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Annie Besant

1847 – 1933

President of the Theosophical Society  1907-1933


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Autobiographical Sketches


Annie Besant


First published 1885.






I am so often asked for references to some pamphlet or journal in which

may be found some outline of my life, and the enquiries are so often

couched in terms of such real kindness, that I have resolved to pen a few

brief autobiographical sketches, which may avail to satisfy friendly

questioners, and to serve, in some measure, as defence against unfair








On October 1st, 1847, I made my appearance in this "vale of tears",

"little Pheasantina", as I was irreverently called by a giddy aunt, a pet

sister of my mother's. Just at that time my father and mother were

staying within the boundaries of the City of London, so that I was born

well "within the sound of Bow bells".


Though born in London, however, full three quarters of my blood are

Irish. My dear mother was a Morris--the spelling of the name having been

changed from Maurice some five generations back--and I have often heard

her tell a quaint story, illustrative of that family pride which is so

common a feature of a decayed Irish family. She was one of a large

family, and her father and mother, gay, handsome, and extravagant, had

wasted merrily what remained to them of patrimony. I can remember her

father well, for I was fourteen years of age when he died. A bent old

man, with hair like driven snow, splendidly handsome in his old age,

hot-tempered to passion at the lightest provocation, loving and wrath in

quick succession. As the family grew larger and the moans grew smaller,

many a pinch came on the household, and the parents were glad to accept

the offer of a relative to take charge of Emily, the second daughter. A

very proud old lady was this maiden aunt, and over the mantel-piece of

her drawing-room ever hung a great diagram, a family tree, which mightily

impressed the warm imagination of the delicate child she had taken in

charge. It was a lengthy and well-grown family tree, tracing back the

Morris family to the days of Charlemagne, and branching out from a stock

of "the seven kings of France". Was there ever yet a decayed. Irish

family that did not trace itself back to some "kings"? and these

"Milesian kings"--who had been expelled from France, doubtless for good

reasons, and who had sailed across the sea and landed in fair Erin, and

there had settled and robbed and fought--did more good 800 years after

their death than they did, I expect, during their ill-spent lives, if

they proved a source of gentle harmless pride to the old maiden lady who

admired their names over her mantel-piece in the earlier half of the

present century. And, indeed, they acted as a kind of moral thermometer,

in a fashion that would much have astonished their ill-doing and

barbarous selves. For my mother has told me how when she would commit

some piece of childish naughtiness, her aunt would say, looking gravely

over her spectacles at the small culprit: "Emily, your conduct is

unworthy of the descendant of the seven kings of France." And Emily, with

her sweet grey Irish eyes, and her curling masses of raven-black hair,

would cry in penitent shame over her unworthiness, with some vague idea

that those royal, and to her very real ancestors, would despise her small

sweet rosebud self, as wholly unworthy of their disreputable majesties.

But that same maiden aunt trained the child right well, and I keep ever

grateful memory of her, though I never knew her, for her share in forming

the tenderest, sweetest, proudest, purest, noblest woman I have ever

known. I have never met a woman more selflessly devoted to those she

loved, more passionately contemptuous of all that was mean or base, more

keenly sensitive on every question of honor, more iron in will, more

sweet in tenderness, than the mother who made my girlhood sunny as

dreamland, who guarded me until my marriage from every touch of pain that

she could ward off, or could bear for me, who suffered more in every

trouble that touched me in later life than I did myself, and who died in

the little house I had taken for our new home in Norwood, worn out ere

old age touched her, by sorrow, poverty and pain, in May, 1874.


Of my father my memory is less vivid, for he died when I was but five

years old. He was of mixed race, English on his father's side, Irish on

his mother's, and was born in Galway, and educated in Ireland; he took

his degree at Dublin University, and walked the hospitals as a medical

student. But after he had qualified as a medical man a good appointment

was offered him by a relative in the City of London, and he never

practised regularly as a doctor.


In the City his prospects were naturally promising; the elder branch of

the Wood Family, to which he belonged, had for many generations been

settled in Devonshire, farming their own land. When the eldest son

William, my father, came of age, he joined with his father to cut off the

entail, and the old acres were sold. Meanwhile members of other branches

had entered commercial life, and had therein prospered exceedingly. One

of them had become Lord Mayor of London, had vigorously supported the

unhappy Queen Caroline, had paid the debts of the Duke of Kent, in order

that that reputable individual might return to England with his Duchess,

so that the future heir to the throne might be born on English soil; he

had been rewarded with a baronetcy as a cheap method of paying his

services. Another, my father's first cousin once removed, a young

barrister, had successfully pleaded a suit in which was concerned the

huge fortune of a miserly relative, and had thus laid the foundations of

a great success; he won for himself a vice-chancellorship and a

knighthood, and then the Lord Chancellorship of England, with the barony

of Hatherley. A third, a brother of the last, Western Wood, was doing

good service in the House of Commons. A fourth, a cousin of the last two,

had thrown himself with such spirit and energy into mining work, that he

had accumulated a fortune. In fact all the scattered branches had made

their several ways in the world, save that elder one to which my father

belonged. That had vegetated on down in the country, and had grown poorer

while the others grew richer. My father's brothers had somewhat of a

fight for life. One has prospered and is comfortable and well-to-do. The

other led for years a rough and wandering life, and "came to grief"

generally. Some years ago I heard of him as a store-keeper in Portsmouth

dock-yard, occasionally boasting in feeble fashion that his cousin was

Lord Chancellor of England, and not many months since I heard from him in

South Africa, where he has secured some appointment in the Commissariat

Department, not, I fear, of a very lucrative character.


Let us come back to Pheasantina, who, I am told, was a delicate and

somewhat fractious infant, giving to both father and mother considerable

cause for anxiety. Her first attempts at rising in the world were

attended with disaster, for as she was lying in a cradle, with carved

iron canopy, and was for a moment left by her nurse in full faith that

she could not rise from the recumbent position, Miss Pheasantina

determined to show that she was capable of unexpected independence, and

made a vigorous struggle to assume that upright position which is the

proud prerogative of man. In another moment the recumbent position was

re-assumed, and the nurse returning found the baby's face covered with

blood, streaming from a severe wound on the forehead, the iron fretwork

having proved harder than the baby's head. The scar remains down to the

present time, and gives me the valuable peculiarity of only wrinkling up

one side of my forehead when I raise my eyebrows, a feat that I defy any

of my readers to emulate. The heavy cut has, I suppose, so injured the

muscles in that spot that they have lost the normal power of contraction.


My earliest personal recollections are of a house and garden that we

lived in when I was three and four years of age, situated in Grove Road,

St. John's Wood. I can remember my mother hovering round the dinner-table

to see that all was bright for the home-coming husband; my brother--two

years older than myself--and I watching "for papa"; the loving welcome,

the game of romps that always preceded the dinner of the elder folks. I

can remember on the first of October, 1851, jumping up in my little cot,

and shouting out triumphantly: "Papa! mamma! I am four years old!" and

the grave demand of my brother, conscious of superior age, at

dinner-time: "May not Annie have a knife to-day, as she is four years



It was a sore grievance during that same year 1851, that I was not judged

old enough to go to the Great Exhibition, and I have a faint memory of my

brother consolingly bringing me home one of those folding pictured strips

that are sold in the streets, on which were imaged glories that I longed

only the more to see. Far-away, dusky, trivial memories, these. What a

pity it is that a baby cannot notice, cannot observe, cannot remember,

and so throw light on the fashion of the dawning of the external world on

the human consciousness. If only we could remember how things looked when

they were first imaged on the retinae; what we felt when first we became

conscious of the outer world; what the feeling was as faces of father and

mother grew out of the surrounding chaos and became familiar things,

greeted with a smile, lost with a cry; if only memory would not become a

mist when in later years we strive to throw our glances backward into the

darkness of our infancy, what lessons we might learn to help our

stumbling psychology, how many questions might be solved whose answers we

are groping for in vain.







The next scene that stands out clearly against the background of the past

is that of my father's death-bed. The events which led to his death I

know from my dear mother. He had never lost his fondness for the

profession for which he had been trained, and having many medical

friends, he would now and then accompany them on their hospital rounds,

or share with them the labors of the dissecting room. It chanced that

during the dissection of the body of a person who had died of rapid

consumption, my father cut his finger against the edge of the

breast-bone. The cut did not heal easily, and the finger became swollen

and inflamed. "I would have that finger off, Wood, if I were you," said

one of the surgeons, a day or two afterwards, on seeing the state of the

wound. But the others laughed at the suggestion, and my father, at first

inclined to submit to the amputation, was persuaded to "leave Nature



About the middle of August, 1852, he got wet through, riding on the top

of an omnibus, and the wetting resulted in a severe cold, which "settled

on his chest". One of the most eminent doctors of the day, as able as he

was rough in manner, was called to see him. He examined him carefully,

sounded his lungs, and left the room followed by my mother. "Well?" she

asked, scarcely anxious as to the answer, save as it might worry her

husband to be kept idly at home. "You must keep up his spirits", was the

thoughtless answer. "He is in a galloping consumption; you will not have

him with you six weeks longer." The wife staggered back, and fell like a

stone on the floor. But love triumphed over agony, and half an hour later

she was again at her husband's side, never to leave it again for ten

minutes at a time, night or day, till he was lying with closed eyes

asleep in death.


I was lifted on to the bed to "say good-bye to dear Papa" on the day

before his death, and I remember being frightened at his eyes which

looked so large, and his voice which sounded so strange, as he made me

promise always to be "a very good girl to darling Mamma, as Papa was

going right away". I remember insisting that "Papa should kiss Cherry", a

doll given me on my birthday, three days before, by his direction, and

being removed, crying and struggling, from the room. He died on the

following day, October 5th, and I do not think that my elder brother and

I--who were staying at our maternal grandfather's--went to the house

again until the day of the funeral. With the death, my mother broke down,

and when all was over they carried her senseless from the room. I

remember hearing afterwards how, when she recovered her senses, she

passionately insisted on being left alone, and locked herself into her

room for the night; and how on the following morning her mother, at last

persuading her to open the door, started back at the face she saw with

the cry: "Good God! Emily! your hair is white!" It was even so; her hair,

black, glossy and abundant, which, contrasting with her large grey eyes,

had made her face so strangely attractive, had turned grey in that night

of agony, and to me my mother's face is ever framed in exquisite silver

bands of hair as white as the driven unsullied snow.


I have heard that the love between my father and mother was a very

beautiful thing, and it most certainly stamped her character for life. He

was keenly intellectual, and splendidly educated; a mathematician and a

good classical scholar, thoroughly master of French, German, Italian,

Spanish, and Portuguese, with a smattering of Hebrew and Gaelic, the

treasures of ancient and of modern literature were his daily household

delight. Nothing pleased him so well as to sit with his wife, reading

aloud to her while she worked; now translating from some foreign poet,

now rolling forth melodiously the exquisite cadences of Queen Mab.

Student of philosophy as he was, he was deeply and steadily sceptical;

and a very religious relative has told me that he often drove her from

the room by his light playful mockery of the tenets of the Christian

faith. His mother and sister were strict Roman Catholics, and near the

end forced a priest into his room, but the priest was promptly ejected by

the wrath of the dying man, and by the almost fierce resolve of the wife

that no messenger of the creed he detested should trouble her darling at

the last.


