which I was too proud to yield, was probably
partly due to the extreme greyness and grubbiness of my surroundings.
Things are better now, but in those days temperance hotels were for
the most part lacking in cleanliness. Abstinence from alcohol and a
superfluity of "matter in the wrong place" do not seem necessary
correlatives, yet I rarely went to a temperance hotel in which water
was liberally used for other purposes than that of drinking. From
Glasgow I went north to Aberdeen, where I found a very stern and
critical audience. Not a sound broke the stillness as I walked up the
hall; not a sound as I ascended the platform and faced the people; the
canny Scot was not going to applaud a stranger at sight; he was going
to see what she was like first. In grim silence they listened; I could
not move them; they were granite like their own granite city, and I
felt I would like to take off my head and throw it at them, if only to
break that hard wall. After about twenty minutes, a fortunate phrase
drew a hiss from some child of the Covenanters. I made a quick retort,
there was a burst of cheering, and the granite vanished. Never after
that did I have to complain of the coldness of an Aberdeen audience.
Back to London from Aberdeen, and a long, weary journey it was, in a
third-class carriage in the cold month of February; but the labour had
in it a joy that outpaid all physical discomfort, and the feeling that
I had found my work in the world gave a new happiness to life.

On February 28th I stood for the first time on the platform of the
Hall of Science, Old Street, St. Luke's, London, and was received with
that warmth of greeting which Secularists are always so ready to
extend to any who sacrifice aught to join their ranks. That hall is
identified in my mind with many a bitter struggle, with both victory
and defeat, but whether in victory or in defeat I found there always
welcome; and the love and the courage wherewith Secularists stood by
me have overpaid a thousandfold any poor services I was fortunate
enough to render, while in their ranks, to the cause of Liberty, and
wholly prevent any bitterness arising in my mind for any
unfriendliness shown me by some, who have perhaps overstepped kindness
and justice in their sorrowful wrath at my renunciation of Materialism
and Atheism. So far as health was concerned, the lecturing acted as a
tonic. My chest had always been a little delicate, and when I
consulted a doctor on the possibility of my standing platform work, he
answered, "It will either kill you or cure you." It entirely cured the
lung weakness, and I grew strong and vigorous instead of being frail
and delicate, as of old.

It would be wearisome to go step by step over eighteen years of
platform work, so I will only select here and there incidents
illustrative of the whole. And here let me say that the frequent
attacks made on myself and others, that we were attracted to
Free-thought propaganda by the gains it offered, formed a somewhat
grotesque contrast to the facts. On one occasion I spent eight days in
Northumberland and Durham, gave twelve lectures, and made a deficit of
eleven shillings on the whole. Of course such a thing could not happen
in later years, when I had made my name by sheer hard work, but I
fancy that every Secularist lecturer could tell of similar experiences
in the early days of "winning his way." The fact is that from Mr.
Bradlaugh downwards every one of us could have earned a competence
with comparative ease in any other line of work, and could have earned
it with public approval instead of amid popular reproach. Much of my
early lecturing was done in Northumberland and Durham; the miners
there are, as a rule, shrewd and hard-headed men, and very cordial is
the greeting given by them to those they have reason to trust. At
Seghill and at Bedlington I have slept in their cottages and have been
welcomed to their tables, and I have a vivid memory of one evening at
Seghill, after a lecture, when my host, himself a miner, invited about
a dozen of his comrades to supper to meet me; the talk ran on
politics, and I soon found that my companions knew more of English
politics, had a far shrewder notion of political methods, and were,
therefore, much better worth talking to, than most of the ordinary men
met at dinner parties "in society." They were of the "uneducated"
class despised by "gentlemen," and had not then the franchise, but
politically they were far better educated than their social superiors,
and were far better fitted to discharge the duties of citizenship. How
well, too, do I remember a ten-mile drive in a butcher's cart, to give
a lecture in an out-of-the-way spot, unapproached by railway. Such was
the jolting as we rattled over rough roads and stony places, that I
felt as though all my bones were broken, and as though I should
collapse on the platform like a bag half-filled with stones. How kind
they were to me, those genial, cordial miners, how careful for my
comfort, and how motherly were the women! Ah! if opponents of my views
who did not know me were often cruel and malignant, there was
compensation in the love and honour in which good men and women all
the country over held me, and their devotion outweighed the hatred,
and many a time and often soothed a weary and aching heart.

Lecturing in June, 1875, at Leicester, I came for the first time
across a falsehood that brought sore trouble and cost me more pain
than I care to tell. An irate Christian opponent, in the discussion
that followed the lecture, declared that I was responsible for a book
entitled, "The Elements of Social Science," which was, he averred,
"The Bible of Secularists." I had never heard of the book, but as he
stated that it was in favour of the abolition of marriage, and that
Mr. Bradlaugh agreed with it, I promptly contradicted him; for while I
knew nothing about the book, I knew a great deal about Mr. Bradlaugh,
and I knew that on the marriage question he was conservative rather
than revolutionary. He detested "Free Love" doctrines, and had thrown
himself strongly on the side of the agitation led so heroically for
many years by Mrs. Josephine Butler. On my return to London after the
lecture I naturally made inquiry as to the volume and its contents,
and I found that it had been written by a Doctor of Medicine some
years before, and sent to the _National Reformer_ for review, as to
other journals, in ordinary course of business. It consisted of three
parts--the first advocated, from the standpoint of medical science,
what is roughly known as "Free Love"; the second was entirely medical;
the third consisted of a clear and able exposition of the law of
population as laid down by the Rev. Mr. Malthus, and--following the
lines of John Stuart Mill--insisted that it was the duty of married
persons to voluntarily limit their families within their means of
subsistence. Mr. Bradlaugh, in reviewing the book, said that it was
written "with honest and pure intent and purpose," and recommended to
working men the exposition of the law of population. His enemies took
hold of this recommendation, declared that he shared the author's
views on the impermanence of the marriage tie, and, despite his
reiterated contradictions, they used extracts against marriage from
the book as containing his views. Anything more meanly vile it would
be difficult to conceive, but such were the weapons used against him
all his life, and used often by men whose own lives contrasted most
unfavourably with his own. Unable to find anything in his own writings
to serve their purpose, they used this book to damage him with those
who knew nothing at first-hand of his views. What his enemies feared
were not his views on marriage--which, as I have said, was
conservative--but his Radicalism and his Atheism. To discredit him as
politician they maligned him socially, and the idea that a man desires
"to abolish marriage and the home," is a most convenient poniard, and
the one most certain to wound. This was the origin of his worst
difficulties, to be intensified, ere long, by his defence of
Malthusianism. On me also fell the same lash, and I found myself held
up to hatred as upholder of views that I abhorred.

I may add that far warmer praise than that bestowed on this book by
Mr. Bradlaugh was given by other writers, who were never attacked in
the same way.

In the _Reasoner_, edited by Mr. George Jacob Holyoake, I find warmer
praise of it than in the _National Reformer_; in the review the
following passage appears:--

"In some respects all books of this class are evils: but it would be
weakness and criminal prudery--a prudery as criminal as vice
itself--not to say that such a book as the one in question is not only
a far lesser evil than the one that it combats, but in one sense a
book which it is a mercy to issue and courage to publish."

The _Examiner_, reviewing the same book, declared it to be--

"A very valuable, though rather heterogeneous book.... This is, we
believe, the only book that has fully, honestly, and in a scientific
spirit recognised all the elements in the problem--How are mankind to
triumph over poverty, with its train of attendant evils?--and
fearlessly endeavoured to find a practical solution."

The _British Journal of Homoeopathy_ wrote:--

"Though quite out of the province of our journal, we cannot refrain
from stating that this work is unquestionably the most remarkable one,
in many respects, we have ever met with. Though we differ _toto coelo_
from the author in his views of religion and morality, and hold some
of his remedies to tend rather to a dissolution than a reconstruction
of society, yet we are bound to admit the benevolence and philanthropy
of his motives. The scope of the work is nothing less than the whole
field of political economy."

Ernest Jones and others wrote yet more strongly, but out of all these
Charles Bradlaugh alone has been selected for reproach, and has had
the peculiar views of the anonymous author fathered on himself.

