Annie Besant
Annie Besant

Part 4 out of 5

[Illustration: _From a photograph by T. Westley, 57, Vernon Street,

The outburst of anger from the more bigoted of the Christian community
was as savage as the outburst of delight had been exultant, but we
recked little of it. Was he not member, duly elected, without
possibility of assailment in his legal right? Parliament was to meet
on April 29th, the swearing-in beginning on the following day, and Mr.
Bradlaugh had taken counsel with some other Freethinking members as to
the right of Freethinkers to affirm. He held that under the Act 29 and
30 Vict. c. 19, and the Evidence Amendment Acts 1869 and 1870, the
right to substitute affirmation for oath was clear; he was willing to
take the oath as a necessary form if obligatory, but, believing it to
be optional, he preferred affirmation. On May 3rd he presented himself
and, according to the evidence of Sir Erskine May, the Clerk of the
House, given before the second Select Committee on his case, he "came
to the table and delivered the following statement in writing to the
Clerk: 'To the Right Honourable the Speaker of the House of Commons.
I, the undersigned, Charles Bradlaugh, beg respectfully to claim to be
allowed to affirm, as a person for the time being by law permitted to
make a solemn affirmation or declaration, instead of taking an oath.
(Signed) Charles Bradlaugh.' And being asked by the Clerk upon what
grounds he claimed to make an affirmation, he answered: 'By virtue of
the Evidence Amendment Acts, 1869 and 1870.' Whereupon the Clerk
reported to Mr. Speaker" the claim, and Mr. Speaker told Mr. Bradlaugh
that he might address the House on the matter. "Mr. Bradlaugh's
observations were very short. He repeated that he relied upon the
Evidence Further Amendment Act, 1869, and the Evidence Amendment Act,
1870, adding: 'I have repeatedly, for nine years past, made an
affirmation in the highest courts of jurisdiction in this realm. I am
ready to make such a declaration or affirmation.' Substantially those
were the words which he addressed to the Speaker." This was the
simple, quiet, and dignified scene which took place in the House. Mr.
Bradlaugh was directed to withdraw, and he withdrew, and, after
debate, a Select Committee was appointed to consider whether he could
make affirmation; that Committee decided against the claim, and gave
in its report on May 20th. On the following day Mr. Bradlaugh
presented himself at the table of the House to take the oath in the
form prescribed by the law, and on the objection of Sir Henry Drummond
Wolff, who submitted a motion that he should not be allowed to take
the oath, another Committee was appointed.

Before this Committee Mr. Bradlaugh stated his case, and pointed out
that the legal obligation lay on him to take the oath, adding: "Any
form that I went through, any oath that I took, I should regard as
binding upon my conscience in the fullest degree. I would go through
no form, I would take no oath, unless I meant it to be so binding." He
wrote in the same sense to the _Times_, saying that he should regard
himself "as bound, not by the letter of its words, but by the spirit
which the affirmation would have conveyed, had I been permitted to use
it." The Committee reported against him, and on June 23rd he was heard
at the Bar of the House, and made a speech so self-restrained, so
noble, so dignified, that the House, in defiance of all its own rules,
broke out over and over again into applause. In the debate that
preceded his speech, members had lost sight of the ordinary rules of
decency, and had used expressions against myself wholly gratuitous in
such a quarrel; the grave rebuke to him who "was wanting in chivalry,
because, while I can answer for myself and am able to answer for
myself, nothing justified the introduction of any other name beside my
own to make prejudice against me," brought irrepressible cheers. His
appeal was wholly to the law. "I have not yet used--I trust no passion
may tempt me into using--any words that would seem to savour of even a
desire to enter into conflict with this House. I have always taught,
preached, and believed the supremacy of Parliament, and it is not
because for a moment the judgment of one Chamber of Parliament should
be hostile to me that I am going to deny the ideas I have always held;
but I submit that one Chamber of Parliament--even its grandest
Chamber, as I have always held this to be--had no right to override
the law. The law gives me the right to sign that roll, to take and
subscribe the oath, and to take my seat there [with a gesture towards
the benches]. I admit that the moment I am in the House, without any
reason but your own good will, you can send me away. That is your
right. You have full control over your members. But you cannot send me
away until I have been heard in my place, not a suppliant as I am now,
but with the rightful audience that each member has always had.... I
am ready to admit, if you please, for the sake of argument, that every
opinion I hold is wrong and deserves punishment. Let the law punish
it. If you say the law cannot, then you admit that you have no right,
and I appeal to public opinion against the iniquity of a decision
which overrides the law and denies me justice. I beg your pardon, sir,
and that of the House too, if in this warmth there seems to lack
respect for its dignity. And as I shall have, if your decision be
against me, to come to that table when your decision is given, I beg
you, before the step is taken in which we may both lose our
dignity--mine is not much, but yours is that of the Commons of
England--I beg you, before the gauntlet is fatally thrown, I beg you,
not in any sort of menace, not in any sort of boast, but as one man
against six hundred, to give me that justice which on the other side
of this hall the judges would give me, were I pleading there before

But no eloquence, no plea for justice, could stay the tide of Tory and
religious bigotry, and the House voted that he should not be allowed
to take the oath. Summoned to the table to hear the decision
communicated by the Speaker, he answered that decision with the words
firmly spoken: "I respectfully refuse to obey the order of the House,
because that order was against the law." The Speaker appealed to the
House for direction, and on a division--during which the Speaker and
Charles Bradlaugh were left together in the chamber--the House ordered
the enforcement of Mr. Bradlaugh's withdrawal. Once more the order is
given, once more the refusal made, and then the Serjeant-at-Arms was
bidden to remove him. Strange was the scene as little Captain Cosset
walked up to the member of Herculean proportions, and men wondered how
the order would be enforced; but Charles Bradlaugh was not the man to
make a vulgar brawl, and the light touch on his shoulder was to him
the touch of an authority he admitted and to which he bowed. So he
gravely accompanied his small captor, and was lodged in the Clock
Tower of the House as prisoner until the House should further consider
what to do with him--the most awkward prisoner it had ever had, in
that in his person it was imprisoning the law.

In a special issue of the _National Reformer_, giving an account of
the Committee's work and of Mr. Bradlaugh's committal to the Clock
Tower, I find the following from my own pen: "The Tory party, beaten
at the polls by the nation, has thus, for the moment, triumphed in the
House of Commons. The man chosen by the Radicals of Northampton has
been committed to prison on the motion of the Tory ex-Chancellor of
the Exchequer, simply because he desires to discharge the duty laid
upon him by his constituency and by the law of the land. As this paper
goes to press, I go to Westminster to receive from him his directions
as to the conduct of the struggle with the nation into which the House
of Commons has so recklessly plunged." I found him busily writing,
prepared for all events, ready for a long imprisonment. On the
following day a leaflet from my pen, "Law Makers and Law Breakers,"
appealed to the people; after reciting what had happened, it
concluded: "Let the people speak. Gladstone and Bright are for
Liberty, and the help denied them within the House must come to them
from without. No time must be lost. While we remain idle, a
representative of the people is illegally held in prison. Northampton
is insulted, and in this great constituency every constituency is
threatened. On freedom of election depends our liberty; on freedom of
conscience depends our progress. Tory squires and lordlings have
defied the people and measured their strength against the masses. Let
the masses speak." But there was no need to make appeals, for the
outrage itself caused so swiftly a growl of anger that on the very
next day the prisoner was set free, and there came protest upon
protest against the high-handed action of the House. In Westminster
Hall 4,000 people gathered to cheer Mr. Bradlaugh when he came to the
House on the day after his liberation. In less than a week 200
meetings had thundered out their protest. Liberal associations, clubs,
societies, sent up messages of anger and of demand for justice. In
Trafalgar Square there gathered--so said the papers--the largest crowd
ever seen there, and on the Thursday following--the meeting was held
on Monday--the House of Commons rescinded its resolution, refusing to
allow Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm, and admitted him on Friday, July 2nd,
to take his seat after affirmation. "At last the bitter struggle is
over," I wrote, "and law and right have triumphed. The House of
Commons has, by rescinding the resolution passed by Tories and
Ultramontanes, re-established its good name in the eyes of the world.
The triumph is not one of Freethought over Christianity, nor is it
over the House of Commons; it is the triumph of law, brought about by
good men--of all shades of opinion, but of one faith in justice--over
Tory contempt of law and Ultramontane bigotry. It is the reassertion
of civil and religious liberty under the most difficult circumstances,
the declaration that the House of Commons is the creation of the
people, and not a club of the aristocracy with the right of
blackballing in its own hands."

The battle between Charles Bradlaugh and his persecutors was now
transferred to the law courts. As soon as he had taken his seat he was
served with a writ for having voted without having taken the oath, and
this began the wearisome proceedings by which his defeated enemies
boasted that they would make him bankrupt, and so vacate the seat he
had so hardly gained. Rich men like Mr. Newdegate sued him, putting
forward a man of straw as nominal plaintiff; for many a weary month
Mr. Bradlaugh kept all his enemies at bay, fighting each case himself;
defeated time after time, he fought on, finally carrying the cases to
the House of Lords, and there winning them triumphantly. But they were
won at such heavy cost of physical strength and of money, that they
undermined his strength and burdened him heavily with debt. For all
this time he had not only to fight in the law courts and to attend
scrupulously to his Parliamentary duties, but he had to earn his
living by lecturing and writing, so that his nights away from the
House were spent in travelling and his days in incessant labour. Many
of his defeated foes turned their weapons against me, hoping thus to
give him pain; thus Admiral Sir John Hay, at Wigton, used language of
me so coarse that the _Scotsman_ and _Glasgow Herald_ refused to print
it, and the editor of the _Scotsman_ described it as "language so
coarse that it could have hardly dropped from a yahoo." August 25th
found me at Brussels, whither I went, with Miss Hypatia Bradlaugh, to
represent the English Freethinkers at the International Freethought
Conference. It was an interesting gathering, attended by men of
world-wide reputation, including Dr. Ludwig Buechner, a man of noble
and kindly nature. An International Federation of Freethinkers was
there founded, which did something towards bringing together the
Freethinkers of different countries, and held interesting congresses
in the following years in London and Amsterdam; but beyond these
meetings it did little, and lacked energy and vitality. In truth, the
Freethought party in each country had so much to do in holding its own
that little time and thought could be given to international
organisation. For myself, my introduction to Dr. Buechner, led to much
interesting correspondence, and I translated, with his approval, his
"Mind in Animals," and the enlarged fourteenth edition of "Force and
Matter," as well as one or two pamphlets. This autumn of 1880 found
the so-called Liberal Government in full tilt against the Irish
leaders, and I worked hard to raise English feeling in defence of
Irish freedom even against attack by one so much honoured as was Mr.
Gladstone. It was uphill work, for harsh language had been used
against England and all things English, but I showed by definite
figures--all up and down England--that life and property were far
safer in Ireland than in England, that Ireland was singularly free
from crime save in agrarian disputes, and I argued that these would
disappear if the law should step in between landlord and tenant, and
by stopping the crimes of rack-renting and most brutal eviction, put
an end to the horrible retaliations that were born of despair and
revenge. A striking point on these evictions I quoted from Mr. T.P.
O'Connor, who, using Mr. Gladstone's words that a sentence of eviction
was a sentence of starvation, told of 15,000 processes of eviction
issued in that one year. The autumn's work was varied by the teaching
of science classes, a debate with a clergyman of the Church of
England, and an operation which kept me in bed for three weeks, but
which, on the other hand, was useful, for I learned to write while
lying on my back, and accomplished in this fashion a good part of the
translation of "Mind in Animals."

And here let me point a moral about hard work. Hard work kills no one.
I find a note in the _National Reformer_ in 1880 from the pen of Mr.
Bradlaugh: "It is, we fear, useless to add that, in the judgment of
her best friends, Mrs. Besant has worked far too hard during the last
two years." This is 1893, and the thirteen years' interval has been
full of incessant work, and I am working harder than ever now, and in
splendid health. Looking over the _National Reformer_ for all these
years, it seems to me that it did really fine educational work; Mr.
Bradlaugh's strenuous utterances on political and theological matters;
Dr. Aveling's luminous and beautiful scientific teachings; and to my
share fell much of the educative work on questions of political and
national morality in our dealings with weaker nations. We put all our
hearts into our work, and the influence exercised was distinctly in
favour of pure living and high thinking.

In the spring of 1881 the Court of Appeal decided against Mr.
Bradlaugh's right to affirm as Member of Parliament, and his seat was
declared vacant, but he was at once returned again by the borough of
Northampton, despite the virulence of slander directed against him, so
that he rightly described the election as "the most bitter I have ever
fought." His work in the House had won him golden opinions in the
country, and he was already recognised as a power there; so Tory fear
was added to bigoted hatred, and the efforts to keep him out of the
House were increased.