This scepticism of his was not wholly shared by his wife, who held to the

notion that women should be "religious," while men might philosophise as

they would; but it so deeply influenced her own intellectual life that

she utterly rejected the most irrational dogmas of Christianity, such as

eternal punishment, the vicarious atonement of Christ, the doctrine that

faith is necessary to salvation, the equality of Christ with God, the

infallibility of the Bible; she made morality of life, not orthodoxy of

belief, her measure of "religion"; she was "a Christian", in her own view

of the matter, but it was a Christian of the school of Jowett, of

Colenso, and of Stanley. The latter writer had for her, in after years,

the very strongest fascination, and I am not sure that his "variegated

use of words", so fiercely condemned by Dr. Pusey, did not exactly suit

her own turn of mind, which shrank back intellectually from the crude

dogmas of orthodox Christianity, but clung poetically to the artistic

side of religion, to its art and to its music, to the grandeur of its

glorious fanes, and the solemnity of its stately ritual. She detested the

meretricious show, the tinsel gaudiness, the bowing and genuflecting, the

candles and the draperies, of Romanism, and of its pinchbeck imitator

Ritualism; but I doubt whether she knew any keener pleasure than to sit

in one of the carved stalls of Westminster Abbey, listening to the

polished sweetness of Dean Stanley's exquisite eloquence; or to the

thunder of the organ mingled with the voices of the white-robed

choristers, as the music rose and fell, as it pealed up to the arched

roof and lost itself in the carven fretwork, or died away softly among

the echoes of the chapels in which kings and saints and sages lay

sleeping, enshrining in themselves the glories and the sorrows of the



To return to October, 1852. On the day of the funeral my elder brother

and I were taken back to the house where my father lay dead, and while my

brother went as chief mourner, poor little boy swamped in crape and

miserable exceedingly, I sat in an upstairs room with my mother and her

sisters; and still comes back to me her figure, seated on a sofa, with

fixed white face and dull vacant eyes, counting the minutes till the

funeral procession would have reached Kensal Green, and then following in

mechanical fashion, prayer-book in hand, the service, stage by stage,

until to my unspeakable terror, with the words, dully spoken, "It is all

over", she fell back fainting. And here comes a curious psychological

problem which has often puzzled me. Some weeks later she resolved to go

and see her husband's grave. A relative who had been present at the

funeral volunteered to guide her to the spot, but lost his way in that

wilderness of graves. Another of the small party went off to find one of

the officials and to enquire, and my mother said: "If you will take me to

the chapel where the first part of the service was read, I will find the

grave". To humor her whim, he led her thither, and, looking round for a

moment or two, she started from the chapel, followed the path along which

the corpse had been borne, and was standing by the newly-made grave when

the official arrived to point it out. Her own explanation was that she

had seen all the service; what is certain is, that she had never been to

Kensal Green before, and that she walked steadily to the grave from the

chapel. Whether the spot had been carefully described to her, whether she

had heard others talking of its position or not, we could never

ascertain; she had no remembrance of any such description, and the matter

always remained to us a problem. But after the lapse of years a hundred

little things may have been forgotten which unconsciously served as

guides at the time. She must have been, of course, at that time, in a

state of abnormal nervous excitation, a state of which another proof was

shortly afterwards given. The youngest of our little family was a boy

about three years younger than myself, a very beautiful child, blue-eyed

and golden haired--I have still a lock of his hair, of exquisite pale

golden hue--and the little lad was passionately devoted to his father. He

was always a delicate boy, and had I suppose, therefore, been specially

petted, and he fretted continually for "papa". It is probable that the

consumptive taint had touched him, for he pined steadily away, with no

marked disease, during the winter months. One morning my mother calmly

stated: "Alf is going to die". It was in vain that it was urged on her

that with the spring strength would return to the child. "No", she

persisted. "He was lying asleep in my arms last night, and William came

to me and said that he wanted Alf with him, but that I might keep the

other two." She had in her a strong strain of Celtic superstition, and

thoroughly believed that this "vision"--a most natural dream under the

circumstances--was a direct "warning", and that her husband had come to

her to tell her of her approaching loss. This belief was, in her eyes,

thoroughly justified by the little fellow's death in the following March,

calling to the end for "Papa! papa!" My brother and I were allowed to see

him just before he was placed in his coffin; I can see him still, so

white and beautiful, with a black spot in the middle of the fair waxen

forehead, and I remember the deadly cold which startled me when I was

told to kiss my little brother. It was the first time that I had touched

Death. That black spot made a curious impression on me, and long

afterwards, asking what had caused it, I was told that at the moment

after his death my mother had passionately kissed the baby brow. Pathetic

thought, that the mother's kiss of farewell should have been marked by

the first sign of corruption on the child's face.


And now began my mother's time of struggle and of anxiety. Hitherto,

since her marriage, she had known no money troubles, for her husband was

earning a good income; he was apparently vigorous and well: no thought of

anxiety clouded their future. When he died, he believed that he left his

wife and children safe, at least, from pecuniary distress. It was not so.

I know nothing of the details, but the outcome of all was that nothing

was left for the widow and children, save a trifle of ready money. The

resolve to which, my mother came was characteristic. Two of her husband's

relatives, Western and Sir William Wood, offered to educate her son at a

good city school, and to start him in commercial life, using their great

city influence to push him forward. But the young lad's father and mother

had talked of a different future for their eldest boy; he was to go to a

public school, and then to the University, and was to enter one of the

"learned professions"--to take orders, the mother wished; to go to the

Bar, the father hoped. On his death-bed there was nothing more earnestly

urged by my father than that Harry should receive the best possible

education, and the widow was resolute to fulfil that last wish. In her

eyes, a city school was not "the best possible education", and the Irish

pride rebelled against the idea of her son not being "a University man".

Many were the lectures poured out on the young widow's head about her

"foolish pride", especially by the female members of the Wood family; and

her persistence in her own way caused a considerable alienation between

herself and them. But Western and William, though half-disapproving,

remained her friends, and lent many a helping hand to her in her first

difficult struggles. After much cogitation, she resolved that the boy

should be educated at Harrow, where the fees are comparatively low to

lads living in the town, and that he should go thence to Cambridge or to

Oxford, as his tastes should direct. A bold scheme for a penniless widow,

but carried out to the letter; for never dwelt in a delicate body a more

resolute mind and will than that of my dear mother.


In a few months' time--during which we lived, poorly enough, in Richmond

Terrace, Clapham, close to her father and mother--to Harrow, then, she

betook herself, into lodgings over a grocer's shop, and set herself to

look for a house. This grocer was a very pompous man, fond of long words,

and patronised the young widow exceedingly, and one day my mother related

with much amusement how he had told her that she was sure to get on if

she worked hard. "Look at me!" he said swelling visibly with importance;

"I was once a poor boy, without a penny of my own, and now I am a

comfortable man, and have my submarine villa to go to every evening".

That "submarine villa" was an object of amusement when we passed it in

our walks for many a long day. "There is Mr. ----'s submarine villa",

some one would say, laughing: and I, too, used to laugh merrily, because

my elders did, though my understanding of the difference between suburban

and submarine was on a par with that of the honest grocer.


My mother had fortunately found a boy, whose parents were glad to place

him in her charge, of about the age of her own son, to educate with him;

and by this means she was able to pay for a tutor, to prepare the two

boys for school. The tutor had a cork leg, which was a source of serious

trouble to me, for it stuck out straight behind when we knelt down to

family prayers--conduct which struck me as irreverent and unbecoming, but

which I always felt a desire to imitate. After about a year, my mother

found a house which she thought would suit her scheme, namely, to obtain

permission from Dr. Vaughan, the then Head Master of Harrow, to take some

boys into her house, and so gain means of education for her own son. Dr.

Vaughan, who must have been won by the gentle, strong, little woman, from

that time forth became her earnest friend and helper; and to the counsel

and active assistance both of himself and of his wife, was due much of

the success that crowned her toil. He made only one condition in granting

the permission she asked, and that was, that she should also have in her

house one of the masters of the school, so that the boys should not

suffer from the want of a house-tutor. This condition, of course, she

readily accepted, and the arrangement lasted for ten years, until after

her son had left school for Cambridge.


The house she took is now, I am sorry to say, pulled down, and replaced

by a hideous red-brick structure. It was very old and rambling,

rose-covered in front, ivy-covered behind; it stood on the top of Harrow

Hill, between the church and the school, and had once been the vicarage

of the parish, but the vicar had left it because it was so far removed

from the part of the village where all his work lay. The drawing-room

opened by an old-fashioned half-window, half-door--which proved a

constant source of grief to me, for whenever I had on a new frock I

always tore it on the bolt as I flew through it--into a large garden

which sloped down one side of the hill, and was filled with the most

delightful old trees, fir and laurel, may, mulberry, hazel, apple, pear,

and damson, not to mention currant and gooseberry bushes innumerable, and

large strawberry beds spreading down the sunny slopes. There was not a

tree there that I did not climb, and one, a widespreading Portugal

laurel, was my private country house. I had there my bedroom and my

sitting-rooms, my study, and my larder. The larder was supplied by the

fruit-trees, from which I was free to pick as I would, and in the study I

would sit for hours with some favorite book--Milton's "Paradise Lost" the

chief favorite of all. The birds must often have felt startled, when from

the small swinging form perching on a branch, came out in childish tones

the "Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers", of Milton's

stately and sonorous verse. I liked to personify Satan, and to declaim

the grand speeches of the hero-rebel, and many a happy hour did I pass in

Milton's heaven and hell, with for companions Satan and "the Son",

Gabriel and Abdiel. Then there was a terrace running by the side of the

churchyard, always dry in the wettest weather, and bordered by an old

wooden fence, over which clambered roses of every shade; never was such a

garden for roses as that of the Old Vicarage. At the end of the terrace

was a little summer-house, and in this a trap-door in the fence, which

swung open and displayed one of the fairest views in England. Sheer from

your feet downwards went the hill, and then far below stretched the

wooded country till your eye reached the towers of Windsor Castle, far

away on the horizon. It was the view at which Byron was never tired of

gazing, as he lay on the flat tombstone close by--Byron's tomb, as it is

still called--of which he wrote:


"Again I behold where for hours I have pondered,

   As reclining, at eve, on yon tombstone I lay,

Or round the steep brow of the churchyard I wandered,

   To catch the last gleam of the sun's setting ray."


Reader mine, if ever you go to Harrow, ask permission to enter the old

garden, and try the effect of that sudden burst of beauty, as you swing

back the small trap-door at the terrace end.


Into this house we moved on my eighth birthday, and for eleven years it

was "home" to me, left always with regret, returned to always with joy.


Almost immediately afterwards I left my mother for the first time; for

one day, visiting a family who lived close by, I found a stranger sitting

in the drawing-room, a lame lady with, a strong face, which softened

marvellously as she smiled at the child who came dancing in; she called

me to her presently, and took me on her lap and talked to me, and on the

following day our friend came to see my mother, to ask if she would let

me go away and be educated with this lady's niece, coming home for the

holidays regularly, but leaving my education in her hands. At first my

mother would not hear of it, for she and I scarcely ever left each other;

my love for her was an idolatry, hers for me a devotion. [A foolish

little story, about which I was unmercifully teased for years, marked

that absolute idolatry of her, which has not yet faded from my heart. In

tenderest rallying one day of the child who trotted after her everywhere,

content to sit, or stand, or wait, if only she might touch hand or dress

of "mamma," she said: "Little one (the name by which she always called

me), if you cling to mamma in this way, I must really get a string and

tie you to my apron, and how will you like that?" "O mamma darling," came

the fervent answer, "do let it be in a knot." And, indeed, the tie of

love between us was so tightly knotted that nothing ever loosened it till

the sword of Death cut that which pain and trouble never availed to

slacken in the slightest degree.] But it was urged upon her that the

advantages of education offered were such as no money could purchase for

me; that it would be a disadvantage for me to grow up in a houseful of

boys--and, in truth, I was as good a cricketer and climber as the best of

them--that my mother would soon be obliged to send me to school, unless

she accepted an offer which gave me every advantage of school without its

disadvantages. At last she yielded, and it was decided that Miss Marryat,

on returning home, should take me with her.


Miss Marryat--the favorite sister of Captain Marryat, the famous

novelist--was a maiden lady of large means. She had nursed her brother

through the illness that ended in his death, and had been living with her

mother at Wimbledon Park. On her mother's death she looked round for work

which would make her useful in the world, and finding that one of her

brothers had a large family of girls, she offered to take charge of one

of them, and to educate her thoroughly. Chancing to come to Harrow, my

good fortune threw me in her way, and she took a fancy to me and thought

she would like to teach two little girls rather than one. Hence her offer

to my mother.


Miss Marryat had a perfect genius for teaching, and took in it the

greatest delight. From time to time she added another child to our party,

sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl. At first, with Amy Marryat and myself,

there was a little boy, Walter Powys, son of a clergyman with a large

family, and him she trained for some years, and then sent him on to

school admirably prepared. She chose "her children"--as she loved to call

us--in very definite fashion. Each must be gently born and gently

trained, but in such position that the education freely given should be a

relief and aid to a slender parental purse. It was her delight to seek

out and aid those on whom poverty presses most heavily, when the need for

education for the children weighs on the proud and the poor. "Auntie" we

all called her, for she thought "Miss Marryat" seemed too cold and stiff.

She taught us everything herself except music, and for this she had a

master, practising us in composition, in recitation, in reading aloud

English and French, and later, German, devoting herself to training us in

the soundest, most thorough fashion. No words of mine can tell how much I

owe her, not only of knowledge, bit of that love of knowledge which has

remained with me ever since as a constant spur to study.


Her method of teaching may be of interest to some, who desire to train

children with the least pain, and the most enjoyment to the little ones

themselves. First, we never used a spelling-book--that torment of the

small child--nor an English grammar. But we wrote letters, telling of the

things we had seen in our walks, or told again some story we had read;

these childish compositions she would read over with us, correcting all

faults of spelling, of grammar, of style, of cadence; a clumsy sentence

would be read aloud, that we might hear how unmusical it sounded; an

error in observation or expression pointed out. Then, as the letters

recorded what we had seen the day before, the faculty of observation was

drawn out and trained. "Oh, dear! I have nothing to say!" would come from

a small child, hanging over a slate. "Did you not go out for a walk

yesterday?" Auntie would question. "Yes", would be sighed out; "but

there's nothing to say about it". "Nothing to say! And you walked in the

lanes for an hour and saw nothing, little No-eyes? You must use your eyes

better to-day." Then there was a very favorite "lesson", which proved an

excellent way of teaching spelling. We used to write out lists of all the

words we could think of, which sounded the same but were differently

spelt. Thus: "key, quay," "knight, night," and so on; and great was the

glory of the child who found the largest number. Our French lessons--as

the German later--included reading from the very first. On the day on

which we began German we began reading Schiller's "Wilhelm Tell," and the

verbs given to us to copy out were those that had occurred in the

reading. We learned much by heart, but always things that in themselves

were worthy to be learned. We were never given the dry questions and

answers which lazy teachers so much affect. We were taught history by one

reading aloud while the others worked--the boys as well as the girls

learning the use of the needle. "It's like a girl to sew," said a little

fellow, indignantly, one day. "It is like a baby to have to run after a

girl if you want a button sewn on," quoth Auntie. Geography was learned

by painting skeleton maps--an exercise much delighted in by small

fingers--and by putting together puzzle maps, in which countries in the

map of a continent, or counties in the map of a country, were always cut

out in their proper shapes. I liked big empires in those days; there was

a solid satisfaction in putting down Russia, and seeing what a large part

of the map was filled up thereby.