Some of the lecture work in those days was pretty rough. In Darwen,
Lancashire, in June, 1875, stone-throwing was regarded as a fair
argument addressed to the Atheist lecturer. At Swansea, in March,
1876, the fear of violence was so great that a guarantee against
damage to the hall was exacted by the proprietor, and no local friend
had the courage to take the chair for me. In September, 1876, at
Hoyland, thanks to the exertions of Mr. Hebblethwaite, a Primitive
Methodist, and two Protestant missionaries, I found the hall packed
with a crowd that yelled at me with great vigour, stood on forms,
shook fists at me, and otherwise showed feelings more warm than
friendly. Taking advantage of a lull in the noise, I began to speak,
and the tumult sank into quietness; but as I was leaving the hall it
broke out afresh, and I walked slowly through a crowd that yelled and
swore and struck at me, but somehow those nearest always shrank back
and let me pass. In the dark, outside the hall, they took to kicking,
but only one kick reached me, and the attempts to overturn the cab
were foiled by the driver, who put his horse at a gallop. Later in the
same month Mr. Bradlaugh and I visited Congleton together, having been
invited there by Mr. and Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy. Mr. Bradlaugh
lectured on the first evening to an accompaniment of broken windows,
and I, sitting with Mrs. Elmy facing the platform, received a rather
heavy blow on the back of the head from a stone thrown by some one in
the room. We had a mile and a half to walk from the hall to the house,
and were accompanied all the way by a stone-throwing crowd, who sang
hymns at the tops of their voices, with interludes of curses and foul
words. On the following evening I lectured, and our stone-throwing
admirers escorted us to the hall; in the middle of the lecture a man
shouted, "Put her out!" and a well-known wrestler of the
neighbourhood, named Burbery, who had come to the hall with some
friends to break up the meeting, stood up as at a signal in front of
the platform and loudly interrupted. Mr. Bradlaugh, who was in the
chair, told him to sit down, and, as he persisted in interrupting,
informed him that he must either be quiet or go out. "Put me out!"
shouted Mr. Burbery, striking an attitude. Mr. Bradlaugh left the
platform and walked up to the noisy swashbuckler, who at once grappled
with him and tried to throw him. But Mr. Burbery had not reckoned on
the massive strength of his opponent, and when the "throw" was
complete Mr. Burbery was underneath. Amid much excitement Mr. Burbery
was propelled towards the door, being gently used on the way as a
battering-ram against his friends who rushed to the rescue, and at the
door was handed over to the police. The chairman then resumed his
normal duties, with a brief "Go on" to me, and I promptly went on,
finishing the lecture in peace. But outside the hall there was plenty
of stone-throwing, and Mrs. Elmy received a cut on the temple from a
flint. This stormy work gradually lessened, and my experience of it
was a mere trifle compared to that which my predecessors had faced.
Mr. Bradlaugh's early experiences involved much serious rioting, and
Mrs. Harriet Law, a woman of much courage and of strong natural
ability, had many a rough meeting in her lecturing days.

In September, 1875, Mr. Bradlaugh again sailed for America, still to
earn money there to pay his debts. Unhappily he was struck down by
typhoid fever, and all his hopes of freeing himself thus were
destroyed. His life was well-nigh despaired of, but the admirable
skill of physician and nurse pulled him through. Said the _Baltimore

"This long and severe illness has disappointed the hopes and retarded
the object for which he came to this country; but he is gentleness and
patience itself in his sickness in this strange land, and has endeared
himself greatly to his physicians and attendants by his gratitude and
appreciation of the slightest attention."

His fortitude in face of death was also much commented on, lying there
as he did far from home and from all he loved best. Never a quiver of
fear touched him as he walked down into the valley of the shadow of
death; the Rev. Mr. Frothingham bore public and admiring testimony in
his own church to Mr. Bradlaugh's noble serenity, at once fearless and
unpretending, and, himself a Theist, gave willing witness to the
Atheist's calm strength. He came back to us at the end of September,
worn to a shadow, weak as a child, and for many a long month he bore
the traces of his wrestle with death.

One part of my autumn's work during his absence was the delivery and
subsequent publication of six lectures on the French Revolution. That
stormy time had for me an intense fascination. I brooded over it,
dreamed over it, and longed to tell the story from the people's point
of view. I consequently read a large amount of the current literature
of the time, as well as Louis Blanc's monumental work and the
histories of Michelet, Lamartine, and others. Fortunately for me, Mr.
Bradlaugh had a splendid collection of books on the subject, and ere
we left England he brought me two cabs-full of volumes, aristocratic,
ecclesiastical, democratic, and I studied all these diligently, and
lived in them, till the French Revolution became to me as a drama in
which I had myself taken part, and the actors were to me as personal
friends and foes. In this, again, as in so much of my public work, I
have to thank Mr. Bradlaugh for the influence which led me to read
fully all sides of a question, and to read most carefully those from
which I differed most, ere I considered myself competent to write or
to speak thereon. From 1875 onwards I held office as one of the
vice-presidents of the National Secular Society--a society founded on
a broad basis of liberty, with the inspiring motto, "We Search for
Truth." Mr. Bradlaugh was president, and I held office under him till
he resigned his post in February, 1890, nine months after I had joined
the Theosophical Society. The N.S.S., under his judicious and
far-sighted leadership, became a real force in the country,
theologically and politically, embracing large numbers of men and
women who were Freethinkers as well as Radicals, and forming a nucleus
of earnest workers, able to gather round them still larger numbers of
others, and thus to powerfully affect public opinion. Once a year the
society met in conference, and many a strong and lasting friendship
between men living far apart dated from these yearly gatherings, so
that all over the country spread a net-work of comradeship between the
staunch followers of "our Charlie." These were the men and women who
paid his election expenses over and over again, supported him in his
Parliamentary struggle, came up to London to swell the demonstrations
in his favour. And round them grew up a huge party--"the largest
personal following of any public man since Mr. Gladstone," it was once
said by an eminent man--who differed from him in theology, but
passionately supported him in politics; miners, cutlers, weavers,
spinners, shoemakers, operatives of every trade, strong, sturdy,
self-reliant men who loved him to the last.



The year 1877 dawned, and in its early days began a struggle which,
ending in victory all along the line, brought with it pain and anguish
that I scarcely care to recall. An American physician, Dr. Charles
Knowlton, convinced of the truth of the teaching of the Rev. Mr.
Malthus, and seeing that that teaching had either no practical value
or tended to the great increase of prostitution, unless married
people were taught to limit their families within their means of
livelihood--wrote a pamphlet on the voluntary limitation of the
family. It was published somewhere in the Thirties--about 1835, I
think--and was sold unchallenged in England as well as in America for
some forty years. Philosophers of the Bentham school, like John Stuart
Mill, endorsed its teachings, and the bearing of population on poverty
was an axiom in economic literature. Dr. Knowlton's work was a
physiological treatise, advocating conjugal prudence and parental
responsibility; it argued in favour of early marriage, with a view to
the purity of social life; but as early marriage between persons of
small means generally implies a large family, leading either to
pauperism or to lack of necessary food, clothing, education, and fair
start in life for the children, Dr. Knowlton advocated the restriction
of the number of the family within the means of subsistence, and
stated the methods by which this restriction could be carried out. The
book was never challenged till a disreputable Bristol bookseller put
some copies on sale to which he added some improper pictures, and he
was prosecuted and convicted. The publisher of the _National Reformer_
and of Mr. Bradlaugh's and my books and pamphlets had taken over a
stock of Knowlton's pamphlets among other literature he bought, and he
was prosecuted and, to our great dismay, pleaded guilty. We at once
removed our publishing from his hands, and after careful deliberation
we decided to publish the incriminated pamphlet in order to test the
right of discussion on the population question, when, with the advice
to limit the family, information was given as to how that advice could
be followed. We took a little shop, printed the pamphlet, and sent
notice to the police that we would commence the sale at a certain day
and hour, and ourselves sell the pamphlet, so that no one else might
be endangered by our action. We resigned our offices in the National
Secular Society that we might not injure the society, but the
executive first, and then the Annual Conference, refused to accept the
resignations. Our position as regarded the pamphlet was simple and
definite; had it been brought to us for publication, we stated, we
should not have published it, for it was not a treatise of high merit;
but, prosecuted as immoral because it advised the limitation of the
family, it at once embodied the right of publication. In a preface to
the republished edition, we wrote:--

"We republish this pamphlet, honestly believing that on all questions
affecting the happiness of the people, whether they be theological,
political, or social, fullest right of free discussion ought to be
maintained at all hazards. We do not personally endorse all that Dr.
Knowlton says: his 'Philosophical Proem' seems to us full of
philosophical mistakes, and--as we are neither of us doctors--we are
not prepared to endorse his medical views; but since progress can only
be made through discussion, and no discussion is possible where
differing opinions are suppressed, we claim the right to publish all
opinions, so that the public, enabled to see all sides of a question,
may have the materials for forming a sound judgment."

We were not blind to the danger to which this defiance of the
authorities exposed us, but it was not the danger of failure, with the
prison as penalty, that gave us pause. It was the horrible
misconceptions that we saw might arise; the odious imputations on
honour and purity that would follow. Could we, the teachers of a lofty
morality, venture to face a prosecution for publishing what would be
technically described as an obscene book, and risk the ruin of our
future, dependent as that was on our fair fame? To Mr. Bradlaugh it
meant, as he felt, the almost certain destruction of his Parliamentary
position, the forging by his own hands of a weapon that in the hands
of his foes would be well-nigh fatal. To me it meant the loss of the
pure reputation I prized, the good name I had guarded--scandal the
most terrible a woman could face. But I had seen the misery of the
poor, of my sister-women with children crying for bread; the wages of
the workmen were often sufficient for four, but eight or ten they
could not maintain. Should I set my own safety, my own good name,
against the helping of these? Did it matter that my reputation should
be ruined, if its ruin helped to bring remedy to this otherwise
hopeless wretchedness of thousands? What was worth all my talk about
self-sacrifice and self-surrender, if, brought to the test, I failed?
So, with heart aching but steady, I came to my resolution; and though
I know now that I was wrong intellectually, and blundered in the
remedy, I was right morally in the will to sacrifice all to help the
poor, and I can rejoice that I faced a storm of obloquy fiercer and
harder to bear than any other which can ever touch me again. I learned
a lesson of stern indifference to all judgments from without that were
not endorsed by condemnation from within. The long suffering that
followed was a splendid school for the teaching of endurance.