He was introduced to the House as a new member to take his seat by Mr.
Labouchere and Mr. Burt, but Sir Stafford Northcote intervened, and
after a lengthy debate, which included a speech from Mr. Bradlaugh at
the Bar, a majority of thirty-three refused to allow him to take the
oath. After a prolonged scene, during which Mr. Bradlaugh declined to
withdraw and the House hesitated to use force, the House adjourned,
and finally the Government promised to bring in an Affirmation Bill,
and Mr. Bradlaugh promised, with the consent of his constituents, to
await the decision of the House on this Bill. Meantime, a League for
the Defence of Constitutional Rights was formed, and the agitation in
the country grew: wherever Mr. Bradlaugh went to speak vast crowds
awaited him, and he travelled from one end of the country to the
other, the people answering his appeal for justice with no uncertain
voice. On July 2nd, in consequence of Tory obstruction, Mr. Gladstone
wrote to Mr. Bradlaugh that the Government were going to drop the
Affirmation Bill, and Mr. Bradlaugh thereupon determined to present
himself once more in the House, and fixed on August 3rd as the date of
such action, so that the Irish Land Bill might get through the House
ere any delay in business was caused by him. The House was then
closely guarded with police; the great gates were closed, reserves of
police were packed in the law courts, and all through July this state
of siege continued. On August 2nd there was a large meeting in
Trafalgar Square, at which delegates were present from all parts of
England, and from as far north as Edinburgh, and on Wednesday, August
3rd, Mr. Bradlaugh went down to the House. His last words to me were:
"The people know you better than they know any one, save myself;
whatever happens, mind, whatever happens, let them do no violence; I
trust to you to keep them quiet." He went to the House entrance with
Dr. Aveling, and into the House alone. His daughters and I went
together, and with some hundreds of others carrying petitions--ten
only with each petition, and the ten rigidly counted and allowed to
pass through the gate, sufficiently opened to let one through at a
time--reached Westminster Hall, where we waited on the steps leading
to the passage of the lobby.

An inspector ordered us off. I gently intimated that we were within
our rights. Dramatic order: "Four officers this way." Up they marched
and looked at us, and we looked at them. "I think you had better
consult Inspector Denning before you use violence," I remarked
placidly. They thought they had, and in a few moments up came the
inspector, and seeing that we were standing in a place where we had a
right to be, and were doing no harm, he rebuked his over-zealous
subordinates, and they retired and left us in peace. A man of much
tact and discretion was Inspector Denning. Indeed, all through this,
the House of Commons police behaved admirably well. Even in the attack
they were ordered to make on Mr. Bradlaugh, the police used as little
violence as they could. It was Mr. Erskine, the Deputy
Serjeant-at-Arms, and his ushers, who showed the brutality; as Dr.
Aveling wrote at the time: "The police disliked their work, and, as
brave men, had a sympathy for a brave man. Their orders they obeyed
rigidly. This done, they were kindness itself." Gradually the crowd of
petitioners grew and grew; angry murmurs were heard, for no news came
from the House, and they loved "Charlie," and were mostly north
country men, sturdy and independent. They thought they had a right to
go into the lobby, and suddenly, with the impulse that will sway a
crowd to a single action there was a roar, "Petition, petition,
justice, justice," and they surged up the steps, charging at the
policemen who held the door. Flashed into my mind my chief's charge,
his words, "I trust to you to keep them quiet," and as the police
sprang forward to meet the crowd I threw myself between them, with all
the advantage of the position of the top of the steps that I had
chosen, so that every man in the charging crowd saw me, and as they
checked themselves in surprise I bade them stop for his sake, and keep
for him the peace which he had bade us should not be broken. I heard
afterwards that as I sprang forward the police laughed--they must have
thought me a fool to face the rush of the charging men; but I knew his
friends would never trample me down, and as the crowd stopped the
laugh died out, and they drew back and left me my own way.

Sullenly the men drew back, mastering themselves with effort, reining
in their wrath, still for his sake. Ah! had I known what was going on
inside, would I have kept his trust unbroken! and, as many a man said
to me afterwards in northern towns, "Oh! if you had let us go we would
have carried him into the House up to the Speaker's chair." We heard a
crash inside, and listened, and there was sound of breaking glass and
splintering wood, and in a few minutes a messenger came to me: "He is
in Palace Yard." And we went thither and saw him standing, still and
white, face set like marble, coat torn, motionless, as though carved
in stone, facing the members' door. Now we know the whole shameful
story: how as that one man stood alone, on his way to claim his right,
alone so that he could do no violence, fourteen men, said the Central
News, police and ushers, flung themselves upon him, pushed and pulled
him down the stairs, smashing in their violence the glass and wood of
the passage door; how he struck no blow, but used only his great
strength in passive resistance--" Of all I have ever seen, I never saw
one man struggle with ten like that," said one of the chiefs, angrily
disdainful of the wrong he was forced to do--till they flung him out
into Palace Yard. An eye-witness thus reported the scene in the Press:
"The strong, broad, heavy, powerful frame of Mr. Bradlaugh was hard to
move, with its every nerve and muscle strained to resist the coercion.
Bending and straining against the overpowering numbers, he held every
inch with surprising tenacity, and only surrendered it after almost
superhuman exertions to retain it. The sight--little of it as was seen
from the outside--soon became sickening. The overborne man appeared
almost at his last gasp. The face, in spite of the warmth of the
struggle, had an ominous pallor. The limbs barely sustained him....
The Trafalgar Square phrase that this man might be broken but not bent
occurred to minds apprehensive at the present appearance of him."

They flung him out, and swift, short words were there interchanged. "I
nearly did wrong at the door," he said afterwards, "I was very angry.
I said to Inspector Denning, 'I shall come again with force enough to
overcome it,' He said, 'When?' I said, 'Within a minute if I raise my
hand.'" He stood in Palace Yard, and there outside the gate was a vast
sea of heads, the men who had journeyed from all parts of England for
love of him, and in defence of the great right he represented of a
constituency to send to Parliament the man of its choice. Ah! he was
never greater than in that moment of outrage and of triumphant wrong;
with all the passion of a proud man surging within him, insulted by
physical violence, injured by the cruel wrenching of all his
muscles--so that for weeks his arms had to be swathed in bandages--he
was never greater than when he conquered his own wrath, crushed down
his own longing for battle, stirred to flame by the bodily struggle,
and the bodily injury, and with thousands waiting within sound of his
voice, longing to leap to his side, he gave the word to tell them to
meet him that evening away from the scene of conflict, and meanwhile
to disperse quietly, "no riot, no disorder." But how he suffered
mentally no words of mine may tell, and none can understand how it
wrung his heart who does not know how he reverenced the great
Parliament of England, how he honoured law, how he believed in justice
being done; it was the breaking down of his national ideals, of his
pride in his country, of his belief that faith would be kept with a
foe by English gentlemen, who with all their faults, he thought,
held honour and chivalry dear. "No man will sleep in gaol for me
to-night," he said to me that day; "no woman can blame me for her
husband killed or wounded, but--" A wave of agony swept over his face,
and from that fatal day Charles Bradlaugh was never the same man.
Some hold their ideals lightly, but his heart-strings were twined
round his; some care little for their country--he was an Englishman,
law-abiding, liberty-loving, to his heart's core, of the type of the
seventeenth-century patriot, holding England's honour dear. It was the
treachery that broke his heart; he had gone alone, believing in the
honour of his foes, ready to submit to expulsion, to imprisonment, and
it was the latter that he expected; but he never dreamed that, going
alone amongst his foes, they would use brutal and cowardly violence,
and shame every Parliamentary tradition by personal outrage on a
duly-elected member, outrage more worthy of a slum pot-house than of
the great Commons House, the House of Hampden and of Vane, the House
that had guarded its own from Royal violence, and had maintained its
privileges in the teeth of kings.

These stormy scenes brought about a promise of Government aid; Mr.
Bradlaugh failed to get any legal redress, as, indeed, he expected to
fail, on the ground that the officials of the House were covered by
the House's order, but the Government promised to support his claim to
his seat during the next session, and thus prevented the campaign
against them on which we had resolved. I had solely on my own
responsibility organised a great band of people pledged to refrain
from the use of all excisable articles after a certain date, and to
withdraw all their moneys in the Savings Bank, thus seriously
crippling the financial resources of the Government. The response from
the workers to my appeal to "Stop the supplies" was great and
touching. One man wrote that as he never drank nor smoked he would
leave off tea; others that though tobacco was their one luxury, they
would forego it; and so on. Somewhat reluctantly, I asked the people
to lay aside this formidable weapon, as "we have no right to embarrass
the Government financially save when they refuse to do the first duty
of a Government to maintain law. They have now promised to do justice,
and we must wait." Meanwhile the injuries inflicted on Mr. Bradlaugh,
rupturing the sheaths of some of the muscles of the arm, laid him
prostrate, and various small fights went on during the temporary truce
in the great struggle. I turned up in the House two or three times,
haled thither, though not in person, by the people who kept Mr.
Bradlaugh out, and a speech of mine became the subject of a question
by Mr. Ritchie, while Sir Henry Tyler waged war on the science
classes. Another joy was added to life by the use of my name--which
by all these struggles had gained a marketable value--as author of
pamphlets I had never seen, and this forgery of my name by
unscrupulous people in the colonies caused me a good deal of
annoyance. In the strengthening of the constitutional agitation in the
country, the holding of an International Congress of Freethinkers in
London, the studying and teaching of science, the delivering of
courses of scientific lectures in the Hall of Science, a sharp
correspondence with the Bishop of Manchester, who had libelled
Secularists, and which led to a fiery pamphlet, "God's Views on
Marriage," as retort--in all these matters the autumn months sped
rapidly away. One incident of that autumn I record with regret. I was
misled by very partial knowledge of the nature of the experiments
performed, and by my fear that if scientific men were forbidden to
experiment on animals with drugs they would perforce experiment with
them on the poor in hospitals, to write two articles, republished as a
pamphlet, against Sir Eardley Wilmot's Bill for the "Total Suppression
of Vivisection." I limited my approval to highly skilled men engaged
in original investigations, and took the representations made of the
character of the experiments without sufficient care to verify them.
Hence the publication of the one thing I ever wrote for which I feel
deep regret and shame, as against the whole trend and efforts of my
life. I am thankful to say that Dr. Anna Kingsford answered my
articles, and I readily inserted her replies in the paper in which
mine had appeared--our _National Reformer_--and she touched that
question of the moral sense to which my nature at once responded.
Ultimately, I looked carefully into the subject, found that
vivisection abroad was very different from vivisection in England, saw
that it was in very truth the fiendishly cruel thing that its
opponents alleged, and destroyed my partial defence of even its less
brutal form.

1882 saw no cessation of the struggles in which Mr. Bradlaugh and
those who stood by him were involved. On February 7th he was heard for
the third time at the Bar of the House of Commons, and closed his
speech with an offer that, accepted, would have closed the contest. "I
am ready to stand aside, say for four or five weeks, without coming to
that table, if the House within that time, or within such time as its
great needs might demand, would discuss whether an Affirmation Bill
should pass or not. I want to obey the law, and I tell you how I might
meet the House still further, if the House will pardon me for seeming
to advise it. Hon. members have said that would be a Bradlaugh Relief
Bill. Bradlaugh is more proud than you are. Let the Bill pass without
applying to elections that have taken place previously, and I will
undertake not to claim my seat, and when the Bill has passed I will
apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. I have no fear. If I am not fit for
my constituents, they shall dismiss me, but you never shall. The grave
alone shall make me yield." But the House would do nothing. He had
asked for 100,000 signatures in favour of his constitutional right,
and on February 8th, 9th, and 10th 1,008 petitions, bearing 241,970
signatures, were presented; the House treated them with contemptuous
indifference. The House refused to declare his seat vacant, and also
refused to allow him to fill it, thus half-disfranchising Northampton,
while closing every avenue to legal redress. Mr. Labouchere--who did
all a loyal colleague could do to assist his brother member--brought
in an Affirmation Bill; it was blocked. Mr. Gladstone, appealed to
support the law declared by his own Attorney-General, refused to do
anything. An _impasse_ was created, and all the enemies of freedom
rejoiced. Out of this position of what the _Globe_ called "quiet
omnipotence" the House was shaken by an audacious defiance, for on
February 21st the member it was trying to hold at arm's length took
the oath in its startled face, went to his seat, and--waited events.
The House then expelled him--and, indeed, it could scarcely do
anything else after such defiance--and Mr. Labouchere moved for a new
writ, declaring that Northampton was ready, its "candidate was Charles
Bradlaugh, expelled this House." Northampton, ever steadfast, returned
him for the third time--the vote in his favour showing an increase of
359 over the second bye-election--and the triumph was received in all
the great towns of England with wild enthusiasm. By the small majority
of fifteen in a House of 599 members--and this due to the vacillation
of the Government--he was again refused the right to take his seat.
But now the whole Liberal Press took up his quarrel; the oath question
became a test question for every candidate for Parliament, and the
Government was warned that it was alienating its best friends. The
_Pall Mall Gazette_ voiced the general feeling. "What is the evidence
that an Oaths Bill would injure the Government in the country? Of one
thing we may be sure, that if they shirk the Bill they will do no good
to themselves at the elections. Nobody doubts that it will be made a
test question, and any Liberal who declines to vote for such a Bill
will certainly lose the support of the Northampton sort of Radicalism
in every constituency. The Liberal Press throughout the country is
absolutely unanimous. The political Non-conformists are for it. The
local clubs are for it. All that is wanted is that the Government
should pick up a little more moral courage, and recognise that even in
practice honesty is the best policy." The Government did not think so,
and they paid the penalty, for one of the causes that led to their
defeat at the polls was the disgust felt at their vacillation and
cowardice in regard to the rights of constituencies. Not untruly did I
write, in May, 1882, that Charles Bradlaugh was a man "who by the
infliction of a great wrong had become the incarnation of a great
principle"; for the agitation in the country grew and grew, until,
returned again to Parliament at the General Election, he took the oath
and his seat, brought in and carried an Oaths Bill, not only giving
Members of Parliament the right to affirm, but making Freethinkers
competent as jurymen, and relieving witnesses from the insult hitherto
put upon those who objected to swearing; he thus ended an
unprecedented struggle by a complete victory, weaving his name for
ever into the constitutional history of his country.