The only grammar that we ever learned as grammar was the Latin, and that

not until composition had made us familiar with the use of the rules

therein given. Auntie had a great horror of children learning by rote

things they did not understand, and then fancying they knew them. "What

do you mean by that expression, Annie?" she would ask me. After feeble

attempts to explain, I would answer: "Indeed, Auntie, I know in my own

head, but I can't explain". "Then, indeed, Annie, you do not know in your

own head, or you could explain, so that I might know in my own head." And

so a healthy habit was fostered of clearness of thought and of

expression. The Latin grammar was used because it was more perfect than

the modern grammars, and served as a solid foundation for modern



Miss Marryat took a beautiful place, Fern Hill, near Charmouth, in

Dorsetshire, on the borders of Devon, and there she lived for some five

years, a centre of beneficence in the district. She started a

Sunday-school, and a Bible-class after a while for the lads too old for

the school, who clamored for admission to her class in it. She visited

the poor, taking help wherever she went, and sending food from her own

table to the sick. It was characteristic of her that she would never give

"scraps" to the poor, but would have a basin brought in at dinner, and

would cut the best slice to tempt the invalid appetite. Money she rarely,

if ever, gave, but she would find a day's work, or busy herself to seek

permanent employment for anyone asking aid. Stern in rectitude herself,

and iron to the fawning or the dishonest, her influence, whether she was

feared or loved, was always for good. Of the strictest sect of the

Evangelicals, she was an Evangelical. On the Sunday no books were allowed

save the Bible or the "Sunday at Home"; but she would try to make the day

bright by various little devices; by a walk with her in the garden; by

the singing of hymns, always attractive to children; by telling us

wonderful missionary stories of Moffat and Livingstone, whose adventures

with savages and wild beasts were as exciting as any tale of Mayne

Reid's. We used to learn passages from the Bible and hymns for

repetition; a favorite amusement was a "Bible puzzle", such as a

description of some Bible scene, which was to be recognised by the

description. Then we taught in the Sunday-school, for Auntie would tell

us that it was useless for us to learn if we did not try to help those

who had no one to teach them. The Sunday-school lessons had to be

carefully prepared on the Saturday, for we were always taught that work

given to the poor should be work that cost something to the giver. This

principle, regarded by her as an illustration of the text, "Shall I give

unto the Lord my God that which has cost me nothing?" ran through all her

precept and her practice. When in some public distress we children went

to her crying, and asking whether we could not help the little children

who were starving, her prompt reply was: "What will you give up for

them?" And then she said that if we liked to give up the use of sugar, we

might thus each save 6d. a week to give away. I doubt if a healthier

lesson can be given to children than that of personal self-denial for the

good of others.


Daily, when our lessons were over, we had plenty of fun; long walks and

rides, rides on a lively pony, who found small children most amusing, and

on which the coachman taught us to stick firmly, whatever his

eccentricities of the moment; delightful all-day picnics in the lovely

country round Charmouth, Auntie our merriest playfellow. Never was a

healthier home, physically and mentally, made for young things than in

that quiet village. And then the delight of the holidays! The pride of my

mother at the good report of her darling's progress, and the renewal of

acquaintance with every nook and corner in the dear old house and garden.







The strong and intense Evangelicalism of Miss Marryat colored the whole

of my early religious thought. I was naturally enthusiastic and fanciful,

and was apt to throw myself strongly into the current of the emotional

life around me, and hence I easily reflected the stern and narrow creed

which ruled over my daily life. It was to me a matter of the most intense

regret that Christians did not go about as in the "Pilgrim's Progress",

armed to do battle with Apollyon and Giant Despair, or fight through a

whole long day against thronging foes, until night brought victory and

release. It would have been so easy, I used to think, to do tangible

battle of that sort, so much easier than to learn lessons, and keep one's

temper, and mend one's stockings. Quick to learn, my lessons of Bible and

Prayer Book gave me no trouble, and I repeated page after page with

little labor and much credit. I remember being praised for my love of the

Bible, because I had learned by heart all the epistle of St. James's,

while, as a matter of fact, the desire to distinguish myself was a far

more impelling motive than any love of "the holy book;" the dignified

cadences pleased my ear, and were swiftly caught and reproduced, and I

was proud of the easy fashion in which I mastered and recited page after

page. Another source of "carnal pride"--little suspected, I fear, by my

dear instructress--was found in the often-recurring prayer meetings. In

these the children were called on to take a part, and we were bidden pray

aloud; this proceeding was naturally a sore trial, and being endued with

an inordinate amount of "false pride"--the fear of appearing ridiculous,

_i.e._, with self conceit--it was a great trouble when the summons came:

"Annie dear, will you speak to our Lord". But the plunge once made, and

the trembling voice steadied, enthusiasm and facility for cadenced speech

always swallowed up the nervous "fear of breaking down", and I fear me

that the prevailing thought was more often that God must think I prayed

very nicely, than that I was a "miserable sinner", asking "pardon for the

sake of Jesus Christ". The sense of sin, the contrition for man's fallen

state, which are required by Evangelicalism, can never be truly felt by

any child; but whenever a sensitive, dreamy, and enthusiastic child comes

under strong Evangelistic influence, it is sure to manifest "signs of

saving grace". As far as I can judge now, the total effect of the

Calvinistic training was to make me somewhat morbid, but this tendency

was counteracted by the healthier tone of my mother's thought, and the

natural gay buoyancy of my nature rose swiftly whenever the pressure of

the teaching that I was "a child of sin", and could "not naturally please

God", was removed.


In the spring of 1861, Miss Marryat announced her intention of going

abroad, and asked my dear mother to let me accompany her. A little nephew

whom she had adopted was suffering from cataract, and she desired to

place him under the care of the famous Düsseldorf oculist. Amy Marryat

had been recalled home soon after the death of her mother, who had died

in giving birth to the child adopted by Miss Marryat, and named at her

desire after her favorite brother Frederick (Captain Marryat). Her place

had been taken by a girl a few months older than myself, Emma Mann, one

of the daughters of a clergyman who had married a Miss Stanley, closely

related, indeed if I remember rightly, a sister of the Miss Mary Stanley

who did such noble work in nursing in the Crimea.


For some months we had been diligently studying German, for Miss Marryat

thought it wise that we should know a language fairly well before we

visited the country of which it was the native tongue. We had been

trained also to talk French daily during dinner, so we were not quite

"helpless foreigners" when we steamed away from St. Catherine's Docks,

and found ourselves on the following day in Antwerp, amid what seemed to

us a very Babel of conflicting tongues. Alas for our carefully spoken

French, articulated laboriously. We were lost in that swirl of disputing

luggage-porters, and could not understand a word! But Miss Marryat was

quite equal to the occasion, being by no means new to travelling, and her

French stood the test triumphantly, and steered us safely to a hotel. On

the morrow we started again through Aix-la-Chapelle to Bonn, the town

which lies on the borders of the exquisite scenery of which the

Siebengebirge and Rolandseck serve as the magic portal. Our experiences

in Bonn were not wholly satisfactory. Dear Auntie was a maiden lady,

looking on all young men as wolves to be kept far from her growing lambs.

Bonn was a university town, and there was a mania just then prevailing

there for all things English. Emma was a plump, rosy, fair-haired typical

English maiden, full of frolic and harmless fun; I a very slight, pale,

black-haired girl, alternating between wild fun and extreme pensiveness.

In the boarding-house to which we went at first--the "Château du Rhin", a

beautiful place overhanging the broad blue Rhine--there chanced to be

staying the two sons of the late Duke of Hamilton, the Marquis of Douglas

and Lord Charles, with their tutor. They had the whole drawing-room

floor: we a sitting-room on the ground floor and bedrooms above. The lads

discovered that Miss Marryat did not like her "children" to be on

speaking terms with any of the "male sect". Here was a fine source of

amusement. They would make their horses caracole on the gravel in front

of our window; they would be just starting for their ride as we went for

walk or drive, and would salute us with doffed hat and low bow; they

would waylay us on our way downstairs with demure "Good morning"; they

would go to church and post themselves so that they could survey our pew,

and Lord Charles--who possessed the power of moving at will the whole

skin of the scalp--would wriggle his hair up and down till we were

choking with laughter, to our own imminent risk. After a month of this,

Auntie was literally driven out of the pretty _Château_, and took refuge

in a girls' school, much to our disgust, but still she was not allowed to

be at rest. Mischievous students would pursue us wherever we went;

sentimental Germans, with gashed cheeks, would whisper complimentary

phrases as we passed; mere boyish nonsense of most harmless kind, but the

rather stern English lady thought it "not proper", and after three months

of Bonn we were sent home for the holidays, somewhat in disgrace. But we

had some lovely excursions during those months; such clambering up

mountains, such rows on the swift-flowing Rhine, such wanderings in

exquisite valleys. I have a long picture-gallery to retire into when I

want to think of something fair, in recalling the moon as it silvered the

Rhine at the foot of Drachenfels, or the soft mist-veiled island where

dwelt the lady who is consecrated for ever by Roland's love.


A couple of months later we rejoined Miss Marryat in Paris, where we

spent seven happy workful months. On Wednesdays and Saturdays we were

free from lessons, and many a long afternoon was passed in the galleries

of the Louvre, till we became familiar with the masterpieces of art

gathered there from all lands. I doubt if there was a beautiful church in

Paris that we did not visit during those weekly wanderings; that of St.

Germain de l'Auxerrois was my favorite--the church whose bell gave the

signal for the massacre of St. Bartholomew--for it contained such

marvellous stained glass, deepest purest glory of color that I had ever

seen. The solemn beauty of Notre Dame, the somewhat gaudy magnificence of

La Sainte Chapelle, the stateliness of La Madeleine, the impressive gloom

of St. Roch, were all familiar to us. Other delights were found in

mingling with the bright crowds which passed along the Champs Elysées and

sauntered in the Bois de Boulogne, in strolling in the garden of the

Tuileries, in climbing to the top of every monument whence view of Paris

could be gained. The Empire was then in its heyday of glitter, and we

much enjoyed seeing the brilliant escort of the imperial carriage, with

plumes and gold and silver dancing and glistening in the sunlight, while

in the carriage sat the exquisitely lovely empress with the little boy

beside her, touching his cap shyly, but with something of her own grace,

in answer to a greeting--the boy who was thought to be born to an

imperial crown, but whose brief career was to find an ending from the

spears of savages in a quarrel in which he had no concern.


In the spring of 1862 it chanced that the Bishop of Ohio visited Paris,

and Mr. Forbes, then English chaplain at the Church of the Rue

d'Aguesseau, arranged to have a confirmation. As said above, I was under

deep "religious impressions", and, in fact, with the exception of that

little aberration in Germany, I was decidedly a pious girl. I looked on

theatres (never having been to one) as traps set by Satan for the

destruction of foolish souls; I was quite determined never to go to a

ball, and was prepared to "suffer for conscience sake"--little prig that

I was--if I was desired to go to one. I was consequently quite prepared

to take upon myself the vows made in my name at my baptism, and to

renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, with a heartiness and

sincerity only equalled by my profound ignorance of the things I so

readily resigned. That confirmation was to me a very solemn matter; the

careful preparation, the prolonged prayers, the wondering awe as to the

"sevenfold gifts of the Spirit", which were to be given by "the laying on

of hands", all tended to excitement. I could scarcely control myself as I

knelt at the altar rails, and felt as though the gentle touch of the aged

Bishop, which fluttered for an instant on my bowed head, were the very

touch of the wing of that "Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove", whose presence

had been so earnestly invoked. Is there anything easier, I wonder, than

to make a young and sensitive girl "intensely religious".


My mother came over for the confirmation and for the "first communion" on

Easter Sunday, and we had a delightful fortnight together, returning home

after we had wandered hand-in-hand over all my favorite haunts. The

summer of 1862 was spent with Miss Marryat at Sidmouth, and, wise woman

that she was, she now carefully directed our studies with a view to our

coming enfranchisement from the "school-room." More and more were we

trained to work alone; our leading-strings were slackened, so that we

never felt them save when we blundered; and I remember that when I once

complained, in loving fashion, that she was "teaching me so little", she

told me that I was getting old enough to be trusted to work by myself,

and that I must not expect to "have Auntie for a crutch all through

life". And I venture to say that this gentle withdrawal of constant

supervision and teaching was one of the wisest and kindest things that

this noble-hearted woman ever did for us. It is the usual custom to keep

girls in the school-room until they "come out"; then, suddenly, they are

left to their own devices, and, bewildered by their unaccustomed freedom,

they waste time that might be priceless for their intellectual growth.

Lately, the opening of universities to women has removed this danger for

the more ambitious; but at the time of which I am writing no one dreamed

of the changes soon to be made in the direction of the "higher education

of women".


During the winter of 1862-1863 Miss Marryat was in London, and for a few

months I remained there with her, attending the admirable French classes

of M. Roche. In the spring I returned home to Harrow, going up each week

to the classes; and when these were over, Auntie told me that she thought

all she could usefully do was done, and that it was time that I should

try my wings alone. So well, however, had she succeeded in her aims, that

my emancipation from the school-room was but the starting-point of more

eager study, though now the study turned into the lines of thought

towards which my personal tendencies most attracted me. German I

continued to read with a master, and music, under the marvellously able

teaching of Mr. John Farmer, musical director of Harrow School, took up

much of my time. My dear mother had a passion for music, and Beethoven

and Bach were her favorite composers. There was scarcely a sonata of

Beethoven's that I did not learn, scarcely a fugue of Bach's that I did

not master. Mendelssohn's "Lieder" gave a lighter recreation, and many a

happy evening did we spend, my mother and I, over the stately strains of

the blind Titan, and the sweet melodies of the German wordless orator.