The day before the pamphlet was put on sale we ourselves delivered
copies to the Chief Clerk of the Magistrates at Guildhall, to the
officer in charge at the City Police Office in Old Jewry, and to the
Solicitor for the City of London. With each pamphlet was a notice that
we would attend and sell the book from 4 to 5 p.m. on the following
day, Saturday, March 24th. This we accordingly did, and in order to
save trouble we offered to attend daily at the shop from 10 to 11 a.m.
to facilitate our arrest, should the authorities determine to
prosecute. The offer was readily accepted, and after some little
delay--during which a deputation from the Christian Evidence Society
waited upon Mr. Cross to urge the Tory Government to prosecute
us--warrants were issued against us and we were arrested on April 6th.
Letters of approval and encouragement came from the most diverse
quarters, including among their writers General Garibaldi, the
well-known economist, Yves Guyot, the great French constitutional
lawyer, Emile Acollas, together with letters literally by the hundred
from poor men and women thanking and blessing us for the stand taken.
Noticeable were the numbers of letters from clergymen's wives, and
wives of ministers of all denominations.

After our arrest we were taken to the police-station in Bridewell
Place, and thence to the Guildhall, where Alderman Figgins was
sitting, before whom we duly appeared, while in the back of the court
waited what an official described as "a regular waggon-load of bail."
We were quickly released, the preliminary investigation being fixed
for ten days later--April 17th. At the close of the day the magistrate
released us on our own recognisances, without bail; and it was so
fully seen on all sides that we were fighting for a principle that no
bail was asked for during the various stages of the trial. Two days
later we were committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court, but
Mr. Bradlaugh moved for a writ of _certiorari_ to remove the trial to
the Court of Queen's Bench; Lord Chief Justice Cockburn said he would
grant the writ if "upon looking at it (the book), we think its object
is the legitimate one of promoting knowledge on a matter of human
interest," but not if the science were only a cover for impurity, and
he directed that copies of the book should be handed in for perusal by
himself and Mr. Justice Mellor. Having read the book they granted the

The trial commenced on June 18th before the Lord Chief Justice of
England and a special jury, Sir Hardinge Giffard, the
Solicitor-General of the Tory Government, leading against us, and we
defending ourselves. The Lord Chief Justice "summed up strongly for an
acquittal," as a morning paper said; he declared that "a more
ill-advised and more injudicious proceeding in the way of a
prosecution was probably never brought into a court of justice," and
described us as "two enthusiasts who have been actuated by a desire to
do good in a particular department of society." He then went on to a
splendid statement of the law of population, and ended by praising our
straightforwardness and asserting Knowlton's honesty of intention.
Every one in court thought that we had won our case, but they had not
taken into account the religious and political hatred against us and
the presence on the jury of such men as Mr. Walter, of the _Times_.
After an hour and thirty-five minutes of delay the verdict was a
compromise: "We are unanimously of opinion that the book in question
is calculated to deprave public morals, but at the same time we
entirely exonerate the defendants from any corrupt motive in
publishing it." The Lord Chief Justice looked troubled, and said that
he should have to translate the verdict into one of guilty, and on
that some of the jury turned to leave the box, it having been
agreed--we heard later from one of them--that if the verdict were not
accepted in that form they should retire again, as six of the jury
were against convicting us; but the foreman, who was bitterly hostile,
jumped at the chance of snatching a conviction, and none of those in
our favour had the courage to contradict him on the spur of the
moment, so the foreman's "Guilty" passed, and the judge set us free,
on Mr. Bradlaugh's recognisances to come up for judgment that day

On that day we moved to quash the indictment and for a new trial,
partly on a technical ground and partly on the ground that the
verdict, having acquitted us of wrong motive, was in our favour, not
against us. On this the Court did not agree with us, holding that the
part of the indictment alleging corrupt motive was superfluous. Then
came the question of sentence, and on this the Lord Chief Justice did
his best to save us; we were acquitted of any intent to violate the
law; would we submit to the verdict of the jury and promise not to
sell the book? No, we would not; we claimed the right to sell, and
meant to vindicate it. The judge pleaded, argued, finally got angry
with us, and, at last, compelled to pass sentence, he stated that if
we would have yielded he would have let us go free without penalty,
but that as we would set ourselves against the law, break it and defy
it--a sore offence from the judge's point of view--he could only pass
a heavy sentence on each of six months' imprisonment, a fine of L200,
and recognisances of L500 for two years, and this, as he again
repeated, upon the assumption "that they do intend to set the law at
defiance." Even despite this he made us first-class misdemeanants.
Then, as Mr. Bradlaugh stated that we should move for a writ of error,
he liberated us on Mr. Bradlaugh's recognisance for L100, the queerest
comment on his view of the case and of our characters, since we were
liable jointly to L1,400 under the sentence, to say nothing of the
imprisonment. But prison and money penalties vanished into thin air,
for the writ of error was granted, proved successful, and the verdict
was quashed.

Then ensued a somewhat anxious time. We were resolute to continue
selling; were our opponents equally resolved to prosecute us? We could
not tell. I wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Law of Population," giving
the arguments which had convinced me of its truth, the terrible
distress and degradation entailed on families by overcrowding and the
lack of the necessaries of life, pleading for early marriages that
prostitution might be destroyed, and limitation of the family that
pauperism might be avoided; finally, giving the information which
rendered early marriage without these evils possible. This pamphlet
was put in circulation as representing our view of the subject, and we
again took up the sale of Knowlton's. Mr. Bradlaugh carried the war
into the enemy's country, and commenced an action against the police
for the recovery of some pamphlets they had seized; he carried the
action to a successful issue, recovered the pamphlets, bore them off
in triumph, and we sold them all with an inscription across them,
"Recovered from the police." We continued the sale of Knowlton's tract
for some time, until we received an intimation that no further
prosecution would be attempted, and on this we at once dropped its
publication, substituting for it my "Law of Population."

[Illustration: CHARLES BRADLAUGH M.P.]

But the worst part of the fight, for me, was to come. Prosecution of
the "Law of Population" was threatened, but never commenced; a worse
weapon against me was in store. An attempt had been made in August,
1875, to deprive me of the custody of my little girl by hiding her
away when she went on her annual visit of one month to her father, but
I had promptly recovered her by threatening to issue a writ of _habeas
corpus._ Now it was felt that the Knowlton trial might be added to the
charges of blasphemy that could be urged against me, and that this
double-barrelled gun might be discharged with effect. I received
notice in January, 1878, that an application was to be made to the
High Court of Chancery to deprive me of the child, but the petition
was not filed till the following April. Mabel was dangerously ill with
scarlet fever at the time, and though this fact was communicated to
her father I received a copy of the petition while sitting at her
bedside. The petition alleged that, "The said Annie Besant is, by
addresses, lectures, and writings, endeavouring to propagate the
principles of Atheism, and has published a book entitled 'The Gospel
of Atheism.' She has also associated herself with an infidel lecturer
and author named Charles Bradlaugh in giving lectures and in
publishing books and pamphlets, whereby the truth of the Christian
religion is impeached, and disbelief in all religion inculcated."

It further alleged against me the publication of the Knowlton
pamphlet, and the writing of the "Law of Population." Unhappily, the
petition came for hearing before the then Master of the Rolls, Sir
George Jessel, a man animated by the old spirit of Hebrew bigotry, to
which he had added the time-serving morality of a "man of the world,"
sceptical as to all sincerity, and contemptuous of all devotion to an
unpopular cause. The treatment I received at his hands on my first
appearance in court told me what I had to expect. I had already had
some experience of English judges, the stately kindness and gentleness
of the Lord Chief Justice, the perfect impartiality and dignified
courtesy of the Lords Justices of Appeal. My astonishment, then, can
be imagined when, in answer to a statement by Mr. Ince, Q.C., that I
appeared in person, I heard a harsh, loud voice exclaim:

"Appear in person? A lady appear in person? Never heard of such a
thing! Does the lady really appear in person?"

As the London papers had been full of my appearing in person in the
other courts and had contained the high compliments of the Lord Chief
Justice on my conduct of my own case, Sir George Jessel's pretended
astonishment seemed a little overdone. After a variety of similar
remarks delivered in the most grating tones and in the roughest
manner, Sir George Jessel tried to obtain his object by browbeating me
directly. "Is this the lady?"

"I am the respondent, my lord, Mrs. Besant."

"Then I advise you, Mrs. Besant, to employ counsel to represent you,
if you can afford it; and I suppose you can."

"With all submission to your lordship, I am afraid I must claim my
right of arguing my case in person."

"You will do so if you please, of course, but I think you had much
better appear by counsel. I give you notice that, if you do not, you
must not expect to be shown any consideration. You will not be heard
by me at any greater length than the case requires, nor allowed to go
into irrelevant matter, as persons who argue their own cases usually

"I trust I shall not do so, my lord; but in any case I shall be
arguing under your lordship's complete control."