In the House of Lords, Lord Redesdale brought in a Bill disqualifying
Atheists from sitting in Parliament, but in face of the feeling
aroused in the country, the Lords, with many pathetic expressions of
regret, declined to pass it. But, meanwhile, Sir Henry Tyler in the
Commons was calling out for prosecutions for blasphemy to be brought
against Mr. Bradlaugh and his friends, while he carried on his crusade
against Mr. Bradlaugh's daughters, Dr. Aveling, and myself, as science
teachers. I summed up the position in the spring of 1882 in the
following somewhat strong language: "This short-lived 'Parliamentary
Declaration Bill' is but one of the many clouds which presage a storm
of prosecution. The reiterated attempts in the House of Commons to
force the Government into prosecuting heretics for blasphemy; the
petty and vicious attacks on the science classes at the Hall; the
odious and wicked efforts of Mr. Newdegate to drive Mr. Bradlaugh into
the Bankruptcy Court; all these are but signs that the heterogeneous
army of pious and bigoted Christians are gathering together their
forces for a furious attack on those who have silenced them in
argument, but whom they hope to conquer by main force, by sheer
brutality. Let them come. Free-thinkers were never so strong, never so
united, never so well organised as they are to-day. Strong in the
goodness of our cause, in our faith in the ultimate triumph of Truth,
in our willingness to give up all save fidelity to the sacred cause of
liberty of human thought and human speech, we await gravely and
fearlessly the successors of the men who burned Bruno, who imprisoned
Galileo, who tortured Vanini--the men who have in their hands the
blood-red cross of Jesus of Nazareth, and in their hearts the love of
God and the hate of man."



All this hot fighting on the religious field did not render me blind
to the misery of the Irish land so dear to my heart, writhing in the
cruel grip of Mr. Forster's Coercion Act. An article "Coercion in
Ireland and its Results," exposing the wrongs done under the Act, was
reprinted as a pamphlet and had a wide circulation.

I pleaded against eviction--7,020 persons had been evicted during the
quarter ending in March--for the trial of those imprisoned on
suspicion, for indemnity for those who before the Land Act had striven
against wrongs the Land Act had been carried to prevent, and I urged
that "no chance is given for the healing measures to cure the sore of
Irish disaffection until not only are the prisoners in Ireland set at
liberty, but until the brave, unfortunate Michael Davitt stands once
more a free man on Irish soil." At last the Government reconsidered
its policy and resolved on juster dealings; it sent Lord Frederick
Cavendish over to Ireland, carrying with him the release of the
"suspects," and scarcely had he landed ere the knife of assassination
struck him--a foul and cowardly murder of an innocent messenger of
peace. I was at Blackburn, to lecture on "The Irish Question," and as
I was walking towards the platform, my heart full of joy for the
dawning hope of peace, a telegram announcing the assassination was
placed in my hands. Never shall I forget the shock, the incredulous
horror, the wave of despair. "It is not only two men they have
killed," I wrote, a day or two later; "they have stabbed the new-born
hope of friendship between two countries, and have reopened the gulf
of hatred that was just beginning to close." Alas! the crime succeeded
in its object, and hurried the Government into new wrong. Hastily a
new Coercion Bill was brought in, and rushed through its stages in
Parliament, and, facing the storm of public excitement, I pleaded
still, "Force no remedy," despite the hardship of the task. "There is
excessive difficulty in dealing with the Irish difficulty at the
present moment. Tories are howling for revenge on a whole nation as
answer to the crime committed by a few; Whigs are swelling the outcry;
many Radicals are swept away by the current, and feeling that
'something must be done,' they endorse the Government action,
forgetting to ask whether the 'something' proposed is the wisest
thing. A few stand firm, but they are very few--too few to prevent the
new Coercion Bill from passing into law. But few though we be who lift
up the voice of protest against the wrong which we are powerless to
prevent, we may yet do much to make the new Act of brief duration, by
so rousing public opinion as to bring about its early repeal. When the
measure is understood by the public half the battle will be won; it is
accepted at the moment from faith in the Government; it will be
rejected when its true character is grasped. The murders which have
given birth to this repressive measure came with a shock upon the
country, which was the more terrible from the sudden change from
gladness and hope to darkness and despair. The new policy was welcomed
so joyfully; the messenger of the new policy was slain ere yet the pen
was dry which had signed the orders of mercy and of liberty. Small
wonder that cry of horror should be followed by measures of vengeance;
but the murders were the work of a few criminals, while the measure of
vengeance strikes the whole of the Irish people. I plead against the
panic which confounds political agitation and political redressal of
wrong with crime and its punishment; the Government measure gags every
mouth in Ireland, and puts, as we shall see, all political effort at
the mercy of the Lord-Lieutenant, the magistracy, and the police." I
then sketched the misery of the peasants in the grip of absentee
landlords, the turning out on the roadside to die of the mother with
new-born babe at her breast, the loss of "all thought of the sanctity
of human life when the lives of the dearest are reckoned as less worth
than the shillings of overdue rack-rental." I analysed the new Act:
"When this Act passes, trial by jury, right of public meeting, liberty
of press, sanctity of house, will one and all be held at the will of
the Lord-Lieutenant, the irresponsible autocrat of Ireland, while
liberty of person will lie at the mercy of every constable. Such is
England's way of governing Ireland in the year 1882. And this is
supposed to be a Bill for the 'repression of crime.'" Bluntly, I put
the bald truth: "The plain fact is that the murderers have succeeded.
They saw in the new policy the reconciliation of England and Ireland;
they knew that friendship would follow justice, and that the two
countries, for the first time in history, would clasp hands. To
prevent this they dug a new gulf, which they hoped the English nation
would not span; they sent a river of blood across the road of
friendship, and they flung two corpses to bar the newly-opened gate of
reconciliation and peace. They have succeeded."

Into this whirl of political and social strife came the first whisper
to me of the Theosophical Society, in the shape of a statement of its
principles, which conveyed, I remarked, "no very definite idea of the
requirements for membership, beyond a dreamy, emotional, scholarly
interest in the religio-philosophic fancies of the past." Also a
report of an address by Colonel Olcott, which led me to suppose that
the society held to "some strange theory of 'apparitions' of the dead,
and to some existence outside the physical and apart from it." These
came to me from some Hindu Freethinkers, who asked my opinion as to
Secularists joining the Theosophical Society, and Theosophists being
admitted to the National Secular Society. I replied, judging from
these reports, that "while Secularists would have no right to refuse
to enrol Theosophists, if they desired it, among their members, there
is a radical difference between the mysticism of Theosophy and the
scientific materialism of Secularism. The exclusive devotion to this
world implied in the profession of Secularism leaves no room for
other-worldism; and consistent members of our body cannot join a
society which professes belief therein."[27]

H.P. Blavatsky penned a brief article in the _Theosophist_ for
August, 1882, in which she commented on my paragraph, remarking, in
her generous way, that it must have been written "while labouring
under entirely misconceived notions about the real nature of our
society. For one so highly intellectual and keen as that renowned
writer to dogmatise and issue autocratic ukases, after she has herself
suffered so cruelly and undeservedly at the hands of blind bigotry and
social prejudice in her lifelong struggle for _freedom of thought_
seems, to say the least, absurdly inconsistent." After quoting my
paragraph she went on: "Until proofs to the contrary, we prefer to
believe that the above lines were dictated to Mrs. Besant by some
crafty misrepresentations from Madras, inspired by a mean personal
revenge rather than a desire to remain consistent with the principles
of 'the scientific materialism of Secularism.' We beg to assure the
Radical editors of the _National Reformer_ that they were both very
strangely misled by false reports about the Radical editors of the
_Theosophist_. The term 'supernaturalists' can no more apply to the
latter than to Mrs. A. Besant and Mr. C. Bradlaugh."

H.P. Blavatsky, when she commented, as she occasionally did, on the
struggles going on in England, took of them a singularly large-hearted
and generous view. She referred with much admiration to Mr.
Bradlaugh's work and to his Parliamentary struggle, and spoke warmly
of the services he had rendered to liberty. Again, in pointing out
that spiritualistic trance orations by no means transcended speeches
that made no such claim, I find her first mention of myself: "Another
lady orator, of deservedly great fame, both for eloquence and
learning--the good Mrs. Annie Besant--without believing in controlling
spirits, or for that matter in her own spirit, yet speaks and writes
such sensible and wise things, that we might almost say that one of
her speeches or chapters contains more matter to benefit humanity than
would equip a modern trance-speaker for an entire oratorical
career."[28] I have sometimes wondered of late years whether, had I
met her then or seen any of her writings, I should have become her
pupil. I fear not; I was still too much dazzled by the triumphs of
Western Science, too self-assertive, too fond of combat, too much at
the mercy of my own emotions, too sensitive to praise and blame. I
needed to sound yet more deeply the depths of human misery, to hear
yet more loudly the moaning of "the great Orphan," Humanity, to feel
yet more keenly the lack of wider knowledge and of clearer light if I
were to give effective help to man, ere I could bow my pride to crave
admittance as pupil to the School of Occultism, ere I could put aside
my prejudices and study the Science of the Soul.

The long-continued attempts of Sir Henry Tyler and his friends to
stimulate persecutions for blasphemy at length took practical shape,
and in July, 1882, Mr. Foote, the editor, Mr. Ramsey, the publisher,
and Mr. Whittle, the printer of the _Freethinker_, were summoned for
blasphemy by Sir Henry Tyler himself. An attempt was made to involve
Mr. Bradlaugh in the proceedings, and the solicitors promised to drop
the case against the editor and printer if Mr. Bradlaugh would himself
sell them some copies of the paper. But however ready Mr. Bradlaugh
had always shown himself to shield his subordinates by taking his sins
on his own shoulders, he saw no reason why he should assume
responsibility for a paper over which he had no control, and which
was, he thought, by its caricatures, lowering the tone of Freethought
advocacy and giving an unnecessary handle to its foes. He therefore
answered that he would sell the solicitors any works published by
himself or with his authority, and sent them a catalogue of the whole
of such works. The object of this effort of Sir Henry Tyler's was
obvious enough, and Mr. Bradlaugh commented: "The above letters make
it pretty clear that Sir Henry W. Tyler having failed in his endeavour
to get the science classes stopped at the Hall of Science, having also
failed in his attempt to induce Sir W. Vernon Harcourt to prosecute
myself and Mrs. Besant as editors and publishers of this journal,
desires to make me personally and criminally responsible for the
contents of a journal I neither edit nor publish, over which I have
not a shadow of control, and in which I have not the smallest
interest. Why does Sir H.W. Tyler so ardently desire to prosecute, me
for blasphemy? Is it because two convictions will under the 9th and
10th Will. III. cap. 32, render me 'for ever' incapable of sitting in
Parliament?" The _Whitehall Review_ frankly put this forward as an
object to be gained, and Mr. Bradlaugh was summoned to the Mansion
House on a charge of publishing blasphemous libels in the
_Freethinker_; meanwhile Sir Henry Tyler put a notice on the Order
Book to deprive "the daughters of Mr. Charles Bradlaugh" of the grant
they had earned as science teachers, and got an order which proved to
be invalid, but which was acted on, to inspect Mr. Bradlaugh's and my
own private banking accounts, I being no party to the case. Looking
back, I marvel at the incredible meannesses to which Sir Henry Tyler
and others stooped in defence of "religion"--Heaven save the mark! Let
me add that his motion in the House of Commons was a complete failure,
and it was emphasised by the publication at the same time of the
successful work, both as teachers and as students, of the "daughters
of Mr. Charles Bradlaugh," and of my being the only student in all
England who had succeeded in taking honours in botany.