Musical "At Homes", too, were favorite amusements at Harrow, and at these

my facile fingers made me a welcome guest.


A very pleasant place was Harrow to a light-hearted serious-brained girl.

The picked men of the Schools of Oxford and Cambridge came there as

junior masters, so that one's partners at ball and croquet and archery

could talk as well as flirt. Never girl had, I venture to say, a brighter

girlhood than mine. Every morning and much of the afternoon spent in

eager earnest study: evenings in merry party or quiet home-life, one as

delightful as the other. Archery and croquet had in me a most devoted

disciple, and the "pomps and vanities" of the ballroom found the happiest

of votaries. My darling mother certainly "spoiled" me, so far as were

concerned all the small roughnesses of life. She never allowed a trouble

of any kind to touch me, and cared only that all worries should fall on

her, all joys on me. I know now what I never dreamed then, that her life

was one of serious anxiety. The heavy burden of my brother's school and

college-life pressed on her constantly, and her need of money was often

serious. A lawyer whom she trusted absolutely cheated her systematically,

using for his own purposes the remittances she made for payment of

liabilities, thus keeping upon her a constant drain. Yet for me all that

was wanted was ever there. Was it a ball to which we were going? I need

never think of what I would wear till the time for dressing arrived, and

there laid out ready for me was all I wanted, every detail complete from

top to toe. No hand but hers must dress my hair, which, loosed, fell in

dense curly masses nearly to my knees; no hand but hers must fasten dress

and deck with flowers, and if I sometimes would coaxingly ask if I might

not help by sewing in laces, or by doing some trifle in aid, she would

kiss me and bid me run to my books or my play, telling me that her only

pleasure in life was caring for her "treasure". Alas! how lightly we take

the self-denying labor that makes life so easy, ere yet we have known

what life means when the protecting mother-wing is withdrawn. So guarded

and shielded had been my childhood and youth from every touch of pain and

anxiety that love could bear for me, that I never dreamed that life might

be a heavy burden, save as I saw it in the poor I was sent to help; all

the joy of those happy years I took, not ungratefully I hope, but

certainly with as glad unconsciousness of anything rare in it as I took

the sunlight. Passionate love, indeed, I gave to my darling, but I never

knew all I owed her till I passed out of her tender guardianship, till I

left my mother's home. Is such training wise? I am not sure. It makes the

ordinary roughnesses of life come with so stunning a shock, when one goes

out into the world, that one is apt to question whether some earlier

initiation into life's sterner mysteries would not be wiser for the

young. Yet it is a fair thing to have that joyous youth to look back

upon, and at least it is a treasury of memory that no thief can steal in

the struggles of later life.


During those happy years my brain was given plenty of exercise. I used to

keep a list of the books I read, so that I might not neglect my work; and

finding a "Library of the Fathers" on the shelves, I selected that for

one _piéce de résistance_. Soon those strange mystic writers won over me

a great fascination, and I threw myself ardently into a study of the

question: "Where is now the Catholic Church?". I read Pusey, and Liddon,

and Keble, with many another of that school, and many of the seventeenth

century English divines. I began to fast--to the intense disapproval of

my mother, who cared for my health far more than for all the Fathers the

Church could boast of--to use the sign of the cross, to go to weekly

communion. Indeed, the contrast I found between my early Evangelical

training and the doctrines of the Primitive Christian Church would have

driven me over to Rome, had it not been for the proofs afforded by Pusey

and his co-workers, that the English Church might be Catholic although

non-Roman. But for them I should most certainly have joined the Papal

Communion; for if the Church of the early centuries be compared with Rome

and with Geneva, there is no doubt that Rome shows marks of primitive

Christianity of which Geneva is entirely devoid. I became content when I

found that the practices and doctrines of the Anglican Church could be

knitted on to those of the martyrs and confessors of the early Church,

for it had not yet struck me that the early Church might itself be

challenged. To me, at that time, the authority of Jesus was supreme and

unassailable; his apostles were his infallible messengers; Clement of

Rome, Polycarp, and Barnabas, these were the very pupils of the apostles

themselves. I never dreamed of forgeries, of pious frauds, of writings

falsely ascribed to venerated names. Nor do I now regret that so it was;

for, without belief, the study of the early Fathers would be an

intolerable weariness; and that old reading of mine has served me well in

many of my later controversies with Christians, who knew the literature

of their Church less well than I.


To this ecclesiastical reading was added some study of stray scientific

works, but the number of these that came in my way was very limited. The

atmosphere surrounding me was literary rather than scientific. I remember

reading a translation of Plato that gave me great delight, and being

rather annoyed by the insatiable questionings of Socrates. Lord Derby's

translation of the Iliad also charmed me with its stateliness and melody,

and Dante was another favorite study. Wordsworth and Cowper I much

disliked, and into the same category went all the 17th and 18th century

"poets," though I read them conscientiously through. Southey fascinated

me with his wealth of Oriental fancies, while Spencer was a favorite

book, put beside Milton and Dante. My novel reading was extremely

limited; indeed the "three volume novel" was a forbidden fruit. My mother

regarded these ordinary love-stories as unhealthy reading for a young

girl, and gave me Scott and Kingsley, but not Miss Braddon or Mrs. Henry

Wood. Nor would she take me to the theatre, though we went to really good

concerts. She had a horror of sentimentality in girls, and loved to see

them bright and gay, and above all things absolutely ignorant of all evil

things and of premature love-dreams. Happy, healthy and workful were

those too brief years.







My grandfather's house, No. 8, Albert Square, Clapham Road, was a second

home from my earliest childhood.


That house, with its little strip of garden at the back, will always

remain dear and sacred to me. I can see now the two almond trees, so rich

in blossom every spring, so barren in fruit every autumn; the large

spreading tufts of true Irish shamrock, brought from Ireland, and

lovingly planted in the new grey London house, amid the smoke; the little

nooks at the far end, wherein I would sit cosily out of sight reading a

favorite book. Inside it was but a commonplace London house, only one

room, perhaps, differing from any one that might have been found in any

other house in the square. That was my grandfather's "work-room", where

he had a lathe fitted up, for he had a passion and a genius for inventive

work in machinery. He took out patents for all sorts of ingenious

contrivances, but always lost money. His favorite invention was of a

"railway chair", for joining the ends of rails together, and in the

ultimate success of this he believed to his death. It was (and is) used

on several lines, and was found to answer splendidly, but the old man

never derived any profit from his invention. The fact was he had no

money, and those who had took it up and utilised it, and kept all the

profit for themselves. There were several cases in which his patents

dropped, and then others took up his inventions, and made a commercial

success thereof.


A strange man altogether was that grandfather of mine, whom I can only

remember as a grand-looking old man, with snow-white hair and piercing

hawk's eyes. The merriest of wild Irishmen was he in his youth, and I

have often wished that his biography had been written, if only as a

picture of Dublin society at the time. He had an exquisite voice, and one

night he and some of his wild comrades went out singing through the

streets as beggars. Pennies, sixpences, shillings, and even half-crowns

came showering down in recompense of street music of such unusual

excellence; then the young scamps, ashamed of their gains, poured them

all into the hat of a cripple they met, who must have thought that all

the blessed saints were out that night in the Irish capital. On another

occasion he went to the wake of an old woman who had been bent nearly

double by rheumatism, and had been duly "laid out", and tied down firmly,

so as to keep the body straight in the recumbent position. He hid under

the bed, and when the whisky was flowing freely, and the orgie was at its

height, he cut the ropes with a sharp knife, and the old woman suddenly

sat up in bed, frightening the revellers out of their wits, and, luckily

for my grandfather, out of the room. Many such tales would he tell, with

quaint Irish humor, in his later days. He died, from a third stroke of

paralysis, in 1862.


The Morrises were a very "clannish" family, and my grandfather's house

was the London centre. All the family gathered there on each

Christmastide, and on Christmas day was always held high festival. For

long my brother and I were the only grandchildren within reach, and were

naturally made much of. The two sons were out in India, married, with

young families. The youngest daughter was much away from home, and a

second was living in Constantinople, but three others lived with their

father and mother. Bessie, the eldest of the whole family, was a woman of

rigid honor and conscientiousness, but poverty and the struggle to keep

out of debt had soured her, and "Aunt Bessie" was an object of dread, not

of love. One story of her early life will best tell her character. She

was engaged to a young clergyman, and one day when Bessie was at church

he preached a sermon taken without acknowledgment from some old divine.

The girl's keen sense of honor was shocked at the deception, and she

broke off her engagement, but remained unmarried for the rest of her

life. "Careful and troubled about many things" was poor Aunt Bessie, and

I remember being rather shocked one day at hearing her express her

sympathy with Martha, when her sister left her to serve alone, and at her

saying: "I doubt very much whether Jesus would have liked it if Martha

had been lying about on the floor as well as Mary, and there had been no

supper. But there! it's always those who do the work who are scolded,

because they have not time to be as sweet and nice as those who do

nothing." Nor could she ever approve of the treatment of the laborers in

the parable, when those who "had borne the burden and heat of the day"

received but the same wage as those that had worked but one hour. "It was

not just", she would say doggedly. A sad life was hers, for she repelled

all sympathy, and yet later I had reason to believe that she half broke

her heart because none loved her well. She was ever gloomy,

unsympathising, carping, but she worked herself to death for those whose

love she chillily repulsed. She worked till, denying herself every

comfort, she literally dropped. One morning, when she got out of bed, she

fell, and crawling into bed again, quietly said she could do no more; lay

there for some months, suffering horribly with unvarying patience; and

died, rejoicing that at last she would have "rest".


Two other "Aunties" were my playfellows, and I their pet. Minnie, a

brilliant pianiste, earned a precarious livelihood by teaching music. The

long fasts, the facing of all weathers, the weary rides in omnibuses with

soaked feet, broke down at last a splendid constitution, and after some

three years of torture, commencing with a sharp attack of English

cholera, she died the year before my marriage. But during my girlhood she

was the gayest and merriest of my friends, her natural buoyancy

re-asserting itself whenever she could escape from her musical

tread-mill. Great was my delight when she joined my mother and myself for

our spring or summer trips, and when at my favorite St. Leonards--at the

far unfashionable end, right away from the gay watering-place folk--we

settled down for four or five happy weeks of sea and country, and when

Minnie and I scampered over the country on horseback, merry as children

set free from school. My other favorite auntie was of a quieter type, a

soft pretty loving little woman. "Co" we called her, for she was "such a

cosy little thing", her father used to say. She was my mother's favorite

sister, her "child", she would name her, because "Co" was so much her

junior, and when she was a young girl the little child had been her

charge. "Always take care of little Co", was one of my mother's dying

charges to me, and fortunately "little Co" has--though the only one of my

relatives who has done so--clung to me through change of faith, and

through social ostracism. Her love for me, and her full belief that,

however she differed from me, I meant right, have never varied, have

never been shaken. She is intensely religious--as will be seen in the

later story, wherein her life was much woven with mine--but however much

"darling Annie's" views or actions might shock her, it is "darling Annie"

through it all; "You are so good" she said to me the last time I saw her,

looking up at me with all her heart in her eyes; "anyone so good as you

must come to our dear Lord at last!" As though any, save a brute, could

be aught but good to "little Co".


On the Christmas following my eighteenth birthday, a little Mission

Church in which Minnie was much interested, was opened near Albert

Square. My High Church enthusiasm was in full bloom, and the services in

this little Mission Church were "high", whereas those in all the

neighboring churches were "low". A Mr. Hoare, an intensely earnest man,

was working there in most devoted fashion, and was glad to welcome any

aid; we decorated his church, worked ornaments for it, and thought we

were serving God when we were really amusing ourselves in a small place

where our help was over-estimated, and where the clergy, very likely

unconsciously, flattered us for our devotion. Among those who helped to

carry on the services there, was a young undermaster of Stockwell Grammar

School, the rev. Frank Besant, a Cambridge man, who had passed as 28th

wrangler in his year, and who had just taken orders. At Easter we were

again at Albert Square, and devoted much time to the little church,

decking it on Easter Eve with soft yellow tufts of primrose blossom, and

taking much delight in the unbounded admiration bestowed on the dainty

spring blossoms by the poor who crowded in. I made a lovely white cross

for the super-altar with camelias and azaleas and white geraniums, but

after all it was not really as spring-like, as suitable for a

"Resurrection", as the simple sweet wild flowers, still dewy from their

nests in field and glade and lane.


That Easter was memorable to me for another cause. It saw waked and

smothered my first doubt. That some people did doubt the historical

accuracy of the Bible I knew, for one or two of the Harrow masters were

friends of Colenso, the heretic Bishop of Natal, but fresh from my

Patristic studies, I looked on heretics with blind horror, possibly the

stronger from its very vagueness, and its ignorance of what it feared. My

mother objected to my reading controversial books which dealt with the

points at issue between Christianity and Freethought, and I did not care

for her favorite Stanley, who might have widened my views, regarding him

(on the word of Pusey) as "unsound in the faith once delivered to the

saints". I had read Pusey's book on "Daniel the prophet", and, knowing

nothing of the criticisms he attacked, I felt triumphant at his

convincing demonstrations of their error, and felt sure that none but the

wilfully blind could fail to see how weak were the arguments of the

heretic writers. That stately preface of his was one of my favorite

pieces of reading, and his dignified defence against all novelties of

"that which must be old because it is eternal, and must be unchangeable

because it is true", at once charmed and satisfied me. The delightful

vagueness of Stanley, which just suited my mother's broad views, because

it _was_ vague and beautiful, was denounced by Pusey--not unwarrantably--

as that "variegated use of words which destroys all definiteness of

meaning". When she would bid me not be uncharitable to those with whom I

differed in matters of religion, I would answer in his words, that

"charity to error is treason to truth", and that to speak out the truth

unwaveringly as it was revealed, was alone "loyalty to God and charity to

the souls of men".