This encouraging beginning may be taken as a sample of the case--it
was one long fight against clever counsel, aided by a counsel instead
of a judge on the bench. Only once did judge and counsel fall out. Mr.
Ince and Mr. Bardswell had been arguing that my Atheism and
Malthusianism made me an unfit guardian for my child; Mr. Ince
declared that Mabel, educated by me, would "be helpless for good in
this world," and "hopeless for good hereafter, outcast in this life
and damned in the next." Mr. Bardswell implored the judge to consider
that my custody of her "would be detrimental to the future prospects
of the child in society, to say nothing of her eternal prospects." Had
not the matter been to me of such heart-breaking importance, I could
have laughed at the mixture of Mrs. Grundy, marriage establishment,
and hell, presented as an argument for robbing a mother of her child.
But Mr. Bardswell carelessly forgot that Sir George Jessel was a Jew,
and lifting eyes to heaven in horrified appeal, he gasped out:

"Your lordship, I think, will scarcely credit it, but Mrs. Besant
says, in a later affidavit, that she took away the Testament from the
child because it contained coarse passages unfit for a child to read."

The opportunity was too tempting for a Jew to refrain from striking at
a book written by apostate Jews, and Sir George Jessel answered

"It is not true to say there are no passages unfit for a child's
reading, because I think there are a great many."

"I do not know of any passages that could fairly be called coarse."

"I cannot quite assent to that."

Barring this little episode judge and counsel showed a charming
unanimity. I distinctly said I was an Atheist, that I had withdrawn
the child from religious instruction at the day-school she attended,
that I had written various anti-Christian books, and so on; but I
claimed the child's custody on the ground that the deed of separation
distinctly gave it to me, and had been executed by her father after I
had left the Christian Church, and that my opinions were not
sufficient to invalidate it. It was admitted on the other side that
the child was admirably cared for, and there was no attempt at
attacking my personal character. The judge stated that I had taken the
greatest possible care of the child, but decided that the mere fact of
my refusing to give the child religious instruction was sufficient
ground for depriving me of her custody. Secular education he regarded
as "not only reprehensible, but detestable, and likely to work utter
ruin to the child, and I certainly should upon this ground alone
decide that this child ought not to remain another day under the care
of her mother."

Sir George Jessel denounced also my Malthusian views in a fashion at
once so brutal and so untruthful as to facts, that some years later
another judge, the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of New
South Wales, declared in a judgment delivered in his own court that
there was "no language used by Lord Cockburn which justified the
Master of the Rolls in assuming that Lord Cockburn regarded the book
as obscene," and that "little weight is to be attached to his opinion
on a point not submitted for his decision"; he went on to administer a
sharp rebuke for the way in which Sir George Jessel travelled outside
the case, and remarked that "abuse, however, of an unpopular opinion,
whether indulged in by judges or other people, is not argument, nor
can the vituperation of opponents in opinion prove them to be
immoral." However, Sir George Jessel was all-powerful in his own
court, and he deprived me of my child, refusing to stay the order even
until the hearing of my appeal against his decision. A messenger from
the father came to my house, and the little child was carried away by
main force, shrieking and struggling, still weak from the fever, and
nearly frantic with fear and passionate resistance. No access to her
was given me, and I gave notice that if access were denied me, I would
sue for a restitution of conjugal rights, merely that I might see my
children. But the strain had been too great, and I nearly went mad,
spending hours pacing up and down the empty rooms, striving to weary
myself to exhaustion that I might forget. The loneliness and silence
of the house, of which my darling had always been the sunshine and the
music, weighed on me like an evil dream; I listened for the patter of
the dancing feet, and merry, thrilling laughter that rang through the
garden, the sweet music of the childish voice; during my sleepless
nights I missed in the darkness the soft breathing of the little
child; each morning I longed in vain for the clinging arms and soft,
sweet kisses. At last health broke down, and fever struck me, and
mercifully gave me the rest of pain and delirium instead of the agony
of conscious loss. Through that terrible illness, day after day, Mr.
Bradlaugh came to me, and sat writing beside me, feeding me with ice
and milk, refused from all others, and behaving more like a tender
mother than a man friend; he saved my life, though it seemed to me for
awhile of little value, till the first months of lonely pain were
over. When recovered, I took steps to set aside an order obtained by
Mr. Besant during my illness, forbidding me to bring any suit against
him, and even the Master of the Rolls, on hearing that all access had
been denied to me, and the money due to me stopped, uttered words of
strong condemnation of the way in which I had been treated. Finally
the deed of separation executed in 1873 was held to be good as
protecting Mr. Besant from any suit brought by me, whether for divorce
or for restitution of conjugal rights, while the clauses giving me the
custody of the child were set aside. The Court of Appeal in April,
1879, upheld the decision, the absolute right of the father as against
a married mother being upheld. This ignoring of all right to her
children on the part of the married mother is a scandal and a wrong
that has since been redressed by Parliament, and the husband has no
longer in his grasp this instrument of torture, whose power to agonise
depends on the tenderness and strength of the motherliness of the
wife. In the days when the law took my child from me, it virtually
said to all women: "Choose which of these two positions, as wife and
mother, you will occupy. If you are legally your husband's wife, you
can have no legal claim to your children; if legally you are your
husband's mistress, your rights as mother are secure." That stigma on
marriage is now removed.

One thing I gained in the Court of Appeal. The Court expressed a
strong view as to my right of access, and directed me to apply to Sir
George Jessel for it, adding that it could not doubt he would grant
it. Under cover of this I applied to the Master of the Rolls, and
obtained liberal access to the children; but I found that my visits
kept Mabel in a continual state of longing and fretting for me, while
the ingenious forms of petty insult that were devised against me and
used in the children's presence would soon become palpable to them and
cause continual pain. So, after a painful struggle with myself, I
resolved to give up the right of seeing them, feeling that thus only
could I save them from constantly recurring conflict, destructive of
all happiness and of all respect for one or the other parent.
Resolutely I turned my back on them that I might spare them trouble,
and determined that, robbed of my own, I would be a mother to all
helpless children I could aid, and cure the pain at my own heart by
soothing the pain of others.

As far as regards this whole struggle over the Knowlton pamphlet,
victory was finally won all along the line. Not only did we, as
related, recover all our seized pamphlets, and continue the sale till
all prosecution and threat of prosecution were definitely surrendered;
but my own tract had an enormous sale, so that when I withdrew it from
sale in June, 1891, I was offered a large sum for the copyright, an
offer which I, of course, refused. Since that time not a copy has been
sold with my knowledge or permission, but long ere that the pamphlet
had received a very complete legal vindication. For while it
circulated untouched in England, a prosecution was attempted against
it in New South Wales, but was put an end to by an eloquent and
luminous judgment by the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, Mr.
Justice Windmeyer, in December, 1888. This judge, the most respected
in the great Australian colony, spoke out plainly and strongly on the
morality of such teaching. "Take the case," he said, "of a woman
married to a drunken husband, steadily ruining his constitution and
hastening to the drunkard's doom, loss of employment for himself,
semi-starvation for his family, and finally death, without a shilling
to leave those whom he has brought into the world, but armed with the
authority of the law to treat his wife as his slave, ever brutally
insisting on the indulgence of his marital rights. Where is the
immorality, if, already broken in health from unresting maternity,
having already a larger family than she can support when the miserable
breadwinner has drunk himself to death, the woman avails herself of
the information given in this book, and so averts the consequences of
yielding to her husband's brutal insistence on his marital rights?
Already weighted with a family that she is unable to decently bring
up, the immorality, it seems to me, would be in the reckless and
criminal disregard of precautions which would prevent her bringing
into the world daughters whose future outlook as a career would be
prostitution, or sons whose inherited taint of alcoholism would soon
drag them down with their sisters to herd with the seething mass of
degenerate and criminal humanity that constitutes the dangerous
classes of great cities. In all these cases the appeal is from
thoughtless, unreasoning prejudice to conscience, and, if listened to,
its voice will be heard unmistakably indicating where the path of duty

The judge forcibly refused to be any party to the prohibition of such
a pamphlet, regarding it as of high service to the community. He said:
"So strong is the dread of the world's censure upon this topic that
few have the courage openly to express their views upon it; and its
nature is such that it is only amongst thinkers who discuss all
subjects, or amongst intimate acquaintances, that community of thought
upon the question is discovered. But let any one inquire amongst those
who have sufficient education and ability to think for themselves, and
who do not idly float, slaves to the current of conventional opinion,
and he will discover that numbers of men and women of purest lives, of
noblest aspirations, pious, cultivated, and refined, see no wrong in
teaching the ignorant that it is wrong to bring into the world
children to whom they cannot do justice, and who think it folly to
stop short in telling them simply and plainly how to prevent it. A
more robust view of morals teaches that it is puerile to ignore human
passions and human physiology. A clearer perception of truth and the
safety of trusting to it teaches that in law, as in religion, it is
useless trying to limit the knowledge of mankind by any inquisitorial
attempts to place upon a judicial Index Expurgatorius works written
with an earnest purpose, and commending themselves to thinkers of
well-balanced minds. I will be no party to any such attempt. I do not
believe that it was ever meant that the Obscene Publication Act should
apply to cases of this kind, but only to the publication of such
matter as all good men would regard as lewd and filthy, to lewd and
bawdy novels, pictures and exhibitions, evidently published and given
for lucre's sake. It could never have been intended to stifle the
expression of thought by the earnest-minded on a subject of
transcendent national importance like the present, and I will not
strain it for that purpose. As pointed out by Lord Cockburn in the
case of the Queen v. Bradlaugh and Besant, all prosecutions of this
kind should be regarded as mischievous, even by those who disapprove
the opinions sought to be stifled, inasmuch as they only tend more
widely to diffuse the teaching objected to. To those, on the other
hand, who desire its promulgation, it must be a matter of
congratulation that this, like all attempted persecutions of thinkers,
will defeat its own object, and that truth, like a torch, 'the more
it's shook it shines.'"