I must pause a moment to chronicle, in September, 1882, the death of
Dr. Pusey, whom I had sought in the whirl of my early religious
struggles. I wrote an article on him in the _National Reformer_, and
ended by laying a tribute on his grave: "A strong man and a good man.
Utterly out of harmony with the spirit of his own time, looking with
sternly-rebuking eyes on all the eager research, the joyous love of
nature, the earnest inquiry into a world doomed to be burnt up at the
coming of its Judge. An ascetic, pure in life, stern in faith, harsh
to unbelievers because sincere in his own cruel creed, generous and
tender to all who accepted his doctrines and submitted to his Church.
He never stooped to slander those with whom he disagreed. His hatred
of heresy led him not to blacken the character of heretics, nor to
descend to the vulgar abuse used by pettier priests. And therefore I,
who honour courage and sincerity wherever I find them; I, who do
homage to steadfastness wherever I find it; I, Atheist, lay my small
tribute of respect on the bier of this noblest of the Anglo-Catholics,
Edward Bouverie Pusey."

As a practical answer to the numberless attacks made on us, and as a
result of the enormous increase of circulation given to our
theological and political writings by these harassing persecutions, we
moved our publishing business to 63, Fleet Street, at the end of
September, 1882, a shop facing that at which Richard Carlile had
carried on his publishing business for a great time, and so seemed
still redolent with memories of his gallant struggles. Two of the
first things sold here were a pamphlet of mine, a strong protest
against our shameful Egyptian policy, and a critical volume on
"Genesis" which Mr. Bradlaugh found time to write in the intervals of
his busy life. Here I worked daily, save when out of London, until Mr.
Bradlaugh's death in 1891, assisted in the conduct of the business by
Mr. Bradlaugh's elder daughter--a woman of strong character with many
noble qualities, who died rather suddenly in December, 1888, and in
the work on the _National Reformer_, first by Dr. Aveling, and then by
Mr. John Robertson, its present editor. Here, too, from 1884 onwards,
worked with me Thornton Smith, one of Mr. Bradlaugh's most devoted
disciples, who became one of the leading speakers of the National
Secular Society; like her well-loved chief, she was ever a good friend
and a good fighter, and to me the most loyal and loving of colleagues,
one of the few--the very few--Freethinkers who were large-hearted and
generous enough not to turn against me when I became a Theosophist. A
second of these--alas! I could count them on my fingers--was the John
Robertson above mentioned, a man of rare ability and wide culture,
somewhat too scholarly for popular propagandism of the most generally
effective order, but a man who is a strength to any movement, always
on the side of noble living and high thinking, loyal-natured as the
true Scot should be, incapable of meanness or treachery, and the most
genial and generous of friends.

Among the new literary ventures that followed on our taking the large
publishing premises in Fleet Street was a sixpenny magazine, edited by
myself, and entitled _Our Corner_; its first number was dated January,
1883, and for six years it appeared regularly, and served me as a
useful mouthpiece in my Socialist and Labour propagandist work. Among
its contributors were Moncure D. Conway, Professor Ludwig Buechner,
Yves Guyot, Professor Ernst Haeckel, G. Bernard Shaw, Constance Naden,
Dr. Aveling, J.H. Levy, J.L. Joynes, Mrs. Edgren, John Robertson,
and many another, Charles Bradlaugh and I writing regularly each

1883 broke stormily, fights on every hand, and a huge constitutional
agitation going on in the country, which forced the Government into
bringing in an Affirmation Bill; resolutions from Liberal Associations
all over the land; preparations to oppose the re-election of disloyal
members; no less than a thousand delegates sent up to London by clubs,
Trade Unions, associations of every sort; a meeting that packed
Trafalgar Square; an uneasy crowd in Westminster Hall; a request from
Inspector Denning that Mr. Bradlaugh would go out to them--they feared
for his safety inside; a word from him, "The Government have pledged
themselves to bring in an Affirmation Bill at once;" roar after roar
of cheering; a veritable people's victory on that 15th of February,
1883. It was the answer of the country to the appeal for justice, the
rebuke of the electors to the House that had defied them.

Scarcely was this over when a second prosecution for blasphemy against
Messrs. Foote, Ramsey, and Kemp began, and was hurried on in the
Central Criminal Court, before Mr. Justice North, a bigot of the
sternest type. The trial ended in a disagreement of the jury, Mr.
Foote defending himself in a splendid speech. The judge acted very
harshly throughout, interrupted Mr. Foote continuously, and even
refused bail to the defendants during the interval between the first
and second trial; they were, therefore, confined in Newgate from
Thursday to Monday, and we were only allowed to see them through iron
bars and lattice, as they exercised in the prison yard between 8:30
and 9:30 a.m. Brought up to trial again on Monday, they were
convicted, and Mr. Foote was sentenced to a year's imprisonment, Mr.
Ramsey to nine months, and Mr. Kemp to three months. Mr. Foote
especially behaved with great dignity and courage in a most difficult
position, and heard his cruel sentence without wincing, and with the
calm words, "My Lord, I thank you; it is worthy your creed." A few of
us at once stepped in, to preserve to Mr. Ramsey his shop, and to Mr.
Foote his literary property; Dr. Aveling undertook the editing of the
_Freethinker_ and of Mr. Foote's magazine _Progress_; the immediate
necessities of their families were seen to; Mr. and Mrs. Forder took
charge of the shop, and within a few days all was in working order.
Disapproving as many of us did of the policy of the paper, there was
no time to think of that when a blasphemy prosecution had proved
successful, and we all closed up in the support of men imprisoned for
conscience' sake. I commenced a series of articles on "The Christian
Creed; what it is blasphemy to deny," showing what Christians must
believe under peril of prosecution. Everywhere a tremendous impulse
was given to the Freethought movement, as men awakened to the
knowledge that blasphemy laws were not obsolete.

From over the sea came a word of sympathy from the pen of H.P.
Blavatsky in the _Theosophist_. "We prefer Mr. Foote's actual position
to that of his severe judge. Aye, and were we in his guilty skin, we
would feel more proud, even in the poor editor's present position,
than we would under the wig of Mr. Justice North."

In April, 1883, the long legal struggles of Mr. Bradlaugh against Mr.
Newdegate and his common informer, that had lasted from July 2, 1880,
till April 9, 1883, ended in his complete victory by the judgment of
the House of Lords in his favour. "Court after Court decided against
me," he wrote; "and Whig and Tory journals alike mocked at me for my
persistent resistance. Even some good friends thought that my fight
was hopeless, and that the bigots held me fast in their toils. I have,
however, at last shaken myself free of Mr. Newdegate and his common
informer. The judgment of the House of Lords in my favour is final and
conclusive, and the boasts of the Tories that I should be made
bankrupt for the penalties, have now, for ever, come to naught. Yet
but for the many poor folk who have stood by me with their help and
sympathy, I should have long since been ruined. The days and weeks
spent in the Law Courts, the harassing work connected with each stage
of litigation, the watching daily when each hearing was imminent, the
absolute hindrance of all provincial lecturing--it is hardly possible
for any one to judge the terrible mental and pecuniary strain of all
this long-drawn-out struggle." Aye! it killed him at last, twenty
years before his time, sapping his splendid vitality, undermining his
iron constitution.

The blasphemy trial of Mr. Bradlaugh, Mr. Foote, and Mr. Ramsey now
came on, but this time in the Queen's Bench, before the Lord Chief
Justice Coleridge. I had the honour of sitting between Mr. Bradlaugh
and Mr. Foote, charged with the duty of having ready for the former
all his references, and with a duplicate brief to mark off point after
point as he dealt with it. Messrs. Foote and Ramsey were brought up in
custody, but were brave and bright with courage unbroken. Mr.
Bradlaugh applied to have his case taken separately, as he denied
responsibility for the paper, and the judge granted the application;
it was clearly proved that he and I--the "Freethought Publishing
Company"--had never had anything to do with the production of the
paper; that until November, 1881, we published it, and then refused to
publish it any longer; that the reason for the refusal was the
addition of comic Bible illustrations as a feature of the paper. I was
called as witness and began with a difficulty; claiming to affirm, I
was asked by the judge if the oath would not be binding on my
conscience; I answered that any promise was binding on me whatever the
form, and after some little argument the judge found a way out of the
insulting form by asking whether the "invocation of the Deity added
anything to it of a binding nature--added any sanction?" "None, my
Lord," was the prompt reply, and I was allowed to affirm. Sir Hardinge
Giffard subjected me to a very stringent cross-examination, doing his
best to entangle me, but the perfect frankness of my answers broke all
his weapons of finesse and inuendo.

Some of the incidents of the trial were curious; Sir Hardinge
Giffard's opening speech was very able and very unscrupulous. All
facts in Mr. Bradlaugh's favour were distorted or hidden; anything
that could be used against him was tricked out in most seductive
fashion. Among the many monstrous perversions of the truth made by
this most pious counsel, was the statement that changes of publisher,
and of registration of the _Freethinker_ were made in consequence of a
question as to prosecuting it put in the House of Commons. The change
of publisher was admittedly made in November; the registration was
made for the first time in November, and could not be changed, as
there was no previous one. The House of Commons was not sitting in
November; the question alluded to was asked in the following February.
This one deliberate lie of the "defender of the faith" will do as well
as quoting a score of others to show how wickedly and maliciously he
endeavoured to secure an unjust verdict.

The speech over, a number of witnesses were called. Sir Hardinge did
not call witnesses who knew the facts, such as Mr. Norrish, the
shopman, or Mr. Whittle, the printer. These he carefully avoided,
although he subpoenaed both, because he did not want the real facts to
come out. But he put in two solicitor's clerks, who had been hanging
about the premises, and buying endless _National Reformers_ and
_Freethinkers_, sheaves of them which were never used, but by which
Sir Hardinge hoped to convey the impression of a mass of criminality.
He put in a gentleman from the British Museum, who produced two large
books, presumed to be _National Reformers_ and _Freethinkers_; what
they were brought for nobody understood, the counsel for the Crown as
little as any one, and the judge, surveying them over his spectacles,
treated them with supreme contempt, as utterly irrelevant. Then a man
came to prove that Mr. Bradlaugh was rated for Stonecutter Street, a
fact no one disputed. Two policemen came to say they had seen him go
in. "You saw many people go in, I suppose?" queried the Lord Chief
Justice. On the whole the most miserably weak and obviously malicious
case that could be brought into a court of law.

One witness, however, must not be forgotten--Mr. Woodhams, bank
manager. When he stated that Mr. Maloney, the junior counsel for the
Crown, had inspected Mr. Bradlaugh's banking account, a murmur of
surprise and indignation ran round the court. "Oh! Oh!" was heard from
the crowd of barristers behind. The judge looked down incredulously,
and for a moment the examination was stopped by the general movement.
Unless Sir Hardinge Giffard is a splendid actor, he was not aware of
the infamous proceeding, for he looked as startled as the rest of his
legal brethren.

Another queer incident occurred, showing, perhaps more than aught
else, Mr. Bradlaugh's swift perception of the situation and adaptation
to the environment. He wanted to read the Mansion House deposition of
Norrish, to show why he was not called; the judge objected, and
declined to allow it to be read. A pause while you might count five;
then; "Well, I think I may say the learned counsel did not call
Norrish because ..." and then the whole substance of the deposition
was given in supposititious form. The judge looked down a minute, and
then went off into silent laughter impossible to control at the adroit
change of means and persistent gaining of end; barristers all round
broke into ripples of laughter unrestrained; a broad smile pervaded
the jury box; the only unmoved person was the defendant who proceeded
in his grave statement as to what Norrish "might" have been asked. The
nature of the defence was very clearly stated by Mr. Bradlaugh: "I
shall ask you to find that this prosecution is one of the steps in a
vindictive attempt to oppress and to crush a political opponent--that
it was a struggle that commenced on my return to Parliament in 1880.
If the prosecutor had gone into the box I should have shown you that
he was one of the first then in the House to use the suggestion of
blasphemy against me there. Since then I have never had any peace
until the Monday of this week. Writs for penalties have been served,
and suits of all kinds have been taken against me. On Monday last the
House of Lords cleared me from the whole of one set, and, gentlemen, I
ask you to-day to clear me from another. Three times I have been
re-elected by my constituents, and what Sir Henry Tyler asks you to do
is to send me to them branded with the dishonour of a conviction,
branded not with the conviction for publishing heresy, but branded
with the conviction, dishonourable to me, of having lied in this
matter. I have no desire to have a prison's walls closed on me, but I
would sooner ten times that, than that my constituents should think
that for one moment I lied to escape the penalties. I am not indicted
for anything I have ever written or caused to be written. As my Lord
at the very first stage this morning pointed out, it is no question
with me, Are the matters indicted blasphemous, or are they not
blasphemous? Are they defensible, or are they not defensible? That is
not my duty here. On this I make no comment. I have no duty here of
even discussing the policy of the blasphemy laws, although I cannot
help thinking that, if I were here making my defence against them, I
might say that they were bad laws unfairly revived, doing more
mischief to those who revive them than to those whom they are revived
against. But it is not for anything I have said myself; it is not for
anything I have written myself; it is not for anything I have
published myself. It is an endeavour to make me technically liable for
a publication with which I have nothing whatever to do, and I will ask
you to defeat that here. Every time I have succeeded I have been met
with some new thing. When I first fought it was hoped to defeat my
election. When I was re-elected it was sought to make me bankrupt by
enormous penalties, and when I escaped the suit for enormous penalties
they hope now to destroy me by this. I have no question here about
defending my heresy, not because I am not ready to defend it when it
is challenged in the right way, and it there be anything in it that
the law can challenge. I have never gone back from anything I have
ever said; I have never gone back from anything I have ever written; I
have never gone back from anything I have ever done; and I ask you not
to allow this Sir Henry Whatley Tyler, who dares not come here to-day,
to use you as the assassin uses the dagger, to stab a man from behind
whom he never dares to face."