Judge, then, of my terror at my own results when I found myself betrayed

into writing down some contradictions from the Bible. With that poetic

dreaming which is one of the charms of Catholicism, whether English or

Roman, I threw myself back into the time of the first century as the

"Holy Week" of 1866 approached. In order to facilitate the realisation of

those last sacred days of God incarnate on earth, working out man's

salvation, I resolved to write a brief history of that week, compiled

from the four gospels, meaning then to try and realise each day the

occurrences that had happened on the corresponding date in A.D. 33, and

so to follow those "blessed feet" step by step, till they were


  "... nailed for our advantage to the bitter cross."


With the fearlessness which springs from ignorance I sat down to my

task. My method was as follows:


     MATTHEW.     |      MARK.      |      LUKE.      |     JOHN.

                  |                 |                 |


                  |                 |                 |

Rode into         | Rode into       | Rode into       | Rode into

Jerusalem.        | Jerusalem.      | Jerusalem.      | Jerusalem. Spoke

Purified the      | Returned to     | Purified the    | in the Temple.

Temple. Returned  | Bethany.        | Temple. Note:   |

to Bethany.       |                 | "Taught daily   |

                  |                 | in the Temple". |

                  |                 |                 |

     MONDAY.      |     MONDAY.     |     MONDAY.     |     MONDAY.

                  |                 |                 |

Cursed the fig    | Cursed the fig  | Like Matthew.   |

tree. Taught in   | tree. Purified  |                 |

the Temple, and   | the Temple.     |                 |

spake many        | Went out of     |                 |

parables. No      | city.           |                 |

breaks shown,     |                 |                 |

but the fig tree  |                 |                 |

(xxi., 19) did    |                 |                 |

not wither till   |                 |                 |

Tuesday (see      |                 |                 |

Mark).            |                 |                 |

                  |                 |                 |

     TUESDAY.     |     TUESDAY.    |     TUESDAY.    |    TUESDAY.

                  |                 |                 |

All chaps, xxi.,  | Saw fig tree    | Discourses. No  |

20, xxii.-xxv.,   | withered up.    | date shown.     |

spoken on Tues-   | Then discourses.|                 |

day, for xxvi., 2 |                 |                 |

gives Passover as |                 |                 |

"after two days". |                 |                 |

                  |                 |                 |


                  |                 |                 |

Blank.            |                 |                 |

(Possibly remained in Bethany; the alabaster box of ointment.)

                  |                 |                 |

    THURSDAY.     |    THURSDAY.    |    THURSDAY.    |    THURSDAY.

                  |                 |                 |

Preparation of    | Same as Matt.   | Same as Matt.   | Discourses with

Passover. Eating  |                 |                 | disciples, but

of Passover,      |                 |                 | _before_ the

and institution   |                 |                 | Passover. Washes

of the Holy Eu-   |                 |                 | the disciples'

charist. Gesthse- |                 |                 | feet. Nothing said

mane. Betrayal    |                 |                 | of Holy Eucharist,

by Judas. Led     |                 |                 | nor of agony in

captive to Caia-  |                 |                 | Gethsemane.

phas. Denied by   |                 |                 | Malchus' ear.

St. Peter.        |                 |                 | Led captive to

                  |                 |                 | Annas first. Then

                  |                 |                 | to Caiaphas. Denied

                  |                 |                 | by St. Peter.

                  |                 |                 |

     FRIDAY.      |     FRIDAY.     |     FRIDAY.     |      FRIDAY.

                  |                 |                 |

Led to Pilate.    | As Matthew,     | Led to Pilate.  | Taken to Pilate.

Judas hangs       | but hour of     | Sent to Herod.  | Jews would not

himself. Tried.   | crucifixion     | Sent back to    | enter, that they

Condemned to      | given, 9 a.m.   | Pilate. Rest as | might eat the

death. Scourged   |                 | in Matthew; but | Passover.

and mocked.       |                 | _one_  male-    | Scourged by Pi-

Led to cruci-     |                 | factor repents. | late before con-

fixion. Darkness  |                 |                 | demnation, and

from 12 to 3.     |                 |                 | mocked. Shown by

Died at 3.        |                 |                 | Pilate to Jews

                  |                 |                 | at 12.


At this point I broke down. I had been getting more and more uneasy and

distressed as I went on, but when I found that the Jews would not go into

the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, because they desired to

eat the passover, having previously seen that Jesus had actually eaten

the passover with his disciples the evening before; when after writing

down that he was crucified at 9 a.m., and that there was darkness over

all the land from 12 to 3 p.m., I found that three hours after he was

crucified he was standing in the judgment hall, and that at the very hour

at which the miraculous darkness covered the earth; when I saw that I was

writing a discord instead of a harmony, I threw down my pen and shut up

my Bible. The shock of doubt was, however only momentary. I quickly

recognised it as a temptation of the devil, and I shrank back

horror-stricken and penitent for the momentary lapse of faith. I saw that

these apparent contradictions were really a test of faith, and that there

would be no credit in believing a thing in which there were no

difficulties. _Credo quia impossibile_; I repeated Tertullian's words at

first doggedly, at last triumphantly. I fasted as penance for my

involuntary sin of unbelief. I remembered that the Bible must not be

carelessly read, and that St. Peter had warned us that there were in it

"some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and

unstable wrest unto their own destruction". I shuddered at the

"destruction" to the edge of which my unlucky "harmony" had drawn me, and

resolved that I would never again venture on a task for which I was so

evidently unfitted. Thus the first doubt was caused, and though swiftly

trampled down, it had none the less raised its head. It was stifled, not

answered, for all my religious training had led me to regard a doubt as a

sin to be repented of, not examined. And it left in my mind the dangerous

feeling that there were some things into which it was safer not to

enquire too closely; things which must be accepted on faith, and not too

narrowly scrutinised. The awful threat: "He that believeth not shall be

damned," sounded in my ears, and, like the angel with the flaming sword,

barred the path of all too curious enquiry.







The spring ripened into summer in uneventful fashion, so far as I was

concerned, the smooth current of my life flowing on untroubled, hard

reading and merry play filling the happy days. I learned later that two

or three offers of marriage reached my mother for me; but she answered to

each: "She is too young. I will not have her troubled." Of love-dreams I

had absolutely none, partly, I expect, from the absence of fiery novels

from my reading, partly because my whole dream-tendencies were absorbed

by religion, and all my fancies ran towards a "religious life". I longed

to spend my time in worshipping Jesus, and was, as far as my inner life

was concerned, absorbed in that passionate love of "the Savior" which,

among emotional Catholics, really is the human passion of love

transferred to an ideal--for women to Jesus, for men to the Virgin Mary.

In order to show that I am not here exaggerating, I subjoin a few of the

prayers in which I found daily delight, and I do this in order to show

how an emotional girl may be attracted by these so-called devotional



"O crucified Love, raise in me fresh ardors of love and consolation, that

it may henceforth be the greatest torment I can endure ever to offend

Thee; that it may be my greatest delight to please Thee."


"Let the remembrance of Thy death, O Lord Jesu, make me to desire and

pant after Thee, that I may delight in Thy gracious presence."


"O most sweet Jesu Christ, I, unworthy sinner, yet redeemed by Thy

precious blood.... Thine I am and will be, in life and in death."


"O Jesu, beloved, fairer than the sons of men, draw me after Thee with

the cords of Thy love."


"Blessed are Thou, O most merciful God, who didst vouchsafe to espouse me

to the heavenly Bridegroom in the waters of baptism, and hast imparted

Thy body and blood as a new gift of espousal and the meet consummation of

Thy love."


"O most sweet Lord Jesu, transfix the affections of my inmost soul with

that most joyous and most healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene,

most holy, apostolic charity; that my soul may ever languish and melt

with entire love and longing for Thee. Let it desire Thee and faint for

Thy courts; long to be dissolved and be with Thee."


"Oh, that I could embrace Thee with that most burning love of angels."


"Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth; for Thy love is better

than wine. Draw me, we will run after Thee. The king hath brought me into

his chambers.... Let my soul, O Lord, feel the sweetness of Thy presence.

May it taste how sweet Thou art.... May the sweet and burning power of

Thy love, I beseech Thee, absorb my soul."


To my dear mother this type of religious thought was revolting. But then,

she was a woman who had been a wife and a devoted one, while I was a

child awaking into womanhood, with emotions and passions dawning and not

understood, emotions and passions which craved satisfaction, and found it

in this "Ideal Man". Thousands of girls in England are to-day in exactly

this mental phase, and it is a phase full of danger. In America it is

avoided by a frank, open, unsentimental companionship between boys and

girls, between young men and young women. In England, where this wisely

free comradeship is regarded as "improper", the perfectly harmless and

natural sexual feeling is either dwarfed or forced, and so we have

"prudishness" and "fastness". The sweeter and more loving natures become

prudes; the more shallow as well as the more high-spirited and merry

natures become flirts. Often, as in my own case, the merry side finds its

satisfaction in amusements that demand active physical exercise, while

the loving side finds its joy in religious expansion, in which the

idealised figure of Jesus becomes the object of passion, and the life of

the nun becomes the ideal life, as being dedicated to that one devotion.

To the girl, of course, this devotion is all that is most holy, most

noble, most pure. But analysing it now, after it has long been a thing of

the past, I cannot but regard it as a mere natural outlet for the dawning

feelings of womanhood, certain to be the more intense and earnest as the

nature is deep and loving.


One very practical and mischievous result of this religious feeling is

the idealisation of all clergymen, as being the special messengers of,

and the special means of communication with, the "Most High". The priest

is surrounded by the halo of Deity. The power that holds the keys of

heaven and of hell becomes the object of reverence and of awe. Far more

lofty than any title bestowed by earthly monarch is that patent of

nobility straight from the hand of the "King of kings", which seems to

give to the mortal something of the authority of the immortal, to crown

the head of the priest with the diadem which belongs to those who are

"kings and priests unto God". Swayed by these feelings, the position of a

clergyman's wife seems second only to that of the nun, and has therefore

a wonderful attractiveness, an attractiveness in which the particular

clergyman affected plays a very subordinate part; it is the "sacred

office", the nearness to "holy things", the consecration involved, which

seem to make the wife a nearer worshipper than those who do not partake

in the immediate "services of the altar"--it is all these that shed a

glamor over the clerical life which attracts most those who are most apt

to self-devotion, most swayed by imagination. I know how incomprehensible

this will seem to many of my readers, but it is a fact none the less, and

the saddest pity of it is that the glamor is most over those whose brains

are quick and responsive to all forms of noble emotions, all suggestions

of personal self-sacrifice; and if such later rise to the higher emotions

whose shadows have attracted them, and to that higher self-sacrifice

whose whispers reached them in their early youth, then the false

prophet's veil is raised, and the life is either wrecked, or through

storm-wind and surge of battling billows, with loss of mast and sail, is

steered by firm hand into the port of a higher creed.


My mother, Minnie, and I passed the summer holidays at St. Leonards, and

many a merry gallop had we over our favorite fields, I on a favorite

black mare, Gipsy Queen, as full of life and spirits as I was myself, who

danced gaily over ditch and hedge, thinking little of my weight, for I

rode barely eight stone. At the end of those, our last free summer

holidays, we returned as usual to Harrow, and shortly afterwards I went

to Switzerland with some dear friends of ours named Roberts.


Everyone about Manchester will remember Mr. Roberts, the solicitor, the

"poor man's lawyer". Close friend of Ernest Jones, and hand-in-hand with

him through all his struggles, Mr. Roberts was always ready to fight a

poor man's battle for him without fee, and to champion any worker

unfairly dealt with. He worked hard in the agitation which saved women

from working in the mines, and I have heard him tell how he had seen them

toiling, naked to the waist, with short petticoats barely reaching to

their knees, rough, foul-tongued, brutalised out of all womanly decency

and grace; and how he had seen little children working there too, babies

of three and four set to watch a door, and falling asleep at their work

to be roused by curse and kick to the unfair toil. The old man's eye

would begin to flash and his voice to rise as he told of these horrors,

and then his face would soften as he added that, after it was all over

and the slavery was put an end to, as he went through a coal-district the

women standing at their doors would lift up their children to see "Lawyer

Roberts" go by, and would bid "God bless him" for what he had done. This

dear old man was my first tutor in Radicalism, and I was an apt pupil. I

had taken no interest in politics, but had unconsciously reflected more

or less the decorous Whiggism which had always surrounded me. I regarded

"the poor" as folk to be educated, looked after, charitably dealt with,

and always treated with most perfect courtesy, the courtesy being due

from me, as a lady, to all equally, whether they were rich or poor. But

to Mr. Roberts "the poor" were the working-bees, the wealth producers,

with a right to self-rule, not to looking after, with a right to justice,

not to charity, and he preached his doctrines to me, in season and out of

season. "What do you think of John Bright?" he demanded of me one day. "I

have never thought of him at all," I answered lightly. "Isn't he a rather

rough sort of man, who goes about making rows?" "There, I thought so," he

broke out fiercely. "That's just what they say. I believe some of you

fine ladies would not go to heaven if you had to rub shoulders with John

Bright, the noblest man God ever gave to the cause of the poor." And then

he launched out into stories of John Bright's work and John Bright's

eloquence, and showed me the changes that work and eloquence had made in

the daily lives of the people.