The argument of Mr. Justice Windmeyer for the Neo-Malthusian position
was (as any one may see who reads the full text of the judgment) one
of the most luminous and cogent I have ever read. The judgment was
spoken of at the time in the English press as a "brilliant triumph for
Mrs. Besant," and so I suppose it was; but no legal judgment could
undo the harm wrought on the public mind in England by malignant and
persistent misrepresentation. What that trial and its results cost me
in pain no one but myself will ever know; on the other hand, there was
the passionate gratitude evidenced by letters from thousands of poor
married women--many from the wives of country clergymen and
curates--thanking and blessing me for showing them how to escape from
the veritable hell in which they lived. The "upper classes" of society
know nothing about the way in which the poor live; how their
overcrowding destroys all sense of personal dignity, of modesty, of
outward decency, till human life, as Bishop Fraser justly said, is
"degraded below the level of the swine." To such, and among such I
went, and I could not grudge the price that then seemed to me as the
ransom for their redemption. To me, indeed, it meant the losing of all
that made life dear, but for them it seemed to be the gaining of all
that gave hope of a better future. So how could I hesitate--I whose
heart had been fired by devotion to an ideal Humanity, inspired by
that Materialism that is of love and not of hate?

And now, in August, 1893, we find the _Christian World,_ the
representative organ of orthodox Christian Protestantism, proclaiming
the right and the duty of voluntary limitation of the family. In a
leading article, after a number of letters had been inserted, it

"The conditions are assuredly wrong which bring one member of the
married partnership into a bondage so cruel. It is no less evident
that the cause of the bondage in such cases lies in the too rapid
multiplication of the family. There was a time when any idea of
voluntary limitation was regarded by pious people as interfering with
Providence. We are beyond that now, and have become capable of
recognising that Providence works through the common sense of
individual brains. We limit population just as much by deferring
marriage from prudential motives as by any action that may be taken
after it.... Apart from certain methods of limitation, the morality of
which is gravely questioned by many, there are certain
easily-understood physiological laws of the subject, the failure to
know and to observe which is inexcusable on the part either of men or
women in these circumstances. It is worth noting in this connection
that Dr. Billings, in his article in this month's _Forum_, on the
diminishing birth-rate of the United States, gives as one of the
reasons the greater diffusion of intelligence, by means of popular and
school treatises on physiology, than formerly prevailed."

Thus has opinion changed in sixteen years, and all the obloquy poured
on us is seen to have been the outcome of ignorance and bigotry.

As for the children, what was gained by their separation from me? The
moment they were old enough to free themselves, they came back to me,
my little girl's too brief stay with me being ended by her happy
marriage, and I fancy the fears expressed for her eternal future will
prove as groundless as the fears for her temporal ruin have proved to
be! Not only so, but both are treading in my steps as regards their
views of the nature and destiny of man, and have joined in their
bright youth the Theosophical Society to which, after so many
struggles, I won my way.

The struggle on the right to discuss the prudential restraint of
population did not, however, conclude without a martyr. Mr. Edward
Truelove, alluded to above, was prosecuted for selling a treatise by
Robert Dale Owen on "Moral Physiology," and a pamphlet entitled,
"Individual, Family, and National Poverty." He was tried on February
1, 1878, before the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Queen's Bench,
and was most ably defended by Professor W.A. Hunter. The jury spent
two hours in considering their verdict, and returned into court and
stated that they were unable to agree. The majority of the jury were
ready to convict, if they felt sure that Mr. Truelove would not be
punished, but one of them boldly declared in court: "As to the book,
it is written in plain language for plain people, and I think that
many more persons ought to know what the contents of the book are."
The jury was discharged, in consequence of this one man's courage, but
Mr. Truelove's persecutors--the Vice Society--were determined not to
let their victim free. They proceeded to trial a second time, and
wisely endeavoured to secure a special jury, feeling that as
prudential restraint would raise wages by limiting the supply of
labour, they would be more likely to obtain a verdict from a jury of
"gentlemen" than from one composed of workers. This attempt was
circumvented by Mr. Truelove's legal advisers, who let a _procedendo_
go which sent back the trial to the Old Bailey. The second trial was
held on May 16th at the Central Criminal Court before Baron Pollock
and a common jury, Professor Hunter and Mr. J.M. Davidson appearing
for the defence. The jury convicted, and the brave old man,
sixty-eight years of age, was condemned to four months' imprisonment
and L50 fine for selling a pamphlet which had been sold unchallenged,
during a period of forty-five years, by James Watson, George Jacob
Holyoake, Austin Holyoake, and Charles Watts. Mr. Grain, the counsel
employed by the Vice Society, most unfairly used against Mr. Truelove
my "Law of Population," a pamphlet which contained, Baron Pollock
said, "the head and front of the offence in the other [the Knowlton]
case." I find an indignant protest against this odious unfairness in
the _National Reformer_ for May 19th: "My 'Law of Population' was used
against Mr. Truelove as an aggravation of his offence, passing over
the utter meanness--worthy only of Collette--of using against a
prisoner a book whose author has never been attacked for writing
it--does Mr. Collette, or do the authorities, imagine that the
severity shown to Mr. Truelove will in any fashion deter me from
continuing the Malthusian propaganda? Let me here assure them, one and
all, that it will do nothing of the kind; I shall continue to sell the
'Law of Population' and to advocate scientific checks to population,
just as though Mr. Collette and his Vice Society were all dead and
buried. In commonest justice they are bound to prosecute me, and if
they get, and keep, a verdict against me, and succeed in sending me to
prison, they will only make people more anxious to read my book, and
make me more personally powerful as a teacher of the views which they

A persistent attempt was made to obtain a writ of error in Mr.
Truelove's case, but the Tory Attorney-General, Sir John Holker,
refused it, although the ground on which it was asked was one of the
grounds on which a similar writ had been granted to Mr. Bradlaugh and
myself. Mr. Truelove was therefore compelled to suffer his sentence,
but memorials, signed by 11,000 persons, asking for his release, were
sent to the Home Secretary from every part of the country, and a
crowded meeting in St. James's Hall, London, demanded his liberation
with only six dissentients. The whole agitation did not shorten Mr.
Truelove's sentence by a single day, and he was not released from
Coldbath Fields Prison until September 5th. On the 12th of the same
month the Hall of Science was crowded with enthusiastic friends, who
assembled to do him honour, and he was presented with a
beautifully-illuminated address and a purse containing L177
(subsequent subscriptions raised the amount to L197 16s. 6d.).

It is scarcely necessary to say that one of the results of the
prosecution was a great agitation throughout the country, and a wide
popularisation of Malthusian views. Some huge demonstrations were held
in favour of free discussion; on one occasion the Free Trade Hall,
Manchester, was crowded to the doors; on another the Star Music Hall,
Bradford, was crammed in every corner; on another the Town Hall,
Birmingham, had not a seat or a bit of standing-room unoccupied.
Wherever we went, separately or together, it was the same story, and
not only were Malthusian lectures eagerly attended, and Malthusian
literature eagerly bought, but curiosity brought many to listen to our
Radical and Freethought lectures, and thousands heard for the first
time what Secularism really meant. The Press, both London and
provincial, agreed in branding the prosecution as foolish, and it was
generally remarked that it resulted only in the wider circulation of
the indicted book, and the increased popularity of those who had stood
for the right of publication. The furious attacks since made upon us
have been made chiefly by those who differ from us in theological
creed, and who have found a misrepresentation of our prosecution
served them as a convenient weapon of attack. During the last few
years public opinion has been gradually coming round to our side, in
consequence of the pressure of poverty resulting from widespread
depression of trade, and during the sensation caused in 1884 by "The
Bitter Cry of Outcast London," many writers in the _Daily
News_--notably Mr. G.R. Sims--boldly alleged that the distress was to
a great extent due to the large families of the poor, and mentioned
that we had been prosecuted for giving the very knowledge which would
bring salvation to the sufferers in our great cities.

Among the useful results of the prosecution was the establishment of
the Malthusian League, "to agitate for the abolition of all penalties
on the public discussion of the population question," and "to spread
among the people, by all practicable means, a knowledge of the law of
population, of its consequences, and of its bearing upon human conduct
and morals." The first general meeting of the League was held at the
Hall of Science on July 26, 1877, and a council of twenty persons was
elected, and this council on August 2nd elected Dr. C.R. Drysdale,
M.D., President; Mr. Swaagman, Treasurer; Mrs. Besant, Secretary; Mr.
Shearer, Assistant-Secretary; and Mr. Hember, Financial Secretary.
Since 1877 the League, under the same indefatigable president, has
worked hard to carry out its objects; it has issued a large number of
leaflets and tracts; it supports a monthly journal, the _Malthusian;_
numerous lectures have been delivered under its auspices in all parts
of the country; and it has now a medical branch, into which none but
duly qualified medical men and women are admitted, with members in all
European countries.

Another result of the prosecution was the accession of "D." to the
staff of the _National Reformer_. This able and thoughtful writer came
forward and joined our ranks as soon as he heard of the attack on us,
and he further volunteered to conduct the journal during our expected
imprisonment. From that time to this--a period of fifteen
years--articles from his pen appeared in its columns week by week, and
during all that time not one solitary difficulty arose between editors
and contributor. In public a trustworthy colleague, in private a warm
and sincere friend, "D." proved an unmixed benefit bestowed upon us by
the prosecution.