The summing up by Lord Coleridge was perfect in eloquence, in thought,
in feeling. Nothing more touching could be imagined than the conflict
between the real religious feeling, abhorrent of heresy, and the
determination to be just, despite all prejudice. The earnest effort
lest the prejudice he felt as a Christian should weigh also in the
minds of the jury, and should cause them to pervert justice. The
absolute pleading to them to do what was right and not to admit
against the unbeliever what they would not admit in ordinary cases.
Then the protest against prosecution of opinions; the admission of the
difficulties in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the pathetic fear lest by
persecution "the sacred truths might be struck through the sides of
those who are their enemies." For intellectual clearness and moral
elevation this exquisite piece of eloquence, delivered in a voice of
silvery beauty, would be hard to excel, and Lord Coleridge did this
piece of service to the religion so dear to his heart, that he showed
that a Christian judge could be just and righteous in dealing with a
foe of his creed.

There was a time of terrible strain waiting for the verdict, and when
at last it came, "Not Guilty," a sharp clap of applause hailed it,
sternly and rightly reproved by the judge. It was echoed by the
country, which almost unanimously condemned the prosecution as an
iniquitous attempt on the part of Mr. Bradlaugh's political enemies to
put a stop to his political career. Thus the _Pall Mall Gazette_

"Whatever may be the personal or political or religious aversion which
is excited by Mr. Bradlaugh, it is impossible for even his bitterest
opponents to deny the brilliance of the series of victories which he
has won in the law courts. His acquittal in the blasphemy prosecution
of Saturday was but the latest of a number of encounters in which he
has succeeded in turning the tables upon his opponents in the most
decisive fashion. The policy of baiting Mr. Bradlaugh which has been
persisted in so long, savours so strongly of a petty and malignant
species of persecution that it is well that those who indulge in it
should be made to smart for their pains. The wise and weighty words
used by the Lord Chief Justice in summing up should be taken seriously
to heart: 'Those persons are to be deprecated who would pervert the
law, even with the best intentions, and "do evil that good may come,
whose damnation" (says the apostle) "is just."' Without emulating the
severity of the apostle, we may say that it is satisfactory that the
promoters of all these prosecutions should be condemned in costs."

In the separate trial of Messrs. Foote and Ramsey, Mr. Foote again
defended himself in a speech of marked ability, and spoken of by the
judge as "very striking." Lord Coleridge made a noble charge to the
jury, in which he strongly condemned prosecutions of unpopular
opinions, pointing out that no prosecution short of extermination
could be effective, and caustically remarking on the very easy form of
virtue indulged in by persecutors. "As a general rule," he said,
"persecution, unless far more extreme than in England in the
nineteenth century is possible, is certain to be in vain. It is also
true, and I cannot help assenting to it, that it is a very easy form
of virtue. It is a more difficult form of virtue, quietly and
unostentatiously to obey what we believe to be God's will in our own
lives. It is not very easy to do it; and it makes much less noise in
the world. It is very easy to turn upon somebody else who differs from
us, and in the guise of zeal of God's honour to attack somebody of a
difference of opinion, whose life may be more pleasing to God and more
conducive to His honour than our own. And when it is done by persons
whose own lives are not free from reproach and who take that
particular form of zeal for God which consists in putting the criminal
law in force against others, that, no doubt, does more to create a
sympathy with the defendant than with the prosecutor. And if it should
be done by those who enjoy the wit of Voltaire, and who do not turn
away from the sneers of Gibbon, and rather relish the irony of Hume,
our feelings do not go with the prosecutors, and we are rather
disposed to sympathise with the defendant. It is still worse if the
person who takes such a course takes it, not from a kind of notion
that God wants his assistance, and that he can give it less on his own
account than by prosecuting others--but it is mixed up with anything
of partisan or political feeling, then nothing can be more foreign to
what is high-minded, or religious, or noble, in men's conduct; and
indeed, it seems to me that any one who will do that, not for the
honour of God but for the purpose of the ban, deserves the most
disdainful disapprobation."

The jury disagreed, and a _nolle prosequi_ was entered. The net
results of the trials were a large addition to the membership of the
National Secular Society, an increase of circulation of Freethought
literature, the raising of Mr. Foote for a time to a position of great
influence and popularity, and the placing of his name in history as a
brave martyr for liberty of speech. The offence against good taste
will be forgotten; the loyalty to conviction and to courage will
remain. History does not ask if men who suffered for heresy ever
published a rough word; it asks, Were they brave in their
steadfastness; were they faithful to the truth they saw? It may be
well to place on record Mr. Foote's punishment for blasphemy: he spent
twenty-two hours out of the twenty-four alone in his cell; his only
seat was a stool without a back; his employment was picking matting;
his bed was a plank with a thin mattress. During the latter part of
his imprisonment he was allowed some books.



The rest of 1883 passed in the usual way of hard work; the Affirmation
Bill was rejected, and the agitation for Constitutional right grew
steadily; the Liberal Press was won over, and Mr. Bradlaugh was
beginning to earn golden opinions on all sides for his courage, his
tenacity, and his self-control. A successful International Congress at
Amsterdam took some of us over to the Northern Venice, where a most
successful gathering was held. To me, personally, the year has a
special interest, as being the one in which my attention was called,
though only partially, to the Socialist movement. I had heard Louise
Michelle lecture in the early spring; a brief controversy in the
_National Reformer_ had interested me, but I had not yet concerned
myself with the economic basis of Socialism; I had realised that the
land should be public property, but had not gone into the deeper
economic causes of poverty, though the question was pressing with
ever-increasing force on heart and brain. Of Socialist teaching I knew
nothing, having studied only the older English Economists in my
younger days. In 1884 a more definite call to consider 299 these
teachings was to come, and I may perhaps open the record of 1884 with
the words of greeting spoken by me to our readers in the first number
of the _Reformer_ for that year: "What tests 1884 may have for our
courage, what strains on our endurance, what trials of our loyalty,
none can tell. But this we know--that every test of courage
successfully met, every strain of endurance steadily borne, every
trial of loyalty nobly surmounted, leaves courage braver, endurance
stronger, loyalty truer, than each was before. And therefore, for our
own and for the world's sake, I will not wish you, friends, an 1884 in
which there shall be no toil and no battling; but I will wish you,
each and all, the hero's heart and the hero's patience, in the
struggle for the world's raising that will endure through the coming

On February 3rd I came for the first time across a paper called
_Justice_, in which Mr. Bradlaugh was attacked, and which gave an
account of a meeting of the Democratic Federation--not yet the Social
Democratic--in which a man had, apparently unrebuked, said that "all
means were justifiable to attain" working-class ends. I protested
strongly against the advocacy of criminal means, declaring that those
who urged the use of such means were the worst foes of social
progress. A few weeks later the _Echo_ repeated a speech of Mr.
Hyndman's in which a "bloodier revolution" than that of France was
prophesied, and the extinction of "book-learning" seemed coupled with
the success of Socialism, and this again I commented on. But I had the
pleasure, a week later, of reprinting from _Justice_ a sensible
paragraph, condemning the advocacy of violence so long as free
agitation was allowed.

The spring was marked by two events on which I have not time or space
to dwell--the resignation by Mr. Bradlaugh of his seat, on the
reiteration of the resolution of exclusion, and his triumphant return
for the fourth time by an increased majority, a vote of 4,032, a
higher poll than that of the general election; and the release of Mr.
Foote, on February 25th, from Holloway, whence he was escorted by a
procession a quarter of a mile in length. On the 12th of March he and
his fellow-prisoners received a magnificent reception and were
presented with valuable testimonials at the Hall of Science.

Taking up again the thread of Socialism, the great debate in St.
James's Hall, London, between Mr. Bradlaugh and Mr. Hyndman on April
17th, roused me to a serious study of the questions raised. Socialism
has in England no more devoted, no more self-sacrificing advocate than
Henry Hyndman. A man of wide and deep reading, wielding most ably a
singularly fascinating pen, with talents that would have made him
wealthy in any career he adopted, he has sacrificed himself without a
murmur to the people's cause. He has borne obloquy from without,
suspicion and unkindness from those he served, and surrounded by
temptations to betray the people, he has never swerved from his
integrity. He has said rash things, has been stirred to passionate
outbursts and reckless phrases, but love to the people and sympathy
with suffering lay at the root of his wildest words, and they count
but little as against his faithful service. Personally, my debt to him
is of a mixed character; he kept me from Socialism for some time by
his bitter and very unjust antagonism to Mr. Bradlaugh; but it was the
debate at St. James's Hall that, while I angrily resented his
injustice, made me feel that there was something more in practical
Socialism than I had imagined, especially when I read it over
afterwards, away from the magic of Mr. Bradlaugh's commanding
eloquence and personal magnetism. It was a sore pity that English
Socialists, from the outset of their movement, treated Mr. Bradlaugh
so unfairly, so that his friends were set against Socialists ere they
began to examine their arguments. I must confess that my deep
attachment to him led me into injustice to his Socialist foes in those
early days, and often made me ascribe to them calculated malignity
instead of hasty and prejudiced assertion. Added to this, their
uncurbed violence in discussion, their constant interruptions during
the speeches of opponents, their reckless inaccuracy in matters of
fact, were all bars standing in the way of the thoughtful. When I came
to know them better, I found that the bulk of their speakers were very
young men, overworked and underpaid, who spent their scanty leisure in
efforts to learn, to educate themselves, to train themselves, and I
learned to pardon faults which grew out of the bitter sense of
injustice, and which were due largely to the terrible pressure of our
system on characters not yet strong enough--how few are strong
enough!--to bear grinding injustice without loss of balance and of
impartiality. None save those who have worked with them know how much
of real nobility, of heroic self-sacrifice, of constant self-denial,
of brotherly affection, there is among the Social Democrats.

At this time also I met George Bernard Shaw, one of the most brilliant
of Socialist writers and most provoking of men; a man with a perfect
genius for "aggravating" the enthusiastically earnest, and with a
passion for representing himself as a scoundrel. On my first
experience of him on the platform at South Place Institute he
described himself as a "loafer," and I gave an angry snarl at him in
the _Reformer_, for a loafer was my detestation, and behold! I found
that he was very poor, because he was a writer with principles and
preferred starving his body to starving his conscience; that he gave
time and earnest work to the spreading of Socialism, spending night
after night in workmen's clubs; and that "a loafer" was only an
amiable way of describing himself because he did not carry a hod. Of
course I had to apologise for my sharp criticism as doing him a
serious injustice, but privately felt somewhat injured at having been
entrapped into such a blunder. Meanwhile I was more and more turning
aside from politics and devoting myself to the social condition of the
people I find myself, in June, protesting against Sir John Lubbock's
Bill which fixed a twelve-hour day as the limit of a "young person's"
toil. "A 'day' of twelve hours is brutal," I wrote; "if the law fixes
twelve hours as a 'fair day' that law will largely govern custom. I
declare that a 'legal day' should be eight hours on five days in the
week and not more than five hours on the sixth. If the labour is of an
exhausting character these hours are too long." On every side now the
Socialist controversy grew, and I listened, read, and thought much,
but said little. The inclusion of John Robertson in the staff of the
_Reformer_ brought a highly intellectual Socialist into closer touch
with us, and slowly I found that the case for Socialism was
intellectually complete and ethically beautiful. The trend of my
thought was shown by urging the feeding of Board School children,
breaking down under the combination of education and starvation, and I
asked, "Why should people be pauperised by a rate-supported meal, and
not pauperised by, state-supported police, drainage, road-mending,
street-lighting, &c? "Socialism in its splendid ideal appealed to my
heart, while the economic soundness of its basis convinced my head.
All my life was turned towards the progress of the people, the helping
of man, and it leaped forward to meet the stronger hope, the lofty
ideal of social brotherhood, the rendering possible to all of freer
life; so long had I been striving thitherward, and here there opened
up a path to the yearned-for goal! How strong were the feelings
surging in my heart may be seen in a brief extract from an article
published second week of January, 1885: "Christian charity? We know
its work. It gives a hundred-weight of coal and five pounds of beef
once a year to a family whose head could earn a hundred such doles if
Christian justice allowed him fair wage for the work he performs. It
plunders the workers of the wealth they make, and then flings back at
them a thousandth part of their own product as 'charity.' It builds
hospitals for the poor whom it has poisoned in filthy courts and
alleys, and workhouses for the worn-out creatures from whom it has
wrung every energy, every hope, every joy. Miss Cobbe summons us to
admire Christian civilisation, and we see idlers flaunting in the
robes woven by the toilers, a glittering tinselled super-structure
founded on the tears, the strugglings, the grey, hopeless misery of
the poor."