With Mr. Roberts, his wife, and two daughters, I went to Switzerland as

the autumn drew near. It would be of little interest to tell how we went

to Chamounix and worshipped Mont Blanc, how we crossed the Mer de Glace

and the Mauvais Pas, how we visited the Monastery of St. Bernard (I

losing my heart to the beautiful dogs), how we went by steamer down the

lake of Thun, how we gazed at the Jungfrau and saw the exquisite

Staubbach, how we visited Lausanne, and Berne, and Geneva, how we stood

beside the wounded Lion, and shuddered in the dungeon of Chillon, how we

walked distances we never should have attempted in England, how we

younger ones lost ourselves on a Sunday afternoon, after ascending a

mountain, and returned footsore and weary, to meet a party going out to

seek us with lanterns and ropes. All these things have been so often

described that I will not add one more description to the list, nor dwell

on that strange feeling of awe, of wonder, of delight, that everyone must

have felt, when the glory of the peaks clad in "everlasting snow" is for

the first time seen against the azure sky on the horizon, and you whisper

to yourself, half breathless: "The Alps! The Alps!"


During that autumn I became engaged to the Rev. Frank Besant, giving up

with a sigh of regret my dreams of the "religious life", and substituting

for them the work which would have to be done as the wife of a priest,

laboring ever in the church and among the poor. A queer view, some people

may think, for a girl to take of married life, but it was the natural

result of my living the life of the Early Church, of my enthusiasm for

religious work. To me a priest was a half-angelic creature, whose whole

life was consecrated to heaven; all that was deepest and truest in my

nature chafed against my useless days, longed for work, yearned to devote

itself, as I had read women saints had done, to the service of the church

and the poor, to the battling against sin and misery. "You will have more

opportunity for doing good as a clergyman's wife than as anything else,"

was one of the pleas urged on my reluctance. My ignorance of all that

marriage meant was as profound as though I had been a child of four, and

my knowledge of the world was absolutely _nil_. My darling mother meant

all that was happiest for me when she shielded me from all knowledge of

sorrow and of sin, when she guarded me from the smallest idea of the

marriage relation, keeping me ignorant as a baby till I left her home a

wife. But looking back now on all, I deliberately say that no more fatal

blunder can be made than to train a girl to womanhood in ignorance of all

life's duties and burdens, and then to let her face them for the first

time away from all the old associations, the old helps, the old refuge on

the mother's breast. That "perfect innocence" maybe very beautiful, but

it is a perilous possession, and Eve should have the knowledge of good

and of evil ere she wanders forth from the paradise of a mother's love.

When a word is never spoken to a girl that is not a caress; when

necessary rebuke comes in tone of tenderest reproach; when "You have

grieved me" has been the heaviest penalty for a youthful fault; when no

anxiety has ever been allowed to trouble the young heart--then, when the

hothouse flower is transplanted, and rough winds blow on it, it droops

and fades.


The spring and summer of 1867 passed over with little of incident, save

one. We quitted Harrow, and the wrench was great. My brother had left

school, and had gone to Cambridge; the master, who had lived with us for

so long, had married and had gone to a house of his own; my mother

thought that as she was growing older, the burden of management was

becoming too heavy, and she desired to seek an easier life. She had saved

money enough to pay for my brother's college career, and she determined

to invest the rest of her savings in a house in St. Leonard's, where she

might live for part of the year, letting the house during the season. She

accordingly took and furnished a house in Warrior Square, and we moved

thither, saying farewell to the dear Old Vicarage, and the friends loved

for so many happy years.


At the end of the summer, my mother and I went down to Manchester, to pay

a long visit to the Roberts's; a very pleasant time we passed there, a

large part of mine being spent on horseback, either leaping over a bar in

the meadow, or scouring the country far and wide. A grave break, however,

came in our mirth. The Fenian troubles were then at their height. On

September 11th, Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy, two Fenian leaders, were

arrested in Manchester, and the Irish population was at once thrown into

a terrible ferment. On the 18th, the police van containing them was

returning from the Court to the County Gaol at Salford, and as it reached

the railway arch which crosses the Hyde Road at Bellevue, a man sprang

out, shot one of the horses, and thus stopped the van. In a moment it was

surrounded by a small band, armed with revolvers and with crowbars, and

the crowbars were wrenching at the locked door. A reinforcement of police

was approaching, and there was no time to be lost. The rescuers called to

Brett, a sergeant of police who was in charge inside the van, to pass the

keys out, and, on his refusal, there was a cry: "Blow off the lock!". The

muzzle of a revolver was placed against the lock, and the revolver was

discharged. Unhappily, poor Brett had stooped down to try and see through

the keyhole what was going on outside, and the bullet, fired to blow open

the lock, entered his head, and he fell dying on the floor. The rescuers

rushed in, and one Allen, a lad of seventeen, opened the doors of the

compartments in which were Kelly and Deasy, and hurriedly pulled them

out. Two or three of the band, gathering round them, carried them off

across the fields to a place of safety, while the rest gallantly threw

themselves between their rescued friends and the strong body of police

which charged down after the fugitives. With their revolvers pointed,

they kept back the police, until they saw that the two Fenian leaders

were beyond all chance of capture, and then they scattered, flying in all

directions. Young William Allen, whose one thought had been for his

chiefs, was the earliest victim. As he fled, he raised his hand and fired

his revolver straight in the air; he had been ready to use it in defence

of others, he would not shed blood for himself. Disarmed by his own act,

he was set upon by the police, brutally struck down, kicked and stoned by

his pursuers, and then, bruised and bleeding, he was dragged off to gaol,

to meet there some of his comrades in much the same plight. The whole

city of Manchester went mad over the story, and the fiercest

race-passions at once blazed out into flame; it became dangerous for an

Irish workman to be alone in a group of Englishmen, for an Englishman to

venture into the Irish quarter of the city. The friends of the arrested

Irishmen went straight to "Lawyer Roberts", and begged his aid, and he

threw himself heart and soul into their defence. He soon found that the

man who had fired the fatal shot was safe out of the way, having left

Manchester at once, and he trusted that it would at least be possible to

save his clients from the death-penalty. A Special Commission was issued,

with Mr. Justice Blackburn at its head. "They are going to send that

hanging judge," groaned Mr. Roberts when he heard it, and we felt there

was small chance of escape for the prisoners. He struggled hard to have

the _venue_ of the trial changed, protesting that in the state of

excitement in which Manchester was, there was no chance of obtaining an

impartial jury. But the cry for blood and for revenge was ringing through

the air, and of fairness and impartiality there was no chance. On the

25th of October, the prisoners were actually brought up before the

magistrates _in irons_, and Mr. Ernest Jones, the counsel briefed to

defend them, after a vain protest against the monstrous outrage, threw

down his brief and quitted the Court. The trial was hurried on, and on

October 29th, Allen, Larkin, Gould (O'Brien), Maguire, and Condon, stood

before their judges.


We drove up to the court; the streets were barricaded; soldiers were

under arms; every approach was crowded by surging throngs. At last, our

carriage was stopped in the midst of excited Irishmen, and fists were

shaken in the window, curses levelled at the "d----d English who were

going to see the boys murdered". For a moment things were uncomfortable,

for we were five women of helpless type. Then I bethought myself that we

were unknown, and, like the saucy girl I was, I leant forward and touched

the nearest fist. "Friends, these are Mr. Roberts' wife and daughters."

"Roberts! Lawyer Roberts! God bless Roberts. Let his carriage through."

And all the scowling faces became smile-wreathen, and cheers sounded out

for curses, and a road was cleared for us to the steps.


Very sad was that trial. On the first day Mr. Roberts got himself into

trouble which threatened to be serious. He had briefed Mr. Digby Seymour,

Q.C. as leader, with Mr. Ernest Jones, for the defence, and he did not

think that the jurymen proposed were challenged as they should be. We

knew that many whose names were called were men who had proclaimed their

hostility to the Irish, and despite the wrath of Judge Blackburn, Mr.

Roberts would jump up and challenge them. In vain he threatened to commit

the sturdy solicitor. "These men's lives are at stake, my lord," he said

indignantly. At last the officers of the court were sharply told: "Remove

that man," but as they advanced reluctantly--for all poor men loved and

honored him--Judge Blackburn changed his mind and let him remain. At last

the jury was empanelled, containing one man who had loudly proclaimed

that he "didn't care what the evidence was, he would hang every d----d

Irishman of the lot". In fact, the verdict was a foregone conclusion. The

most disreputable evidence was admitted; the suppositions of women of

lowest character were accepted as conclusive; the _alibi_ for Maguire--

clearly proved, and afterwards accepted by the Crown, a free pardon being

issued on the strength of it--was rejected with dogged obstinacy; how

premeditated was the result may be guessed from the fact that I saw--with

what shuddering horror may be estimated--some official in the room behind

the judges' chairs, quietly preparing the black caps before the verdict

had been given. The verdict of "Guilty" was repeated in each of the five

cases, and the prisoners were asked by the presiding judge if they had

anything to say why sentence should not be passed on them. Allen spoke

briefly and bravely; he had not fired a shot, but he had helped to free

Kelly and Deasy; he was willing to die for Ireland. The others followed

in turn, Maguire protesting his innocence, and Condon declaring also that

he was not present (he also was reprieved). Then the sentence of death

was passed, and "God save Ireland"! rang out in five clear voices in

answer from the dock.


We had a sad scene that night; the young girl to whom poor Allen was

engaged was heartbroken at her lover's doom, and bitter were her cries to

"save my William!". No protests, no pleas, however, availed to mitigate

the doom, and on November 23rd, Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien were hanged

outside Salford gaol. Had they striven for freedom in Italy, England

would have honored them as heroes; here she buried them as common

murderers in quicklime in the prison yard.


I have found, with a keen sense of pleasure, that Mr. Bradlaugh and

myself were in 1867 to some extent co-workers, although we knew not of

each other's existence, and although he was doing much, and I only giving

such poor sympathy as a young girl might, who was only just awakening to

the duty of political work. I read in the _National Reformer_ for

November 24, 1867, that in the preceding week, he was pleading on

Clerkenwell Green for these men's lives:


"According to the evidence at the trial, Deasy and Kelly were illegally

arrested. They had been arrested for vagrancy of which no evidence was

given, and apparently remanded for felony without a shadow of

justification. He had yet to learn that in England the same state of

things existed as in Ireland; he had yet to learn that an illegal arrest

was sufficient ground to detain any of the citizens of any country in the

prisons of this one. If he were illegally held, he was justified in using

enough force to procure his release. Wearing a policeman's coat gave no

authority when the officer exceeded his jurisdiction. He had argued this

before Lord Chief Justice Erle in the Court of Common Pleas, and that

learned judge did not venture to contradict the argument which he

submitted. There was another reason why they should spare these men,

although he hardly expected the Government to listen, because the

Government sent down one of the judges who was predetermined to convict

the prisoners; it was that the offence was purely a political one. The

death of Brett was a sad mischance, but no one who read the evidence

could regard the killing of Brett as an intentional murder. Legally, it

was murder; morally, it was homicide in the rescue of a political

captive. If it were a question of the rescue of the political captives of

Varignano, or of political captives in Bourbon, in Naples, or in Poland,

or in Paris, even earls might be found so to argue. Wherein is our sister

Ireland less than these? In executing these men, they would throw down

the gauntlet for terrible reprisals. It was a grave and solemn question.

It had been said by a previous speaker that they were prepared to go to

any lengths to save these Irishmen. They were not. He wished they were.

If they were, if the men of England, from one end to the other, were

prepared to say, "These men shall not be executed," they would not be. He

was afraid they had not pluck enough for that. Their moral courage was

not equal to their physical strength. Therefore he would not say that

they were prepared to do so. They must plead _ad misericordiam_. He

appealed to the press, which represented the power of England; to that

press which in its panic-stricken moments had done much harm, and which

ought now to save these four doomed men. If the press demanded it, no

Government would be mad enough to resist. The memory of the blood which

was shed in 1798 rose up like a bloody ghost against them to-day. He only

feared that what they said upon the subject might do the poor men more

harm than good. If it were not so, he would coin words that should speak

in words of fire. As it was, he could only say to the Government: You are

strong to-day; you hold these men's lives in your hands; but if you want

to reconcile their country to you, if you want to win back Ireland, if

you want to make her children love you--then do not embitter their hearts

still more by taking the lives of these men. Temper your strength with

mercy; do not use the sword of justice like one of vengeance; for the day

may come when it shall be broken in your hands, and you yourselves

brained by the hilt of the weapon you have so wickedly wielded."


In October he had printed a plea for Ireland, strong and earnest,



"Where is our boasted English freedom when you cross to Kingstown pier?

Where has it been for near two years? The Habeas Corpus Act suspended,

the gaols crowded, the steamers searched, spies listening at shebeen

shops for sedition, and the end of it a Fenian panic in England. Oh,

before it be too late, before more blood shall stain the pages of our

present history, before we exasperate and arouse bitter animosities, let

us try and do justice to our sister land. Abolish once and for all the

land laws, which in their iniquitous operation have ruined her peasantry.