Nor was "D." the only friend brought to us by our foes. I cannot ever
think of that time without remembering that the prosecution brought me
first into close intimacy with Mrs. Annie Parris--the wife of Mr.
Touzeau Parris, the Secretary of the Defence Committee throughout all
the fight--a lady who, during that long struggle, and during the, for
me, far worse struggle that succeeded it, over the custody of my
daughter, proved to me the most loving and sisterly of friends. One or
two other friendships which will, I hope, last my life, date from that
same time of strife and anxiety.

The amount of money subscribed by the public during the Knowlton and
succeeding prosecutions gives some idea of the interest felt in the
struggle. The Defence Fund Committee in March, 1878, presented a
balance-sheet, showing subscriptions amounting to L1,292 5s. 4d., and
total expenditure in the Queen v. Bradlaugh and Besant, the Queen v.
Truelove, and the appeal against Mr. Vaughan's order (the last two up
to date) of L1,274 10s. This account was then closed and the balance
of L17 15s. 4d. passed on to a new fund for the defence of Mr.
Truelove, the carrying on of the appeal against the destruction of the
Knowlton pamphlet, and the bearing of the costs incident on the
petition lodged against myself. In July this new fund had reached L196
16s. 7d., and after paying the remainder of the costs in Mr.
Truelove's case, a balance of L26 15s. 2d. was carried on. This again
rose to L247 15s. 2-1/2d., and the fund bore the expenses of Mr.
Bradlaugh's successful appeal on the Knowlton pamphlet, the petition
and subsequent proceedings in which I was concerned in the Court of
Chancery, and an appeal on Mr. Truelove's behalf, unfortunately
unsuccessful, against an order for the destruction of the Dale Owen
pamphlet. This last decision was given on February 21, 1880, and on
this the Defence Fund was closed. On Mr. Truelove's release, as
mentioned above, a testimonial to the amount of L197 16s. 6d. was
presented to him, and after the close of the struggle some anonymous
friend sent to me personally L200 as "thanks for the courage and
ability shown." In addition to all this, the Malthusian League
received no less than L455 11s. 9d. during the first year of its life,
and started on its second year with a balance in hand of L77 5s. 8d.

A somewhat similar prosecution in America, in which the bookseller,
Mr. D.M. Bennett, sold a book with which he did not agree, and was
imprisoned, led to our giving him a warm welcome when, after his
release, he visited England. We entertained him at the Hall of Science
at a crowded gathering, and I was deputed as spokesman to present him
with a testimonial. This I did in the following speech, quoted here in
order to show the spirit then animating me:--

"Friends, Mr. Bradlaugh has spoken of the duty that calls us here
to-night. It is pleasant to think that in our work that duty is one to
which we are not unaccustomed. In our army there are more true
soldiers than traitors, more that are faithful to the trust of keeping
the truth than those who shrink when the hour of danger comes. And I
would ask Mr. Bennett to-night not to measure English feeling towards
him by the mere number of those present. They that are here are
representatives of many thousands of our fellow-countrymen. Glance
down this middle table, and you will see that it is not without some
right that we claim to welcome you in the name of multitudes of the
citizens of England. There are those who taunt us with want of
loyalty, and with the name of infidels. In what church will they find
men and women more loyal to truth and conscience? The name infidel is
not for us so long as we are faithful to the truth we know. If I
speak, as I have done, of national representation in this hall this
evening, tell me, you who know those who sit here, who have watched
some of them for years, others of them but for a brief time, do I not
speak truth? Take them one by one. Your President but a little while
ago in circumstances similar to those wherein our guest himself was
placed, with the true lover's keenness that recognises the mistress
under all disguise, beholding his mistress Liberty in danger, under
circumstances that would have blinded less sure eyes, leapt to her
rescue. He risked the ambition of his life rather than be disloyal to
liberty. And next is seated a woman, who, student of a noble
profession, thought that liberty had greater claim upon her than even
her work. When we stood in worse peril than even loss of liberty, she
risked her own good name for the truth's sake. One also is here who,
eminent in his own profession, came with the weight of his position
and his right to speak, and gave a kindred testimony. One step
further, and you see one who, soldier to liberty, throughout a long
and spotless life, when the task was far harder than it is to-day,
when there were no greetings, no welcomes, when to serve was to peril
name as well as liberty, never flinched from the first until now. He
is crowned with the glory of the jail, that was his for no crime but
for claiming the right to publish that wherein the noblest thought is
uttered in the bravest words. And next to him is another who speaks
for liberty, who has brought culture, university degree, position in
men's sight, and many friends, and cast them all at her beloved feet.
Sir, not alone the past and the present greet you to-night. The future
also greets you with us. We have here also those who are training
themselves to walk in the footsteps of the one most dear to them, who
shall carry on, when we have passed away, the work which we shall have
dropped from our hands. But he whom we delight to honour at this hour
in truth honours us, in that he allows us to offer him the welcome
that it is our glory and our pleasure to give. He has fought bravely.
The Christian creed had in its beginning more traitors and less true
hearts than the creed of to-day. We are happy to-day not only in the
thought of what manner of men we have for leaders, but in the thought
of what manner of men we have as soldiers in our army. Jesus had
twelve apostles. One betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver; a
second denied Him. They all forsook Him and fled. We can scarcely
point to one who has thus deserted our sacred cause. The traditions of
our party tell us of many who went to jail because they claimed for
all that right of free speech which is the heritage of all. One of the
most famous members of our body in England, Richard Carlile, turned
bookseller to sell books that were prosecuted. This man became
Free-thinker, driven thereto by the bigotry and wickedness of the
Churches. He sold the books of Hone not because he agreed with them,
but because Hone was prosecuted. He saw that the book in whose
prosecution freedom was attacked was the book for the freeman to sell;
and the story of our guest shows that in all this England and America
are one. Those who gave Milton to the world can yet bring forth men of
the same stamp in continents leagues asunder. Because our friend was
loyal and true, prison had to him no dread. It was far, far less of
dishonour to wear the garb of the convict than to wear that of the
hypocrite. The society we represent, like his society in America,
pleads for free thought, speaks for free speech, claims for every one,
however antagonistic, the right to speak the thought he feels. It is
better that this should be, even though the thought be wrong, for thus
the sooner will its error be discovered--better if the thought be
right, for then the sooner does the gladness of a new truth find place
in the heart of man. As the mouthpiece, Sir, of our National Secular
Society, and of its thousands of members, I speak to you now:--


"'_We seek for Truth_.'

"'To D.M. Bennett.

"'In asking you to accept at the hands of the National Secular Society
of England this symbol of cordial sympathy and brotherly welcome, we
are but putting into act the motto of our Society. "We seek for Truth"
is our badge, and it is as Truthseeker that we do you homage to-night.
Without free speech no search for Truth is possible; without free
speech no discovery of Truth is useful; without free speech progress
is checked, and the nations no longer march forward towards the nobler
life which the future holds for man. Better a thousandfold abuse of
free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day; the
denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hope of the race.

"'In your own country you have pleaded for free speech, and when,
under a wicked and an odious law, one of your fellow-citizens was
imprisoned for the publication of his opinions, you, not sharing the
opinions but faithful to liberty, sprang forward to defend in him the
principle of free speech which you claimed for yourself, and sold his
book while he lay in prison. For this act you were in turn arrested
and sent to jail, and the country which won its freedom by the aid of
Paine in the eighteenth century disgraced itself in the nineteenth by
the imprisonment of a heretic. The Republic of the United States
dishonoured herself, and not you, in Albany penitentiary. Two hundred
thousand of your countrymen pleaded for your release, but bigotry was
too strong. We sent you greeting in your captivity; we rejoiced when
the time came for your release. We offer you to-night our thanks and
our hope--thanks for the heroism which never flinched in the hour of
battle, hope for a more peaceful future, in which the memory of a past
pain may be a sacred heritage and not a regret.

"'Charles Bradlaugh, _President_.'

"Soldier of liberty, we give you this. Do in the future the same good
service that you have done in the past, and your reward shall be in
the love that true men shall bear to you."

That, however, which no force could compel me to do, which I refused
to threats of fine and prison, to separation from my children, to
social ostracism, and to insults and ignominy worse to bear than
death, I surrendered freely when all the struggle was over, and a
great part of society and of public opinion had adopted the view that
cost Mr. Bradlaugh and myself so dear. I may as well complete the
story here, so as not to have to refer to it again. I gave up
Neo-Malthusianism in April, 1891, its renunciation being part of the
outcome of two years' instruction from Mdme. H.P. Blavatsky, who
showed me that however justifiable Neo-Malthusianism might be while
man was regarded only as the most perfect outcome of physical
evolution, it was wholly incompatible with the view of man as a
spiritual being, whose material form and environment were the results
of his own mental activity. Why and how I embraced Theosophy, and
accepted H.P. Blavatsky as teacher, will soon be told in its proper
place. Here I am concerned only with the why and how of my
renunciation of the Neo-Malthusian teaching, for which I had fought so
hard and suffered so much.