This first month of January, 1885, brought on me the first attack for
my Socialistic tendencies, from the pen of Mr. W.P. Ball, who wrote
to the _Reformer_ complaining of my paragraph, quoted above, in which
I had advocated rate-supported meals for Board School children. A
brief controversy thus arose, in which I supported my opinion, waiving
the question as to my being "at heart a Socialist." In truth, I
dreaded to make the plunge of publicly allying myself with the
advocates of Socialism, because of the attitude of bitter hostility
they had adopted towards Mr. Bradlaugh. On his strong, tenacious
nature, nurtured on self-reliant individualism, the arguments of the
younger generation made no impression. He could not change his methods
because a new tendency was rising to the surface, and he did not see
how different was the Socialism of our day to the Socialist dreams of
the past--noble ideals of a future not immediately realisable in
truth, but to be worked towards and rendered possible in the days to
come. Could I take public action which might bring me into collision
with the dearest of my friends, which might strain the strong and
tender tie so long existing between us? My affection, my gratitude,
all warred against the idea of working with those who wronged him so
bitterly. But the cry of starving children was ever in my ears; the
sobs of women poisoned in lead works, exhausted in nail works, driven
to prostitution by starvation, made old and haggard by ceaseless work.
I saw their misery was the result of an evil system, was inseparable
from private ownership of the instruments of wealth production; that
while the worker was himself but an instrument, selling his labour
under the law of supply and demand, he must remain helpless in the
grip of the employing classes, and that trade combinations could only
mean increased warfare--necessary, indeed, for the time as weapons of
defence--but meaning war, not brotherly co-operation of all for the
good of all. A conflict which was stripped of all covering, a conflict
between a personal tie and a call of duty could not last long, and
with a heavy heart I made up my mind to profess Socialism openly and
work for it with all my energy. Happily, Mr. Bradlaugh was as tolerant
as he was strong, and our private friendship remained unbroken; but he
never again felt the same confidence in my judgment as he felt before,
nor did he any more consult me on his own policy, as he had done ever
since we first clasped hands.

A series of articles in _Our Corner_ on the "Redistribution of
Political Power," on the "Evolution of Society," on "Modern
Socialism," made my position clear. "Over against those who laud the
present state of Society, with its unjustly rich and its unjustly
poor, with its palaces and its slums, its millionaires and its
paupers, be it ours to proclaim that there is a higher ideal in life
than that of being first in the race for wealth, most successful in
the scramble for gold. Be it ours to declare steadfastly that health,
comfort, leisure, culture, plenty for every individual are far more
desirable than breathless struggle for existence, furious trampling
down of the weak by the strong, huge fortunes accumulated out of the
toil of others, to be handed down to those who had done nothing to
earn them. Be it ours to maintain that the greatness of a nation
depends not on the number of its great proprietors, on the wealth of
its great capitalists, or the splendour of its great nobles, but on
the absence of poverty among its people, on the education and
refinement of its masses, on the universality of enjoyment in life....
Enough for each of work, of leisure, of joy; too little for none, too
much for none--such is the Social ideal. Better to strive after it
worthily and fail, than to die without striving for it at all."

Then I differentiated the methods of the Socialist and the Radical
Individualist, pleading for union among those who formed the wings of
the army of Labour, and urging union of all workers against the
idlers. For the weakness of the people has ever been in their
divisions, in the readiness of each section to turn its weapons
against other sections instead of against the common foe. All
privileged classes, when they are attacked, sink their differences and
present a serried front to their assailants; the people alone fight
with each other, while the battle between themselves and the
privileged is raging.

I strove, as so many others were striving, to sound in the ears of the
thoughtless and the careless the cry of the sufferings of the poor,
endeavouring to make articulate their misery. Thus in a description of
Edinburgh slums came the following: "I saw in a 'house' which was made
by boarding up part of a passage, which had no window, and in which it
was necessary to burn an oil lamp all day, thus adding to the burden
of the rent, a family of three--man, wife, and child--whose lot was
hardly 'of their own making.' The man was tall and bronzed, but he was
dying of heart disease; he could not do hard work, and he was too
clumsy for light work; so he sat there, after two days' fruitless
search, patiently nursing his miserable, scrofulous baby in his dim
and narrow den. The cases of individual hopeless suffering are
heartbreaking. In one room lay a dying child, dying of low fever
brought on by want of food. 'It hae no faither,' sobbed the mother;
and for a moment I did not catch the meaning that the father had left
to the mother all the burden of a child unallowed by law. In another
lay the corpse of a mother, with the children round her, and
hard-featured, gentle-hearted women came in to take back to their
overcrowded beds 'the mitherless bairns.' In yet another a woman,
shrunken and yellow, crouched over a glimmer of fire; "I am dying of
cancer of the womb," she said, with that pathetic resignation to the
inevitable so common among the poor. I sat chatting for a few minutes.
'Come again, deary,' she said as I rose to go; 'it's gey dull sitting
here the day through.'"

The article in which these, among other descriptions, occurred was
closed with the following: "Passing out of the slums into the streets
of the town, only a few steps separating the horror and the beauty, I
felt, with a vividness more intense than ever, the fearful contrasts
between the lots of men; and with more pressing urgency the question
seemed to ring in my ears, 'Is there no remedy? Must there always be
rich and poor?' Some say that it must be so; that the palace and the
slum will for ever exist as the light and the shadow. Not so do I
believe. I believe that the poverty is the result of ignorance and of
bad social arrangements, and that therefore it may be eradicated by
knowledge and by social change. I admit that for many of these adult
dwellers in the slums there is no hope. Poor victims of a civilisation
that hides its brutality beneath a veneer of culture and of grace, for
them individually there is, alas! no salvation. But for their
children, yes! Healthy surroundings, good food, mental and physical
training, plenty of play, and carefully chosen work--these might save
the young and prepare them for happy life. But they are being left to
grow up as their parents were, and even when a few hours of school are
given them the home half-neutralises what the education effects. The
scanty aid given is generally begrudged, the education is to be but
elementary, as little as possible is doled out. Yet these children
have each one of them hopes and fears, possibilities of virtue and of
crime, a life to be made or marred. We shower money on generals and on
nobles, we keep high-born paupers living on the national charity, we
squander wealth with both hands on army and navy, on churches and
palaces; but we grudge every halfpenny that increases the education
rate and howl down every proposal to build decent houses for the poor.
We cover our heartlessness and indifference with fine phrases about
sapping the independence of the poor and destroying their
self-respect. With loathsome hypocrisy we repair a prince's palace for
him, and let him live in it rent-free, without one word about the
degradation involved in his thus living upon charity; while we refuse
to 'pauperise' the toiler by erecting decent buildings in which he may
live--not rent-free like the prince, but only paying a rent which
shall cover the cost of erection and maintenance, instead of one which
gives a yearly profit to a speculator. And so, year after year, the
misery grows, and every great city has on its womb a cancer; sapping
its vitality, poisoning its life-blood. Every great city is breeding
in its slums a race which is reverting through the savage to the
brute--a brute more dangerous in that degraded humanity has
possibilities of evil in it beyond the reach of the mere wild beast.
If not for Love's sake, then for fear; if not for justice or for human
pity, then for sheer desire of self-preservation; I appeal to the wise
and to the wealthy to set their hands to the cure of social evil, ere
stolidity gives place to passion and dull patience vanishes before
fury, and they

"'Learn at last, in some wild hour, how much the wretched dare.'"

Because it was less hotly antagonistic to the Radicals than the two
other Socialist organisations, I joined the Fabian Society, and worked
hard with it as a speaker and lecturer. Sidney Webb, G. Bernard Shaw,
Hubert and Mrs. Bland, Graham Wallas--these were some of those who
gave time, thought, incessant work to the popularising of Socialist
thought, the spreading of sound economics, the effort to turn the
workers' energy toward social rather than merely political reform. We
lectured at workmen's clubs wherever we could gain a hearing, till we
leavened London Radicalism with Socialist thought, and by treating the
Radical as the unevolved Socialist rather than as the anti-Socialist,
we gradually won him over to Socialist views. We circulated questions
to be put to all candidates for parliamentary or other offices,
stirred up interest in local elections, educated men and women into an
understanding of the causes of their poverty, won recruits for the
army of propagandists from the younger of the educated middle class.
That the London working classes to-day are so largely Socialist is
greatly due to the years of work done among them by members of the
Fabian Society, as well to the splendid, if occasionally too militant,
energy of the Social Democratic Federation, and to the devotion of
that noble and generous genius, William Morris.

During this same year (1885) a movement was set on foot in England to
draw attention to the terrible sufferings of the Russian political
prisoners, and it was decided at a meeting held in my house to form a
society of the friends of Russia, which should seek to spread accurate
and careful information about the present condition of Russia. At that
meeting were present Charles Bradlaugh, "Stepniak," and many others,
E.R. Pease acting as honorary secretary. It is noteworthy that some
of the most prominent Russian exiles--such as Kropotkin--take the view
that the Tzar himself is not allowed to know what occurs, and is very
largely the victim of the bureaucracy that surrounds him.

Another matter, that increased as the months went on, was the attempt
of the police authorities to stop Socialist speaking in the open air.
Christians, Freethinkers, Salvationists, agitators of all kinds were,
for the most part, left alone, but there was a regular crusade against
the Socialists. Liberal and Tory journals alike condemned the way in
which in Dod Street, in September, the Socialists' meetings were
attacked. Quiet persistence was shown by the promoters--members of the
Social Democratic Federation--and they were well supported by other
Socialists and by the Radical clubs. I volunteered to speak on October
4th (my first Sunday in London after the summoning and imprisoning of
the speakers had commenced), but the attitude of the people was so
determined on the preceding Sunday that all interference was

Herbert Burrows stood for the School Board for the Tower Hamlets in
the November of this year, and I find a paragraph in the _Reformer_ in
which I heartily wished him success, especially as the first candidate
who had put forward a demand for industrial education. In this, as in
so many practical proposals, Socialists have led the way. He polled
4,232 votes, despite the furious opposition of the clergy to him as a
Freethinker, of the publicans to him as a teetotaler, of the
maintainers of the present social system to him as a Socialist. And
his fight did much to make possible my own success in 1888.

With this autumn, too, began, in connection with the struggle for the
right of meeting, the helping of the workmen to fair trial by
providing of bail and legal defence. The first case that I bailed out
was that of Lewis Lyons, sent to gaol for two months with hard labour
by Mr. Saunders, of the Thames Police Court. Oh, the weary, sickening
waiting in the court for "my prisoner," the sordid vice, the revolting
details of human depravity to which my unwilling eyes and ears were
witnesses. I carried Lyons off in triumph, and the Middlesex
magistrates quashed the conviction, the evidence being pronounced by
them to be "confusing, contradictory, and worthless." Yet but for the
chance of one of us stepping forward to offer bail and to provide the
means for an appeal (I acted on Mr. Bradlaugh's suggestion and advice,
for he acted as counsellor to me all through the weary struggles that
lasted till 1888, putting his great legal knowledge at my disposal,
though he often disapproved my action, thinking me Quixotic)--but for
this, Lewis Lyons would have had to suffer his heavy sentence.

The general election took place this autumn, and Northampton returned
Mr. Bradlaugh for the fifth time, thus putting an end to the long
struggle, for he took the oath and his seat in the following January,
and at once gave notice of an Oaths Bill, to give to all who claimed
it, under all circumstances, the right to affirm. He was returned with
the largest vote ever polled for him--4,315--and he entered Parliament
with all the prestige of his great struggle, and went to the front at
once, one of the recognised forces in the House. The action of Mr.
Speaker Peel promptly put an end to an attempted obstruction. Sir
Michael Hicks Beach, Mr. Cecil Raikes, and Sir John Hennaway had
written to the Speaker asking his interference, but the Speaker
declared that he had no authority, no right to stand between a duly
elected member and the duty of taking the oath prescribed by statute.
Thus ended the constitutional struggle of six years, that left the
victor well-nigh bankrupt in health and in purse, and sent him to a
comparatively early grave. He lived long enough to justify his
election, to prove his value to the House and to his country, but he
did not live long enough to render to England all the services which
his long training, his wide knowledge, his courage, and his honesty so
eminently fitted him to yield.


_Our Corner_ now served as a valuable aid in Socialist propaganda, and
its monthly "Socialist Notes" became a record of Socialist progress in
all lands. We were busy during the spring in organising a conference
for the discussion of "The Present Commercial System, and the Better
Utilisation of National Wealth for the Benefit of the Community," and
this was successfully held at South Place Institute on June 9th, 10th,
11th, the three days being given respectively, to the "Utilisation of
Land," the "Utilisation of Capital," and the "Democratic Policy." On
the 9th Mr. Bradlaugh spoke on the utilisation of waste lands, arguing
that in a thickly populated country no one had the right to keep
cultivable land uncultivated, and that where land was so kept there
should be compulsory expropriation, the state taking the land and
letting it out to cultivating tenants. Among the other speakers were
Edward Carpenter, William Morris, Sidney Webb, John Robertson, William
Saunders, W. Donnisthorpe, Edward Aveling, Charlotte Wilson, Mrs.
Fenwick Miller, Hubert Bland, Dr. Pankhurst, and myself--men and women
of many views, met to compare methods, and so help on the cause of
social regeneration.