Sweep away the leech-like Church which has sucked her vitality, and has

given her back no word even of comfort in her degradation. Turn her

barracks into flax mills, encourage a spirit of independence in her

citizens, restore to her people the protection of the law, so that they

may speak without fear of arrest, and beg them to plainly and boldly

state their grievances. Let a commission of the best and wisest amongst

Irishmen, with some of our highest English judges added, sit solemnly to

hear all complaints, and then let us honestly legislate, not for the

punishment of the discontented, but to remove the causes of the

discontent. It is not the Fenians who have depopulated Ireland's strength

and increased her misery. It is not the Fenians who have evicted tenants

by the score. It is not the Fenians who have checked cultivation. Those

who have caused the wrong at least should frame the remedy."







In December, 1867, I was married at St. Leonards, and after a brief trip

to Paris and Southsea, we went to Cheltenham where Mr. Besant had

obtained a mastership. We lived at first in lodgings, and as I was very

much alone, my love for reading had full swing. Quietly to myself I

fretted intensely for my mother, and for the daily sympathy and

comradeship that had made my life so fair. In a strange town, among

strangers, with a number of ladies visiting me who talked only of

servants and babies--troubles of which I knew nothing--who were

profoundly uninterested in everything that had formed my previous life,

in theology, in politics, in questions of social reform, and who looked

on me as "strange" because I cared more for the great struggles outside

than for the discussions of a housemaid's young man, or the amount of

"butter when dripping would have done perfectly well, my dear," used by

the cook--under such circumstances it will not seem marvellous that I

felt somewhat forlorn. I found refuge, however, in books, and

energetically carried on my favorite studies; next, I thought I would try

writing, and took up two very different lines of composition; I wrote

some short stories of a very flimsy type, and also a work of a much more

ambitious character, "The Lives of the Black Letter Saints". For the sake

of the unecclesiastically trained it may be well to mention that in the

Calendar of the Church of England there are a number of Saints' Days;

some of these are printed in red, and are Red Letter Days, for which

services are appointed by the Church; others are printed in black, and

are Black Letter Days, and have no special services fixed for them. It

seemed to me that it would be interesting to take each of these days and

write a sketch of the life of the saint belonging to it, and accordingly

I set to work to do so, and gathered various books of history and legend

wherefrom to collect my "facts". I don't in the least know what became of

that valuable book; I tried Macmillans with it, and it was sent on by

them to someone who was preparing a series of church books for the young;

later I had a letter from a Church brotherhood offering to publish it, if

I would give it as an "act of piety" to their order; its ultimate fate is

to me unknown.


The short stories were more fortunate. I sent the first to the _Family

Herald_, and some weeks afterwards received a letter from which dropped a

cheque as I opened it. Dear me! I have earned a good deal of money since

by my pen, but never any that gave me the intense delight of that first

thirty shillings. It was the first money I had ever earned, and the pride

of the earning was added to the pride of authorship. In my childish

delight and practical religion, I went down on my knees and thanked God

for sending it to me, and I saw myself earning heaps of golden guineas,

and becoming quite a support of the household. Besides, it was "my very

own", I thought, and a delightful sense of independence came over me. I

had not then realised the beauty of the English law, and the dignified

position in which it placed the married woman; I did not understand that

all a married woman earned by law belonged to her owner, and that she

could have nothing that belonged to her of right.[1] I did not want the

money: I was only so glad to have something of my own to give, and it was

rather a shock to learn that it was not really mine at all.


[Footnote 1: This odious law has now been altered, and a married woman is

a person, not a chattel.]


From time to time after that, I earned a few pounds for stories in the

same journal; and the _Family Herald,_ let me say, has one peculiarity

which should render it beloved by poor authors; it pays its contributor

when it accepts the paper, whether it prints it immediately or not; thus

my first story was not printed for some weeks after I received the

cheque, and it was the same with all others accepted by the same journal.

Encouraged by these small successes, I began writing a novel! It took a

long time to do, but was at last finished, and sent off to the _Family

Herald._ The poor thing came back, but with a kind note, telling me that

it was too political for their pages, but that if I would write one of

"purely domestic interest", and up to the same level, it would probably

be accepted. But by that time I was in the full struggle of theological

doubt, and that novel of "purely domestic interest" never got itself



I contributed further to the literature of my country a theological

pamphlet, of which I forget the exact title, but it dealt with the duty

of fasting incumbent on all faithful Christians, and was very patristic

in its tone.


In January, 1869, my little son was born, and as I was very ill for some

months before,--and was far too much interested in the tiny creature

afterwards, to devote myself to pen and paper, my literary career was

checked for a while. The baby gave a new interest and a new pleasure to

life, and as we could not afford a nurse I had plenty to do in looking

after his small majesty. My energy in reading became less feverish when

it was done by the side of the baby's cradle, and the little one's

presence almost healed the abiding pain of my mother's loss.


I may pass very quickly over the next two years. In August, 1870, a

little sister was born to my son, and the recovery was slow and tedious,

for my general health had been failing for some time. I was, among other

things, fretting much about my mother, who was in sore trouble. A lawyer

in whom she had had the most perfect confidence betrayed it; for years

she had paid all her large accounts through him, and she had placed her

money in his hands. Suddenly he was discovered by his partners to have

been behaving unfairly; the crash came, and my mother found that all the

money given by her for discharge of liabilities had vanished, while the

accounts were unpaid, and that she was involved in debt to a very serious

extent. The shock was a very terrible one to her, for she was too old to

begin the world afresh. She sold off all she had, and used the money, as

far as it would go, to pay the debts she believed to have been long ago

discharged, and she was thus left penniless after thinking she had made a

little competence for her old age. Lord Hatherley's influence obtained

for my brother the post of undersecretary to the Society of Arts, and

also some work from the Patent Office, and my mother went to live with

him. But the dependence was intolerable to her, though she never let

anyone but myself know she suffered, and even I, until her last illness,

never knew how great her suffering had been. The feeling of debt weighed

on her, and broke her heart; all day long while my brother was at his

office, through the bitter winter weather, she would sit without a fire,

lighting it only a little before his home-coming, so that she might save

all the expense she could; often and often she would go out about

half-past twelve, saying that she was going out to lunch, and would walk

about till late in the afternoon, so as to avoid the lunch-hour at home.

I have always felt that the winter of 1870-1 killed her, though she lived

on for three years longer; it made her an old broken woman, and crushed

her brave spirit. How often I have thought since: "If only I had not left

her! I should have seen she was suffering, and should have saved her."

One little chance help I gave her, on a brief visit to town. She was

looking very ill, and I coaxed out of her that her back was always

aching, and that she never had a moment free from pain. Luckily I had

that morning received a letter containing £2 2s. from my liberal _Family

Herald_ editor, and as, glancing round the room, I saw there were only

ordinary chairs, I disregarded all questions as to the legal ownership of

the money, and marched out without saying a word, and bought for £1 15s.

a nice cushiony chair, just like one she used to have at Harrow, and had

it sent home to her. For a moment she was distressed, but I told her I

had earned the money, and so she was satisfied. "Oh, the rest!" she said

softly once or twice during the evening. I have that chair still, and

mean to keep it as long as I live.


In the spring of 1871 both my children were taken ill with hooping-cough.

The boy, Digby, vigorous and merry, fought his way through it with no

danger, and with comparatively little suffering; Mabel, the baby, had

been delicate since her birth; there had been some little difficulty in

getting her to breathe after she was born, and a slight tendency

afterwards to lung-delicacy. She was very young for so trying a disease

as hooping-cough, and after a while bronchitis set in, and was followed

by congestion of the lungs. For weeks she lay in hourly peril of death;

we arranged a screen round the fire like a tent, and kept it full of

steam to ease the panting breath, and there I sat all through those weary

weeks with her on my lap, day and night. The doctor said that recovery

was impossible, and that in one of the fits of coughing she must die; the

most distressing thing was that at last the giving of a drop or two of

milk brought on the terrible convulsive choking, and it seemed cruel to

torture the apparently dying child. At length, one morning when the

doctor was there, he said that she could not last through the day; I had

sent for him hurriedly, for her body had swollen up rapidly, and I did

not know what had happened; the pleura of one lung had become perforated,

and the air escaping into the cavity of the chest had caused the

swelling; while he was there, one of the fits of coughing came on, and it

seemed as though it would be the last; the doctor took a small bottle of

chloroform out of his pocket, and putting a drop on a handkerchief, held

it near the child's face, till the drug soothed the convulsive struggle.

"It can't do any harm at this stage," he said, "and it checks the

suffering." He went away, saying that he would return in the afternoon,

but he feared he would never see the child alive again. One of the

kindest friends I had in my married life was that same doctor, Mr.

Lauriston Winterbotham; he was as good as he was clever, and, like so

many of his noble, profession, he had the merits of discretion and of



That chance thought of his about the chloroform, verily, I believe, saved

the child's life. Whenever one of the convulsive fits was coming on I

used it, and so not only prevented to a great extent the violence of the

attacks, but also the profound exhaustion that followed them, when of

breath at the top of the throat showing that she still lived. At last,

though more than once we had thought her dead, a change took place for

the better, and the child began slowly to mend. For years, however, that

struggle for life left its traces on her, not only in serious

lung-delicacy but also in a form of epileptic fits. In her play she would

suddenly stop, and become fixed for about a minute, and then go on again

as though nothing had occurred. On her mother a more permanent trace was



Not unnaturally, when the child was out of danger, I collapsed from sheer

exhaustion, and I lay in bed for a week. But an important change of mind

dated from those silent weeks with a dying child on my knees. There had

grown up in my mind a feeling of angry resentment against the God who had

been for weeks, as I thought, torturing my helpless baby. For some months

a stubborn antagonism to the Providence who ordained the sufferings of

life had been steadily increasing in me, and this sullen challenge, "Is

God good?" found voice in my heart during those silent nights and days.

My mother's sufferings, and much personal unhappiness, had been,

intensifying the feeling, and as I watched my baby in its agony, and felt

so helpless to relieve, more than once the indignant cry broke from my

lips: "How canst thou torture a baby so? What has she done that she

should suffer so? Why dost thou not kill her at once, and let her be at

peace?" More than once I cried aloud: "O God, take the child, but do not

torment her." All my personal belief in God, all my intense faith in his

constant direction of affairs, all my habit of continual prayer and of

realisation of his presence, were against me now. To me he was not an

abstract idea, but a living reality, and all my mother-heart rose up in

rebellion against this person in whom I believed, and whose individual

finger I saw in my baby's agony.


At this time I met a clergyman--I do not give his name lest I should

injure him--whose wider and more liberal views of Christianity exercised

much influence over me during the months of struggle that followed. Mr.

Besant had brought him to me while the child was at her worst, and I

suppose something of the "Why is it?" had, unconsciously to me, shown

itself to his keen eyes. On the day after his visit, I received from him

the following letter, in which unbeliever as well as believer may

recognise the deep human sympathy and noble nature of the writer:--


"April 21st, 1871.


"MY DEAR MRS. BESANT,--I am painfully conscious that I gave you but

little help in your trouble yesterday. It is needless to say that it was

not from want of sympathy. Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say

that it was from excess of sympathy. I shrink intensely from meddling

with the sorrow of anyone whom I feel to be of a sensitive nature.


'The heart hath its own bitterness, and the stranger meddleth not



It is to me a positively fearful thought that I might await a reflection



  'And common was the common place,

  And vacant chaff well meant for grain'.


Conventional consolations, conventional verses out of the Bible and

conventional prayers are, it seems to me, an intolerable aggravation of

suffering. And so I acted on a principle that I mentioned to your

husband, that 'there is no power so great as that of one human faith

looking upon another human faith'. The promises of God, the love of

Christ for little children, and all that has been given to us of hope and

comfort, are as deeply planted in your heart as in mine, and I did not

care to quote them. But when I talk face to face with one who is in sore

need of them, my faith in them suddenly becomes so vast and

heart-stirring that I think I must help most by talking naturally, and

letting the faith find its own way from soul to soul. Indeed I could not

find words for it if I tried. And yet I am compelled, as a messenger of

the glad tidings of God, to solemnly assure you that all is well. We have

no key to the 'Mystery of Pain', excepting the Cross of Christ. But there

is another and a deeper solution in the hands of our Father. And it will

be ours when we can understand it. There is--in the place to which we

travel--some blessed explanation of your baby's pain and your grief,

which will fill with light the darkest heart. Now you must believe

without having seen; that is true faith. You must


  'Reach a hand through time to catch

  The far-oft interest of tears'.


That you may have strength so to do is part of your share in the prayers

of yours very faithfully, W. D----."


During the summer months I saw much of this clergyman, Mr. D---- and his

wife. We grew into closer intimacy in consequence of the dangerous

illness of their only child, a beautiful boy a few months old. I had

gained quite a name in Cheltenham as a nurse--my praises having been sung

by the doctor--and Mrs. D---- felt she could trust me even with her

darling boy while she snatched a night's sorely needed rest. My

questionings were not shirked by Mr. D----, nor discouraged; he was

neither horrified nor sanctimoniously rebuking, but met them all with a

wide comprehension inexpressibly soothing to one writhing in the first

agony of real doubt. The thought of hell was torturing me; somehow out of

the baby's pain through those seemingly endless hours had grown a dim

realisation of what hell might be, full of the sufferings of the beloved,

and my whole brain and heart revolted from the unutterable cruelty of a

creating and destroying God. Mr. D---- lent me Maurice and Robertson, and

strove to lead me into their wider hope for man, their more trustful

faith in God.