When I built my life on the basis of Materialism I judged all actions
by their effect on human happiness in this world now and in future
generations, regarding man as an organism that lived on earth and
there perished, with activities confined to earth and limited by
physical laws. The object of life was the ultimate building-up of a
physically, mentally, morally perfect man by the cumulative effects of
heredity--mental and moral tendencies being regarded as the outcome of
material conditions, to be slowly but surely evolved by rational
selection and the transmission to offspring of qualities carefully
acquired by, and developed in, parents. The most characteristic note
of this serious and lofty Materialism had been struck by Professor W.
K. Clifford in his noble article on the "Ethics of Belief."

Taking this view of human duty in regard to the rational co-operation
with nature in the evolution of the human race, it became of the first
importance to rescue the control of the generation of offspring from
mere blind brute passion, and to transfer it to the reason and to the
intelligence; to impress on parents the sacredness of the parental
office, the tremendous responsibility of the exercise of the creative
function. And since, further, one of the most pressing problems for
solution in the older countries is that of poverty, the horrible slums
and dens into which are crowded and in which are festering families of
eight and ten children, whose parents are earning an uncertain 10s.,
12s., 15s., and 20s. a week; since an immediate palliative is wanted,
if popular risings impelled by starvation are to be avoided; since the
lives of men and women of the poorer classes, and of the worst paid
professional classes, are one long, heart-breaking struggle "to make
both ends meet and keep respectable"; since in the middle class
marriage is often avoided, or delayed till late in life, from the
dread of the large family, and late marriage is followed by its
shadow, the prevalence of vice and the moral and social ruin of
thousands of women; for these, and many other reasons, the teaching of
the duty of limiting the family within the means of subsistence is the
logical outcome of Materialism linked with the scientific view of
evolution, and with a knowledge of the physical law, by which
evolution is accelerated or retarded. Seeking to improve the physical
type, scientific Materialism, it seemed to me, must forbid parentage
to any but healthy married couples; it must restrict childbearing
within the limits consistent with the thorough health and physical
well-being of the mother; it must impose it as a duty never to bring
children into the world unless the conditions for their fair nurture
and development are present. Regarding it as hopeless, as well as
mischievous, to preach asceticism, and looking on the conjunction of
nominal celibacy with widespread prostitution as inevitable, from the
constitution of human nature, scientific Materialism--quite rationally
and logically--advises deliberate restriction of the production of
offspring, while sanctioning the exercise of the sexual instinct
within the limits imposed by temperance, the highest physical and
mental efficiency, the good order and dignity of society, and the
self-respect of the individual.

In all this there is nothing which for one moment implies approval of
licentiousness, profligacy, unbridled self-indulgence. On the
contrary, it is a well-considered and intellectually-defensible scheme
of human evolution, regarding all natural instincts as matters for
regulation, not for destruction, and seeking to develop the perfectly
healthy and well-balanced physical body as the necessary basis for the
healthy and well-balanced mind. If the premises of Materialism be
true, there is no answer to the Neo-Malthusian conclusions; for even
those Socialists who have bitterly opposed the promulgation of
Neo-Malthusianism--regarding it as a "red herring intended to draw the
attention of the proletariat away from the real cause of poverty, the
monopoly of land and capital by a class"--admit that when society is
built on the foundation of common property in all that is necessary
for the production of wealth, the time will come for the consideration
of the population question. Nor do I now see, any more than I saw
then, how any Materialist can rationally avoid the Neo-Malthusian
position. For if man be the outcome of purely physical causes, it is
with these that we must deal in guiding his future evolution. If he be
related but to terrestrial existence, he is but the loftiest organism
of earth; and, failing to see his past and his future, how should my
eyes not have been then blinded to the deep-lying causes of his
present woe? I brought a material cure to a disease which appeared to
me to be of material origin; but how when the evil came from a subtler
source, and its causes lay not on the material plane? How if the
remedy only set up new causes for a future evil, and, while
immediately a palliative, strengthened the disease itself, and ensured
its reappearance in the future? This was the view of the problem set
before me by H.P. Blavatsky when she unrolled the story of man, told
of his origin and his destiny, showed me the forces that went to the
making of man, and the true relation between his past, his present,
and his future.

For what is man in the light of Theosophy? He is a spiritual
intelligence, eternal and uncreate, treading a vast cycle of human
experience, born and reborn on earth millennium after millennium,
evolving slowly into the ideal man. He is not the product of matter,
but is encased in matter, and the forms of matter with which he
clothes himself are of his own making. For the intelligence and will
of man are creative forces--not creative _ex nihilo_, but creative as
is the brain of the painter--and these forces are exercised by man in
every act of thought. Thus he is ever creating round him
thought-forms, moulding subtlest matter into shape by these energies,
forms which persist as tangible realities when the body of the thinker
has long gone back to earth and air and water. When the time for
rebirth into this earth-life comes for the soul these thought-forms,
its own progeny, help to form the tenuous model into which the
molecules of physical matter are builded for the making of the body,
and matter is thus moulded for the new body in which the soul is to
dwell, on the lines laid down by the intelligent and volitional life
of the previous, or of many previous, incarnations. So does each man
create for himself in verity the form wherein he functions, and what
he is in his present is the inevitable outcome of his own creative
energies in his past. Applying this to the Neo-Malthusian theory, we
see in sexual love not only a passion which man has in common with the
brute, and which forms, at the present stage of evolution, a necessary
part of human nature, but an animal passion that may be trained and
purified into a human emotion, which may be used as one of the levers
in human progress, one of the factors in human growth. But, instead of
this, man in the past has made his intellect the servant of his
passions; the abnormal development of the sexual instinct in man--in
whom it is far greater and more continuous than in any brute--is due
to the mingling with it of the intellectual element, all sexual
thoughts, desires, and imaginations having created thought-forms,
which have been wrought into the human race, giving rise to a
continual demand, far beyond nature, and in marked contrast with the
temperance of normal animal life. Hence it has become one of the most
fruitful sources of human misery and human degradation, and the
satisfaction of its imperious cravings in civilised countries lies at
the root of our worst social evils. This excessive development has to
be fought against, and the instinct reduced within natural limits, and
this will certainly never be done by easy-going self-indulgence within
the marital relation any more than by self-indulgence outside it. By
none other road than that of self-control and self-denial can men and
women now set going the causes which will build for them brains and
bodies of a higher type for their future return to earth-life. They
have to hold this instinct in complete control, to transmute it from
passion into tender and self-denying affection, to develop the
intellectual at the expense of the animal, and thus to raise the whole
man to the human stage, in which every intellectual and physical
capacity shall subserve the purposes of the soul. From all this it
follows that Theosophists should sound the note of self-restraint
within marriage, and the gradual--for with the mass it cannot be
sudden--restriction of the sexual relation to the perpetuation of the

Such was the bearing of Theosophical teaching on Neo-Malthusianism, as
laid before me by H.P. Blavatsky, and when I urged, out of my bitter
knowledge of the miseries endured by the poor, that it surely might,
for a time at least, be recommended as a palliative, as a defence in
the hands of a woman against intolerable oppression and enforced
suffering, she bade me look beyond the moment, and see how the
suffering must come back and back with every generation, unless we
sought to remove the roots of wrong. "I do not judge a woman," she
said, "who has resort to such means of defence in the midst of
circumstances so evil, and whose ignorance of the real causes of all
this misery is her excuse for snatching at any relief. But it is not
for you, an Occultist, to continue to teach a method which you now
know must tend to the perpetuation of the sorrow." I felt that she was
right, and though I shrank from the decision--for my heart somewhat
failed me at withdrawing from the knowledge of the poor, so far as I
could, a temporary palliative of evils which too often wreck their
lives and bring many to an early grave, worn old before even middle
age has touched them--yet the decision was made. I refused to reprint
the "Law of Population," or to sell the copyright, giving pain, as I
sadly knew, to all the brave and loyal friends who had so generously
stood by me in that long and bitter struggle, and who saw the results
of victory thrown away on grounds to them inadequate and mistaken!
Will it always be, I wonder, in man's climbing upward, that every step
must be set on his own heart and on the hearts of those he loves?



Coming back to my work after my long and dangerous illness, I took up
again its thread, heartsick, but with courage unshaken, and I find
myself in the _National Reformer_ for September 15, 1878, saying in a
brief note of thanks that "neither the illness nor the trouble which
produced it has in any fashion lessened my determination to work for
the cause." In truth, I plunged into work with added vigour, for only
in that did I find any solace, but the pamphlets written at this time
against Christianity were marked with considerable bitterness, for it
was Christianity that had robbed me of my child, and I struck
mercilessly at it in return. In the political struggles of that time,
when the Beaconsfield Government was in full swing, with its policy of
annexation and aggression, I played my part with tongue and pen, and
my articles in defence of an honest and liberty-loving policy in
India, against the invasion of Afghanistan and other outrages, laid in
many an Indian heart a foundation of affection for me, and seem to me
now as a preparation for the work among Indians to which much of my
time and thought to-day are given. In November of this same year
(1878) I wrote a little book on "England, India, and Afghanistan" that
has brought me many a warm letter of thanks, and with this, the
carrying on of the suit against Mr. Besant before alluded to, two and
often three lectures every Sunday, to say nothing of the editorial
work on the _National Reformer_, the secretarial work on the
Malthusian League, and stray lectures during the week, my time was
fairly well filled. But I found that in my reading I developed a
tendency to let my thoughts wander from the subject in hand, and that
they would drift after my lost little one, so I resolved to fill up
the gaps in my scientific education, and to amuse myself by reading up
for some examinations; I thought it would serve as an absorbing form
of recreation from my other work, and would at the same time, by
making my knowledge exact, render me more useful as a speaker on
behalf of the causes to which my life was given.