Bitter attacks were made on me for my Socialist advocacy by some of
the Radicals in the Freethought party, and looking back I find myself
condemned as a "Saint Athanasius in petticoats," and as possessing a
"mind like a milk-jug." This same courteous critic remarked, "I have
heard Mrs. Besant described as being, like most women, at the mercy of
her last male acquaintance for her views on economics." I was foolish
enough to break a lance in self-defence with this assailant, not
having then learned that self-defence was a waste of time that might
be better employed in doing work for others. I certainly should not
now take the trouble to write such a paragraph as the following: "The
moment a man uses a woman's sex to discredit her arguments, the
thoughtful reader knows that he is unable to answer the arguments
themselves. But really these silly sneers at woman's ability have lost
their force, and are best met with a laugh at the stupendous 'male
self-conceit' of the writer. I may add that such shafts are specially
pointless against myself. A woman who thought her way out of
Christianity and Whiggism into Freethought and Radicalism absolutely
alone; who gave up every old friend, male and female, rather than
resign the beliefs she had struggled to in solitude; who, again, in
embracing active Socialism, has run counter to the views of her
nearest 'male friends'; such a woman may very likely go wrong, but I
think she may venture, without conceit, to at least claim independence
of judgment. I did not make the acquaintance of one of my present
Socialist comrades, male or female, until I had embraced Socialism." A
foolish paragraph, as are all self-defences, and a mischievous one, as
all retort breeds fresh strife. But not yet had come the self-control
that estimates the judgments of others at their true value, that recks
not of praise and blame; not yet had I learned that evil should not be
met with evil, wrath with wrath; not yet were the words of the Buddha
the law to which I strove to render obedience: "Hatred ceases not by
hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love." The year 1886 was a
terrible one for labour, everywhere reductions of wages, everywhere
increase of the numbers of the unemployed; turning over the pages of
_Our Corner_, I see "Socialist Notes" filled, month after month, with
a monotonous tale, "there is a reduction of wages at" such and such a
place; so many "men have been discharged at -----, owing to the
slackness of trade." Our hearts sank lower and lower as summer passed
into autumn, and the coming winter threatened to add to starvation the
bitter pains of cold. The agitation for the eight hours' day increased
in strength as the unemployed grew more numerous week by week "We
can't stand it," a sturdy, quiet fellow had said to me during the
preceding winter; "flesh and blood can't stand it, and two months of
this bitter cold, too." "We may as well starve idle as starve
working," had said another, with a fierce laugh. And a spirit of
sullen discontent was spreading everywhere, discontent that was wholly
justified by facts. But ah! how patient they were for the most part,
how sadly, pathetically patient, this crucified Christ, Humanity;
wrongs that would set my heart and my tongue afire would be accepted
as a matter of course. O blind and mighty people, how my heart went
out to you; trampled on, abused, derided, asking so little and needing
so much; so pathetically grateful for the pettiest services; so loving
and so loyal to those who offered you but their poor services and
helpless love. Deeper and deeper into my innermost nature ate the
growing desire to succour, to suffer for, to save. I had long given up
my social reputation, I now gave up with ever-increasing surrender
ease, comfort, time; the passion of pity grew stronger and stronger,
fed by each new sacrifice, and each sacrifice led me nearer and nearer
to the threshold of that gateway beyond which stretched a path of
renunciation I had never dreamed of, which those might tread who were
ready wholly to strip off self for Man's sake, who for Love's sake
would surrender Love's return from those they served, and would go out
into the darkness for themselves that they might, with their own souls
as fuel, feed the Light of the World.

As the suffering deepened with the darkening months, the meetings of
the unemployed grew in number, and the murmurs of discontent became
louder. The Social Democratic Federation carried on an outdoor
agitation, not without making blunders, being composed of human
beings, but with abundant courage and self-sacrifice. The policy of
breaking up Socialist meetings went on while other meetings were
winked at, and John Williams, a fiery speaker, but a man with a record
of pathetic struggle and patient heroism, was imprisoned for two
months for speaking in the open air, and so nearly starved in gaol
that he came out with his health broken for life.

1887 dawned, the year that was to close so stormily, and Socialists
everywhere were busying themselves on behalf of the unemployed, urging
vestries to provide remunerative work for those applying for relief,
assailing the Local Government Board with practicable proposals for
utilising the productive energies of the unemployed, circulating
suggestions to municipalities and other local representative bodies,
urging remedial measures. A four days' oral debate with Mr. Foote, and
a written debate with Mr. Bradlaugh, occupied some of my energies, and
helped in the process of education to which public opinion was being
subjected. Both these debates were largely circulated as pamphlets. A
series of afternoon debates between representative speakers was
organised at South Place Institute, and Mr. Corrie Grant and myself
had a lively discussion, I affirming "That the existence of classes
who live upon unearned incomes is detrimental to the welfare of the
community, and ought to be put an end to by legislation." Another
debate--in this very quarrelsome spring of 1887--was a written one in
the _National Reformer_ between the Rev. G.F. Handel Rowe and myself
on the proposition, "Is Atheism logically tenable, and is there a
satisfactory Atheistic System for the guidance of Human Conduct." And
so the months went on, and the menace of misery grew louder and
louder, till in September I find myself writing: "This one thing is
clear--Society must deal with the unemployed, or the unemployed will
deal with Society. Stormier and stormier becomes the social outlook,
and they at least are not the worst enemies of Society who seek to
find some way through the breakers by which the ship of the
Commonwealth may pass into quiet waters."

Some amusement turned up in the shape of a Charing Cross Parliament,
in which we debated with much vigour the "burning questions" of the
day. We organised a compact Socialist party, defeated a Liberal
Government, took the reins of office, and--after a Queen's Speech in
which her Majesty addressed her loyal Commons with a plainness of
speech never before (or since) heard from the throne--we brought in
several Bills of a decidedly heroic character. G. Bernard Shaw, as
President of the Local Government Board, and I, as Home Secretary,
came in for a good deal of criticism in connection with various
drastic measures. An International Freethought Congress, held in
London, entailed fairly heavy work, and the science classes were ever
with us. Another written debate came with October, this time on the
"Teachings of Christianity," making the fifth of these set discussions
held by me during the year. This same month brought a change, painful
but just: I resigned my much-prized position as co-editor of the
_National Reformer,_ and the number for October 23rd bore Charles
Bradlaugh's name alone. The change did not affect my work on the
paper, but I became merely a subordinate, though remaining, of course,
joint proprietor. The reason cannot be more accurately given than in
the paragraph penned at the time: "For a considerable time past, and
lately in increasing number, complaints have reached me from various
quarters of the inconvenience and uncertainty that result from the
divided editorial policy of this paper on the question of Socialism.
Some months ago I proposed to avoid this difficulty by resigning my
share in the editorship; but my colleague, with characteristic
liberality, asked me to let the proposal stand over and see if matters
would not adjust themselves. But the difficulty, instead of
disappearing, has only become more pressing; and we both feel that our
readers have a right to demand that it be solved.

"When I became co-editor of this paper I was not a Socialist; and,
although I regard Socialism as the necessary and logical outcome of
the Radicalism which for so many years the _National Reformer_ has
taught, still, as in avowing myself a Socialist I have taken a
distinct step, the partial separation of my policy in labour questions
from that of my colleague has been of my own making, and not of his,
and it is, therefore, for me to go away. Over by far the greater part
of our sphere of action we are still substantially agreed, and are
likely to remain so. But since, as Socialism becomes more and more a
question of practical politics, differences of theory tend to produce
differences in conduct; and since a political paper must have a single
editorial programme in practical politics, it would obviously be most
inconvenient for me to retain my position as co-editor. I therefore
resume my former position as contributor only, thus clearing the
_National Reformer_ of all responsibility for the views I hold."

To this Mr. Bradlaugh added the following:--

"I need hardly add to this how very deeply I regret the necessity for
Mrs. Besant's resignation of the joint editorship of this Journal, and
the real grief I feel in accepting this break in a position in which
she has rendered such enormous service to the Freethought and Radical
cause. As a most valued contributor I trust the _National Reformer_
may never lose the efficient aid of her brain and pen. For thirteen
years this paper has been richer for good by the measure of her
never-ceasing and most useful work. I agree with her that a journal
must have a distinct editorial policy; and I think this distinctness
the more necessary when, as in the present case, every contributor has
the greatest freedom of expression. I recognise in the fullest degree
the spirit of self-sacrifice in which the lines, to which I add these
words, have been penned by Mrs. Besant. "CHARLES BRADLAUGH."

It was a wrench, this breaking of a tie for which a heavy price had
been paid thirteen years before, but it was just. Any one who makes a
change with which pain is connected is bound, in honour and duty, to
take that pain as much as possible on himself; he must not put his
sacrifice on others, nor pay his own ransom with their coin. There
must be honour kept in the life that reaches towards the Ideal, for
broken faith to that is the only real infidelity.

And there was another reason for the change that I dared not name to
him, for his quick loyalty would then have made him stubbornly
determined against change. I saw the swift turning of public opinion,
the gradual approach to him among Liberals who had hitherto held
aloof, and I knew that they looked upon me as a clog and a burden, and
that were I less prominently with him his way would be the easier to
tread. So I slipped more and more into the background, no longer went
with him to his meetings; my use to him in public was over, for I had
become hindrance instead of help. While he was outcast and hated I had
the pride of standing at his side; when all the fair-weather friends
came buzzing round him I served him best by self-effacement, and I
never loved him better than when I stood aside. But I continued all
the literary work unaltered, and no change of opinions touched his
kindness to me, although when, a little later, I joined the
Theosophical Society, he lost his trust in my reasoning powers and

In this same month of October the unemployed began walking in
procession through the streets, and harshness on the part of the
police led to some rioting. Sir Charles Warren thought it his duty to
dragoon London meetings after the fashion of Continental prefects,
with the inevitable result that an ill-feeling grew up between the
people and the police.

At last we formed a Socialist Defence Association, in order to help
poor workmen brought up and sentenced on police evidence only, without
any chance being given them of proper legal defence, and I organised a
band of well-to-do men and women, who promised to obey a telegraphic
summons, night or day, and to bail out any prisoner arrested for
exercising the ancient right of walking in procession and speaking. To
take one instance: Mr. Burleigh, the well-known war correspondent, and
Mr. Winks were arrested and "run in" with Mr. J. Knight, a workman,
for seditious language. I went down to the police-station to offer
bail for the latter: Chief-Constable Howard accepted bail for Messrs.
Burleigh and Winks, but refused it for Mr. Knight. The next day, at
the police-court, the preposterous bail of L400 was demanded for Mr.
Knight and supplied by my faithful band, and on the next hearing Mr.
Poland, solicitor to the Treasury, withdrew the charge against him for
lack of evidence!

Then came the closing of Trafalgar Square, and the unexpected and
high-handed order that cost some men their lives, many their liberty,
and hundreds the most serious injuries. The Metropolitan Radical
Federation had called a meeting for November 13th to protest against
the imprisonment of Mr. O'Brien, and as Mr. Matthews, from his place
in the House, had stated that there was no intention of interfering
with _bona fide_ political meetings, the Radical clubs did not expect
police interference. On November 9th Sir Charles Warren had issued an
order forbidding all meetings in the Square, but the clubs trusted the
promise of the Home Secretary. On Saturday evening only, November
12th, when all arrangements were completed, did he issue a peremptory
order, forbidding processions within a certain area. With this trap
suddenly sprung upon them, the delegates from the clubs, the Fabian
Society, the Social Democratic Federation, and the Socialist League,
met on that same Saturday evening to see to any details that had been
possibly left unsettled. It was finally decided to go to the Square as
arranged, and, if challenged by the police, to protest formally
against the illegal interference, then to break up the processions and
leave the members to find their own way to the Square. It was also
decided to go Sunday after Sunday to the Square, until the right of
public meetings was vindicated.

The procession I was in started from Clerkenwell Green, and walked
with its banner in front, and the chosen speakers, including myself,
immediately behind the flag. As we were moving slowly and quietly
along one of the narrow streets debouching on Trafalgar Square,
wondering whether we should be challenged, there was a sudden charge,
and without a word the police were upon us with uplifted truncheons;
the banner was struck down, and men and women were falling under a
hail of blows. There was no attempt at resistance, the people were too
much astounded at the unprepared attack. They scattered, leaving some
of their number on the ground too much injured to move, and then made
their way in twos and threes to the Square. It was garrisoned by
police, drawn up in serried rows, that could only have been broken by
a deliberate charge. Our orders were to attempt no violence, and we
attempted none. Mr. Cunninghame Graham and Mr. John Burns, arm-in-arm,
tried to pass through the police, and were savagely cut about the head
and arrested. Then ensued a scene to be remembered; the horse police
charged in squadrons at a hand-gallop, rolling men and women over like
ninepins, while the foot police struck recklessly with their
truncheons, cutting a road through the crowd that closed immediately
behind them. I got on a waggonette and tried to persuade the driver to
pull his trap across one of the roads, and to get others in line, so
as to break the charges of the mounted police; but he was afraid, and
drove away to the Embankment, so I jumped out and went back to the
Square. At last a rattle of cavalry, and up came the Life Guards,
cleverly handled but hurting none, trotting their horses gently and
shouldering the crowd apart; and then the Scots Guards with bayonets
fixed marched through and occupied the north of the Square. Then the
people retreated as we passed round the word, "Go home, go home." The
soldiers were ready to fire, the people unarmed; it would have been
but a massacre. Slowly the Square emptied and all was still. All other
processions were treated as ours had been, and the injuries inflicted
were terrible. Peaceable, law-abiding workmen, who had never dreamed
of rioting, were left with broken legs, broken arms, wounds of every
description. One man, Linnell, died almost immediately, others from
the effect of their injuries. The next day a regular court-martial in
Bow Street Police Court, witnesses kept out by the police, men dazed
with their wounds, decent workmen of unblemished character who had
never been charged in a police-court before, sentenced to imprisonment
without chance of defence. But a gallant band rallied to their rescue.
William T. Stead, most chivalrous of journalists, opened a Defence
Fund, and money rained in; my pledged bail came up by the dozen, and
we got the men out on appeal. By sheer audacity I got into the
police-court, addressed the magistrate, too astounded by my profound
courtesy and calm assurance to remember that I had no right there, and
then produced bail after bail of the most undeniable character and
respectability, which no magistrate could refuse. Breathing-time
gained, a barrister, Mr. W.M. Thompson, worked day after day with
hearty devotion, and took up the legal defence. Fines we paid, and
here Mrs. Marx Aveling did eager service. A pretty regiment I led out
of Millbank Prison, after paying their fines; bruised, clothes torn,
hatless, we must have looked a disreputable lot. We stopped and bought
hats, to throw an air of respectability over our _cortege_, and we
kept together until I saw the men into train and omnibus, lest, with
the bitter feelings now roused, conflict should again arise. We formed
the Law and Liberty League to defend all unjustly assailed by the
police, and thus rescued many a man from prison; and we gave poor
Linnell, killed in Trafalgar Square, a public funeral. Sir Charles
Warren forbade the passing of the hearse through any of the main
thoroughfares west of Waterloo Bridge, so the processions waited there
for it. W.T. Stead, R. Cunninghame Graham, Herbert Burrows, and
myself walked on one side the coffin, William Morris, F. Smith, R.
Dowling, and J. Seddon on the other; the Rev. Stewart D. Headlam, the
officiating clergyman, walked in front; fifty stewards carrying long
wands guarded the coffin. From Wellington Street to Bow Cemetery the
road was one mass of human beings, who uncovered reverently as the
slain man went by; at Aldgate the procession took three-quarters of an
hour to pass one spot, and thus we bore Linnell to his grave, symbol
of a cruel wrong, the vast orderly, silent crowd, bareheaded, making
mute protest against the outrage wrought.

It is pleasant to put on record here Mr. Bradlaugh's grave approval of
the heavy work done in the police-courts, and the following paragraph
shows how generously he could praise one not acting on his own lines:
"As I have on most serious matters of principle recently differed very
widely from my brave and loyal co-worker, and as the difference has
been regrettably emphasised by her resignation of her editorial
functions on this Journal, it is the more necessary that I should say
how thoroughly I approve, and how grateful I am to her for, her
conduct in not only obtaining bail and providing legal assistance for
the helpless unfortunates in the hands of the police, but also for her
daily personal attendance and wise conduct at the police-stations and
police-courts, where she has done so much to abate harsh treatment on
the one hand and rash folly on the other. While I should not have
marked out this as fitting woman's work, especially in the recent very
inclement weather, I desire to record my view that it has been bravely
done, well done, and most usefully done, and I wish to mark this the
more emphatically as my views and those of Mrs. Besant seem wider
apart than I could have deemed possible on many of the points of
principle underlying what is every day growing into a most serious
struggle." Ever did I find Charles Bradlaugh thus tolerant of
difference of opinion, generously eager to approve what to him seemed
right even in a policy he disapproved.

The indignation grew and grew; the police were silently boycotted, but
the people were so persistent and so tactful that no excuse for
violence was given, until the strain on the police force began to
tell, and the Tory Government felt that London was being hopelessly
alienated; so at last Sir Charles Warren fell, and a wiser hand was
put at the helm.



Out of all this turmoil and stress rose a Brotherhood that had in it
the promise of a fairer day. Mr. Stead and I had become close
friends--he Christian, I Atheist, burning with one common love for
man, one common hatred against oppression. And so in _Our Corner_ for
February, 1888, I wrote:--"Lately there has been dawning on the minds
of men far apart in questions of theology, the idea of founding a new
Brotherhood, in which service of Man should take the place erstwhile
given to service of God--a brotherhood in which work should be worship
and love should be baptism, in which none should be regarded as alien
who was willing to work for human good. One day as I was walking
towards Millbank Gaol with the Rev. S.D. Headlam, on the way to
liberate a prisoner, I said to him: 'Mr. Headlam, we ought to have a
new Church, which should include all who have the common ground of
faith in and love for man.' And a little later I found that my friend
Mr. W.T. Stead, editor of the _Pall Mall Gazette,_ had long been
brooding over a similar thought, and wondering whether men 'might not
be persuaded to be as earnest about making this world happy as they
are over saving their souls.' The teaching of social duty, the
upholding of social righteousness, the building up of a true
commonwealth--such would be among the aims of the Church of the
future. Is the hope too fair for realisation? Is the winning of such
beatific vision yet once more the dream of the enthusiast? But surely
the one fact that persons so deeply differing in theological creeds as
those who have been toiling for the last three months to aid and
relieve the oppressed, can work in absolute harmony side by side for
the one end--surely this proves that there is a bond which is stronger
than our antagonisms, a unity which is deeper than the speculative
theories which divide."

How unconsciously I was marching towards the Theosophy which was to
become the glory of my life, groping blindly in the darkness for that
very brotherhood, definitely formulated on these very lines by those
Elder Brothers of our race, at whose feet I was so soon to throw
myself. How deeply this longing for something loftier than I had yet
found had wrought itself into my life, how strong the conviction was
growing that there was something to be sought to which the service of
man was the road, may be seen in the following passage from the same

"It has been thought that in these days of factories and of tramways,
of shoddy, and of adulteration, that all life must tread with even
rhythm of measured footsteps, and that the glory of the ideal could no
longer glow over the greyness of a modern horizon. But signs are not
awanting that the breath of the older heroism is beginning to stir
men's breasts, and that the passion for justice and for liberty, which
thrilled through the veins of the world's greatest in the past, and
woke our pulses to responsive throb, has not yet died wholly out of
the hearts of men. Still the quest of the Holy Grail exercises its
deathless fascination, but the seekers no longer raise eyes to heaven,
nor search over land and sea, for they know that it waits them in the
suffering at their doors, that the consecration of the holiest is on
the agonising masses of the poor and the despairing, the cup is
crimson with the blood of the

"'People, the grey-grown speechless Christ.'

... If there be a faith that can remove the mountains of ignorance and
evil, it is surely that faith in the ultimate triumph of Right in the
final enthronement of Justice, which alone makes life worth the
living, and which gems the blackest cloud of depression with the
rainbow-coloured arch of an immortal hope."

As a step towards bringing about some such union of those ready to
work for man, Mr. Stead and I projected the _Link_, a halfpenny
weekly, the spirit of which was described in its motto, taken from
Victor Hugo: "The people are silence. I will be the advocate of this
silence. I will speak for the dumb. I will speak of the small to the
great and of the feeble to the strong.... I will speak for all the
despairing silent ones. I will interpret this stammering; I will
interpret the grumblings, the murmurs, the tumults of crowds, the
complaints ill-pronounced, and all these cries of beasts that, through
ignorance and through suffering, man is forced to utter ... I will be
the Word of the People. I will be the bleeding mouth whence the gag is
snatched out. I will say everything." It announced its object to be
the "building up" of a "New Church, dedicated to the service of man,"
and "what we want to do is to establish in every village and in every
street some man or woman who will sacrifice time and labour as
systematically and as cheerfully in the temporal service of man as
others do in what they believe to be the service of God." Week after
week we issued our little paper, and it became a real light in the
darkness. There the petty injustices inflicted on the poor found
voice; there the starvation wages paid to women found exposure; there
sweating was brought to public notice. A finisher of boots paid 2s.
6d. per dozen pairs and "find your own polish and thread"; women
working for 10-1/2 hours per day, making shirts--"fancy best"--at from
10d. to 3s. per dozen, finding their own cotton and needles, paying
for gas, towel, and tea (compulsory), earning from 4s. to 10s. per
week for the most part; a mantle finisher 2s. 2d. a week, out of which
6d. for materials; "respectable hard-working woman" tried for
attempted suicide, "driven to rid herself of life from want." Another
part of our work was defending people from unjust landlords, exposing
workhouse scandals, enforcing the Employers' Liability Act, Charles
Bradlaugh's Truck Act, forming "Vigilance Circles" whose members kept
watch in their own district over cases of cruelty to children,
extortion, insanitary workshops, sweating, &c., reporting each case to
me. Into this work came Herbert Burrows, who had joined hands with me
over the Trafalgar Square defence, and who wrote some noble articles
in the _Link_. A man loving the people with passionate devotion,
hating oppression and injustice with equal passion, working himself
with remorseless energy, breaking his heart over wrongs he could not
remedy. His whole character once came out in a sentence when he was
lying delirious and thought himself dying: "Tell the people how I have
loved them always."

In our crusade for the poor we worked for the dockers." To-morrow
morning, in London alone 20,000 to 25,000 adult men," wrote Sidney
Webb, "will fight like savages for permission to labour in the docks
for 4d. an hour, and one-third of them will fight in vain, and be
turned workless away." We worked for children's dinners. "If we insist
on these children being educated, is it not necessary that they shall
be fed? If not, we waste on them knowledge they cannot assimilate, and
torture many of them to death. Poor waifs of humanity, we drive them
into the school and bid them learn; and the pitiful, wistful eyes
question us why we inflict this strange new suffering, and bring into
their dim lives this new pang. 'Why not leave us alone? 'ask the
pathetically patient little faces. Why not, indeed, since for these
child martyrs of the slums, Society has only formulas, not food." We
cried out against "cheap goods," that meant "sweated and therefore
stolen goods." "The ethics of buying should surely be simply enough.
We want a particular thing, and we do not desire to obtain it either
by begging or by robbery; but if in becoming possessed of it, we
neither beg it nor steal, we must give for it something equivalent in
exchange; so much of our neighbour's labour has been put into the
thing we desire; if we will not yield him fair equivalent for that
labour, yet take his article, we defraud him, and if we are not
willing to give that fair equivalent we have no right to become the
owners of his product."

This branch of our work led to a big fight--a fight most happy in its
results. At a meeting of the Fabian Society, Miss Clementina Black
gave a capital lecture on Female Labour, and urged the formation of a
Consumers' League, pledged only to buy from shops certificated "clean"
from unfair wage. H.H. Champion, in the discussion that followed,
drew attention to the wages paid by Bryant & May (Limited), while
paying an enormous dividend to their shareholders, so that the value
of the original L5 shares was quoted at L18 7s. 6d. Herbert Burrows
and I interviewed some of the girls, got lists of wages, of fines, &c.
"A typical case is that of a girl of sixteen, a piece-worker; she
earns 4s. a week, and lives with a sister, employed by the same firm,
who 'earns good money, as much as 8s. or 9s. a week.' Out of the
earnings 2s. a week is paid for the rent of one room. The child lives
only on bread and butter and tea, alike for breakfast and dinner, but
related with dancing eyes that once a month she went to a meal where
'you get coffee and bread and butter, and jam and marmalade, and lots
of it.'" We published the facts under the title of "White Slavery in
London," and called for a boycott of Bryant & May's matches. "It is
time some one came and helped us," said two pale-faced girls to me;
and I asked: "Who will help? Plenty of people wish well to any good
cause; but very few care to exert themselves to help it, and still
fewer will risk anything in its support. 'Some one ought to do it, but
why should I?' is the ever re-echoed phrase of weak-kneed amiability.
'Some one ought to do it, so why _not_ I?' is the cry of some earnest
servant of man, eagerly forward springing to face some perilous duty.
Between those two sentences lie whole centuries of moral evolution."

I was promptly threatened with an action for libel, but nothing came
of it; it was easier to strike at the girls, and a few days later
Fleet Street was enlivened by the irruption of a crowd of match-girls,
demanding Annie Besant. I couldn't speechify to match-girls in Fleet
Street, so asked that a deputation should come and explain what they
wanted. Up came three women and told their story: they had been asked
to sign a paper certifying that they were well treated and contented,
and that my statements were untrue; they refused. "You had spoke up
for us," explained one, "and we weren't going back on you." A girl,
pitched on as their leader, was threatened with dismissal; she stood
firm; next day she was discharged for some trifle, and they all threw


Back to Full Books