At the opening of the new year (1879) I met for the first time a man
to whom I subsequently owed much in this department of work--Edward B.
Aveling, a D.Sc. of London University, and a marvellously able teacher
of scientific subjects, the very ablest, in fact, that I have ever
met. Clear and accurate in his knowledge, with a singular gift for
lucid exposition, enthusiastic in his love of science, and taking
vivid pleasure in imparting his knowledge to others, he was an ideal
teacher. This young man, in January, 1879, began writing under
initials for the _National Reformer_, and in February I became his
pupil, with the view of matriculating in June at the London
University, an object which was duly accomplished. And here let me say
to any one in mental trouble, that they might find an immense relief
in taking up some intellectual recreation of this kind; during that
spring, in addition to my ordinary work of writing, lecturing, and
editing--and the lecturing meant travelling from one end of England to
the other--I translated a fair-sized French volume, and had the
wear-and-tear of pleading my case for the custody of my daughter in
the Court of Appeal, as well as the case before the Master of the
Rolls; and I found it the very greatest relief to turn to algebra,
geometry, and physics, and forget the harassing legal struggles in
wrestling with formulae and problems. The full access I gained to my
children marked a step in the long battle of Freethinkers against
disabilities, for, as noted in the _National Reformer_ by Mr.
Bradlaugh, it was "won with a pleading unequalled in any case on
record for the boldness of its affirmation of Freethought," a pleading
of which he generously said that it deserved well of the party as "the
most powerful pleading for freedom of opinion to which it has ever
been our good fortune to listen."

In the London _Daily News_ some powerful letters of protest appeared,
one from Lord Harberton, in which he declared that "the Inquisition
acted on no other principle" than that applied to me; and a second
from Mr. Band, in which he sarcastically observed that "this Christian
community has for some time had the pleasure of seeing her Majesty's
courts repeatedly springing engines of torture upon a young mother--a
clergyman's wife who dared to disagree with his creed--and her evident
anguish, her long and expensive struggles to save her child, have
proved that so far as heretical mothers are concerned modern defenders
of the faith need not envy the past those persuasive instruments which
so long secured the unity of the Church. In making Mrs. Besant an
example, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice James have been
careful not to allow any of the effect to be lost by confusion of the
main point--the intellectual heresy--with side questions. There was a
Malthusian matter in the case, but the judges were very clear in
stating that without any reference whatever to that, they would
simply, on the ground of Mrs. Besant's 'religious, or anti-religious,
opinions,' take her child from her." The great provincial papers took
a similar tone, the _Manchester Examiner_ going so far as to say of
the ruling of the judges: "We do not say they have done so wrongly. We
only say that the effect of their judgment is cruel, and it shows that
the holding of unpopular opinions is, in the eye of the law, an
offence which, despite all we had thought to the contrary, may be
visited with the severest punishment a woman and a mother can be
possibly called on to bear." The outcome of all this long struggle and
of another case of sore injustice--in which Mrs. Agar-Ellis, a Roman
Catholic, was separated from her children by a judicial decision
obtained against her by her husband, a Protestant--was a change in the
law which had vested all power over the children in the hands of the
father, and from thenceforth the rights of the married mother were
recognised to a limited extent. A small side-fight was with the
National Sunday League, the president of which, Lord Thurlow, strongly
objected to me as one of the vice-presidents. Mr. P.A. Taylor and
others at once resigned their offices, and, on the calling of a
general meeting, Lord Thurlow was rejected as president. Mr. P.A.
Taylor was requested to assume the presidency, and the vice-presidents
who had resigned were, with myself, re-elected. Little battles of this
sort were a running accompaniment of graver struggles during all these
battling years.

And through all the struggles the organised strength of the
Freethought party grew, 650 new members being enrolled in the National
Secular Society in the year 1878-79, and in July, 1879, the public
adhesion of Dr. Edward B. Aveling brought into the ranks a pen of rare
force and power, and gave a strong impulse to the educational side of
our movement. I presided for him at his first lecture at the Hall of
Science on August 10, 1879, and he soon paid the penalty of his
boldness, finding himself, a few months later, dismissed from the
Chair of Comparative Anatomy at the London Hospital, though the Board
admitted that all his duties were discharged with punctuality and
ability. One of the first results of his adhesion was the
establishment of two classes under the Science and Art Department at
South Kensington, and these grew year after year, attended by numbers
of young men and women, till in 1883 we had thirteen classes in full
swing, as well as Latin, and London University Matriculation classes;
all these were taught by Dr. Aveling and pupils that he had trained. I
took advanced certificates, one in honours, and so became qualified as
a science teacher in eight different sciences, and Alice and Hypatia
Bradlaugh followed a similar course, so that winter after winter we
kept these classes going from September to the following May, from
1879 until the year 1888. In addition to these Miss Bradlaugh carried
on a choral union.

Personally I found that this study and teaching together with
attendance at classes held for teachers at South Kensington, the study
for passing the First B.Sc. and Prel. Sc. Examinations at London
University, and the study for the B.Sc. degree at London, at which I
failed in practical chemistry three times--a thing that puzzled me not
a little at the time, as I had passed a far more difficult practical
chemical examination for teachers at South Kensington--all this gave
me a knowledge of science that has stood me in good stead in my public
work. But even here theological and social hatred pursued me.

When Miss Bradlaugh and myself applied for permission to attend the
botany class at University College, we were refused, I for my sins,
and she only for being her father's daughter; when I had qualified as
teacher, I stood back from claiming recognition from the Department
for a year in order not to prejudice the claims of Mr. Bradlaugh's
daughters, and later, when I had been recognised, Sir Henry Tyler in
the House of Commons attacked the Education Department for accepting
me, and actually tried to prevent the Government grant being paid to
the Hall of Science Schools because Dr. Aveling, the Misses Bradlaugh,
and myself were unbelievers in Christianity. When I asked permission
to go to the Botanical Gardens in Regent's Park the curator refused
it, on the ground that his daughters studied there. On every side
repulse and insult, hard to struggle against, bitter to bear. It was
against difficulties of this kind on every side that we had to make
our way, handicapped in every effort by our heresy. Let our work be as
good as it might--and our Science School was exceptionally
successful--the subtle fragrance of heresy was everywhere
distinguishable, and when Mr. Bradlaugh and myself are blamed for
bitterness in our anti-Christian advocacy, this constant gnawing
annoyance and petty persecution should be taken into account. For him
it was especially trying, for he saw his daughters--girls of ability
and of high character, whose only crime was that they were
his--insulted, sneered at, slandered, continually put at a
disadvantage, because they were his children and loved and honoured
him beyond all others.

It was in October, 1879, that I first met Herbert Burrows, though I
did not become intimately acquainted with him till the Socialist
troubles of the autumn of 1887 drew us into a common stream of work.
He came as a delegate from the Tower Hamlets Radical Association to a
preliminary conference, called by Mr. Bradlaugh, at the Hall of
Science, on October 11th, to consider the advisability of holding a
great London Convention on Land Law Reform, to be attended by
delegates from all parts of the kingdom. He was appointed on the
Executive Committee with Mr. Bradlaugh, Mr. Mottershead, Mr. Nieass,
and others. The Convention was successfully held, and an advanced
platform of Land Law Reform adopted, used later by Mr. Bradlaugh as a
basis for some of the proposals he laid before Parliament.



And now dawned the year 1880, the memorable year in which commenced
Mr. Bradlaugh's long Parliamentary battle. After a long and bitter
struggle he was elected, with Mr. Labouchere, as member for
Northampton, at the general election, and so the prize so long fought
for was won. Shall I ever forget that election day, April 2, 1880? How
at four o'clock Mr. Bradlaugh came into the room at the "George",
where his daughters and I were sitting, flung himself into a chair
with, "There's nothing more to do; our last man is polled." Then the
waiting for the declaration through the long, weary hours of suspense,
till as the time drew near we knelt by the window listening--listening
to the hoarse murmur of the crowd, knowing that presently there would
be a roar of triumph or a howl of anger when the numbers were read out
from the steps of the Town Hall. And now silence sank, and we knew the
moment had come, and we held our breath, and then--a roar, a wild roar
of joy and exultation, cheer after cheer, ringing, throbbing, pealing,
and then the mighty surge of the crowd bringing him back, their member
at last, waving hats, handkerchiefs, a very madness of tumultuous
delight, and the shrill strains of "Bradlaugh for Northampton!" with a
ring of triumph in them they had never had before. And he, very grave,
somewhat shaken by the outpour of love and exultation, very silent,
feeling the weight of new responsibility more than the gladness of
victory. And then the next morning, as he left the town, the mass of
men and women, one sea of heads from hotel to station, every window
crowded, his colours waving everywhere, men fighting to get near him,
to touch him, women sobbing, the cries, "Our Charlie, our Charlie;
we've got you and we'll keep you." How they loved him, how they joyed
in the triumph won after twelve years of strife. Ah me! we thought the
struggle over, and it was only beginning; we thought our hero
victorious, and a fiercer, crueller fight lay in front. True, he was
to win that fight, but his life was to be the price of the winning;
victory for him was to be final, complete, but the laurel-wreath was
to fall upon a grave.


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