Everyone who has doubted after believing knows how, after the first

admitted and recognised doubt, others rush in like a flood, and how

doctrine after doctrine starts up in new and lurid light, looking so

different in aspect from the fair faint outlines in which it had shone

forth in the soft mists of faith. The presence of evil and pain in the

world made by a "good God", and the pain falling on the innocent, as on

my seven months' old babe; the pain here reaching on into eternity

unhealed; these, while I yet believed, drove me desperate, and I believed

and hated, instead of like the devils, "believed and trembled". Next, I

challenged the righteousness of the doctrine of the Atonement, and while

I worshipped and clung to the suffering Christ, I hated the God who

required the death sacrifice at his hands. And so for months the turmoil

went on, the struggle being all the more terrible for the very

desperation with which I strove to cling to some planks of the wrecked

ship of faith on the tossing sea of doubt.


After Mr. D---- left Cheltenham, as he did in the early autumn of 1871,

he still aided me in my mental struggles. He had advised me to read

McLeod Campbell's work on the Atonement, as one that would meet many of

the difficulties that lay on the surface of the orthodox view, and in

answer to a letter dealing with this really remarkable work, he wrote

(Nov. 22, 1871):


"(1) The two passages on pp. 25 and 108 you doubtless interpret quite

rightly. In your third reference to pp. 117, 188, you forget one great

principle--that God is impassive; cannot suffer. Christ, quâ _God_, did

not suffer, but as Son of _Man_ and in his _humanity_. Still, it may be

correctly stated that He felt to sin and sinners 'as God eternally

feels'--_i.e., abhorrence of sin and love of the sinner_. But to infer

from that that the Father in his Godhead feels the sufferings which

Christ experienced solely in humanity, and because incarnate, is, I

think, wrong.


"(2) I felt strongly inclined to blow you up for the last part of your

letter. You assume, I think quite gratuitously, that God condemns the

major part of his children to objectless future suffering. You say that

if he does not, he places a book in their hands which threatens what he

does not mean to inflict. But how utterly this seems to me opposed to the

gospel of Christ. All Christ's reference to eternal punishment may be

resolved into reference to the Valley of Hinnom, by way of imagery; with

the exception of the Dives parable, where is distinctly inferred a moral

amendment beyond the grave. I speak of the unselfish desire of Dives to

save his brothers. The more I see of the controversy the more baseless

does the eternal punishment theory appear. It seems, then, to me, that

instead of feeling aggrieved and shaken, you ought to feel encouraged and

thankful that God is so much better than you were taught to believe him.

You will have discovered by this time, in Maurice's 'What is Revelation'

(I suppose you have the 'Sequel' too?) that God's truth _is_ our truth,

and his love is our love, only more perfect and full. There is no

position more utterly defeated in modern philosophy and theology, than

Dean Mansel's attempt to show that God's justice, love, etc., are

different in kind from ours. Mill and Maurice, from totally alien points

of view, have shown up the preposterous nature of the notion.


"(3) A good deal of what you have thought is, I fancy, based on a strange

forgetfulness of your former experience. If you have known Christ (whom

to know is eternal life)--and that you have known him I am certain--can

you really say that a few intellectual difficulties, nay, a few moral

difficulties if you will, are able at once to obliterate the testimony of

that higher state of being?


"Why, the keynote of all my theology is that Christ is loveable because,

and _just_ because, he is the perfection of all that I know to be noble

and generous, and loving, and tender, and true. If an angel from heaven

brought me a gospel which contained doctrines that would not stand the

test of such perfect loveableness--doctrines hard, or cruel, or unjust--I

should reject him and his trumpery gospel with scorn, knowing that

neither could be Christ's.


"Know Christ and judge religions by him; don't judge him by religions,

and then complain because you find yourself looking at him through a

blood-colored glass....


"I am saturating myself with Maurice, who is the antidote given by God to

this age against all dreary doubtings and temptings of the devil to



On these lines weary strife went on for months, until at last brain and

health gave way completely, and for weeks I lay prostrate and helpless,

in terrible ceaseless head-pain, unable to find relief in sleep. The

doctor tried every form of relief in vain; he covered my head with ice,

he gave me opium--which only drove me mad--he used every means his skill

could dictate to remove the pain, but all failed. At last he gave up the

attempt to cure physically, and tried mental diversion; he brought me up

books on anatomy and persuaded me to study them; I have still an analysis

made by me at that time of Luther Holden's "Human Osteology ". He was

wise enough to see that if I were to be brought back to reasonable life,

it could only be by diverting thought from the currents in which it had

been running to a dangerous extent.


No one who has not felt it knows the fearful agony caused by doubt to the

earnestly religious mind. There is in this life no other pain so

horrible. The doubt seems to shipwreck everything, to destroy the one

steady gleam of happiness "on the other side" that no earthly storm could

obscure; to make all life gloomy with a horror of despair, a darkness

that may verily be felt. Fools talk of Atheism as the outcome of foul

life and vicious thought. They, in their shallow heartlessness, their

brainless stupidity, cannot even dimly imagine the anguish of the mere

penumbra of the eclipse of faith, much less the horror of that great

darkness in which the orphaned soul cries out into the infinite

emptiness: "Is it a Devil who has made this world? Are we the sentient

toys of an Almighty Power, who sports with our agony, and whose peals of

awful mocking laughter echo the wailings of our despair?"







On recovering from that prostrating physical pain, I came to a very

definite decision. I resolved that, whatever might be the result, I would

take each dogma of the Christian religion, and carefully and thoroughly

examine it, so that I should never again say "I believe" where I had not

proved. So, patiently and steadily, I set to work. Four problems chiefly

at this time pressed for solution. I. The eternity of punishment after

death. II. The meaning of "goodness" and "love" as applied to a God who

had made this world with all its evil and its misery. III. The nature of

the atonement of Christ, and the "justice" of God in accepting a

vicarious suffering from Christ, and a vicarious righteousness from the

sinner. IV. The meaning of "inspiration" as applied to the Bible, and the

reconciliation of the perfection of the author with the blunders and the

immoralities of the work.


Maurice's writings now came in for very careful study, and I read also

those of Robertson, of Brighton, and of Stopford Brooke, striving to find

in these some solid ground whereon I might build up a new edifice of

faith. That ground, however, I failed to find; there were poetry, beauty,

enthusiasm, devotion; but there was no rock on which I might take my

stand. Mansel's Bampton lectures on "The Limits of Religious Thought"

deepened and intensified my doubts. His arguments seemed to make

certainty impossible, and I could not suddenly turn round and believe to

order, as he seemed to recommend, because proof was beyond reach. I could

not, and would not, adore in God as the highest Righteousness that which,

in man was condemned as harsh, as cruel, and as unjust.


In the midst of this long mental struggle, a change occurred in the

outward circumstances of my life. I wrote to Lord Hatherley and asked him

if he could give Mr. Besant a Crown living, and he offered us first one

in Northumberland, near Alnwick Castle, and then one in Lincolnshire, the

village of Sibsey, with a vicarage house, and an income of £410 per

annum. We decided to accept the latter.


The village was scattered over a considerable amount of ground, but the

work was not heavy. The church was one of the fine edifices for which the

fen country is so famous, and the vicarage was a comfortable house, with

large and very beautiful gardens and paddock, and with outlying fields.

The people were farmers and laborers, with a sprinkling of shopkeepers;

the only "society" was that of the neighboring clergy, Tory and prim to

an appalling extent. There was here plenty of time for study, and of that

time I vigorously availed myself. But no satisfactory light came to me,

and the suggestions and arguments of my friend Mr. D---- failed to bring

conviction to my mind. It appeared clear to me that the doctrine of

Eternal Punishment was taught in the Bible, and the explanations given of

the word "eternal" by men like Maurice and Stanley, did not recommend

themselves to me as anything more than skilful special pleading--

evasions, not clearings up, of a moral difficulty. For the problem was:

Given a good God, how can he have created mankind, knowing beforehand

that the vast majority of those whom he had created were to be tortured

for evermore? Given a just God, how can he punish people for being

sinful, when they have inherited a sinful nature without their own choice

and of necessity? Given a righteous God, how can he allow sin to exist

for ever, so that evil shall be as eternal as good, and Satan shall reign

in hell, as long as Christ in Heaven? The answer of the Broad church

school was, that the word "eternal" applied only to God and to life which

was one with his; that "everlasting" only meant "lasting for an age", and

that while the punishment of the wicked might endure for ages it was

purifying, not destroying, and at last all should be saved, and "God

should be all in all". These explanations had (for a time) satisfied Mr.

D----, and I find him writing to me in answer to a letter of mine dated

March 25th, 1872:


"On the subject of Eternal punishment I have now not the remotest doubt.

It is impossible to handle the subject exhaustively in a letter, with a

sermon to finish before night. But you _must_ get hold of a few valuable

books that would solve all kinds of difficulties for you. For most points

read Stopford Brooke's Sermons--they are simply magnificent, and are

called (1) Christian modern life, (2) Freedom in the Church of England,

(3) and (least helpful) 'Sermons'. Then again there is an appendix to

Llewellyn Davies' 'Manifestation of the Son of God', which treats of

forgiveness in a future state as related to Christ and Bible. As to that

special passage about the Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (to which you

refer), I will write you my notions on it in a future letter."


A little later, according, he wrote:


"With regard to your passage of difficulty about the unpardonable sin, I

would say: (1) If that sin is not to be forgiven in the world to come, it

is implied that all other sins _are forgiven in the world to come_. (2)

You must remember that our Lord's parables and teachings mainly concerned

contemporary events and people. I mean, for instance, that in his great

prophecy of _judgment_ he simply was speaking of the destruction of the

Jewish polity and nation. The _principles_ involved apply through all

time, but He did not apply them except to the Jewish nation. He was

speaking then, not of 'the end of the _world_, (as is wrongly

translated), but of 'the end of the _age_'. (Every age is wound up with a

judgment. French Revolutions, Reformations, etc., are all ends of ages

and judgments.) [Greek aion] does not, cannot, will not, and never did

mean _world_, but _age_. Well, then, he has been speaking of the Jewish

people. And he says that all words spoken against the Son of Man will be

forgiven. But there is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God--there

is a confusion of good with evil, of light with darkness--which goes

deeper down than this. When a nation has lost the faculty of

distinguishing love from hatred, the spirit of falsehood and hypocrisy

from the spirit of truth, God from the Devil--_then its doom is

pronounced_--the decree is gone forth against it. As the doom of Judaism,

guilty of this sin, _was then_ pronounced. As the _decree against it had

already gone forth. It is a national warning, not an individual one. It

applies to two ages of this world, and not to two worlds_. All its

teaching was primarily _national_, and is only thus to be rightly read--

if not all, rather _most of it_. If you would be sure of this and

understand it, see the parables, etc., explained in Maurice's 'Gospel of

the Kingdom of Heaven' (a commentary on S. Luke). I can only indicate

briefly in a letter the line to be taken on this question.


"With regard to the [Greek: elui, elui, lama sabbachthani]. I don't

believe that the Father even momentarily hid his face from Him. The life

of sonship was unbroken. Remark: (1) It is a quotation from a Psalm. (2)

It rises naturally to a suffering man's lips as expressive of agony,

though not exactly framed for _his_ individual _agony_. (3) The spirit of

the Psalm is one of trust, and hope, and full faith, notwithstanding the

1st verse. (4) Our Lord's agony was very extreme, not merely of body but

of _soul_. He spoke out of the desolation of one forsaken, not by his

divine Father but by his human brothers. I have heard sick and dying men

use the words of beloved Psalms in just such a manner.


"The impassibility of God (1) With regard to the Incarnation, this

presents no difficulty. Christ suffered simply and entirely as man, was

too truly a man not to do so. (2) With regard to the Father, the key of

it is here. 'God _is_ love.' He does not need suffering to train into

sympathy, because his nature is sympathy. He can afford to dispense with

hysterics, because he sees ahead that his plan is working to the perfect

result. I am not quite sure whether I have hit upon your difficulty here,

as I have destroyed your last letter but one. But the 'Gospel of the

Kingdom' is a wonderful 'eye-opener'."


Worst of all the puzzles, perhaps, was that of the existence of evil and

of misery, and the racking doubt whether God _could_ be good, and yet

look on the evil and the misery of the world unmoved and untouched. It

seemed so impossible to believe that a Creator could be either cruel

enough to be indifferent to the misery, or weak enough to be unable to

stop it: the old dilemma faced me unceasingly. "If he can prevent it, and

does not, he is not good; if he wishes to prevent it, and cannot, he is

not almighty;" and out of this I could find no way of escape. Not yet had

any doubt of the existence of God crossed my mind.


In August, 1872 Mr. D---- tried to meet this difficulty. He wrote:


"With regard to the impassibility of God, I think there is a stone wrong

among your foundations which causes your difficulty. Another wrong stone

is, I think, your view of the nature of the _sin_ and _error_ which is

supposed to grieve God. I take it that sin is an absolutely necessary

factor in the production of the perfect man. It was foreseen and allowed

as a means to an end--as in fact an _education_.


"The view of all the sin and misery in the world cannot grieve God, any

more than it can grieve you to see Digby fail in his first attempt to

build a card-castle or a rabbit-hutch. All is part of the training. God

looks at the ideal man to which all tends. The popular idea of the fall

is to me a very absurd one. There was never an ideal state in the past,

but there will be in the future. The Genesis allegory simply typifies the

first awakening of consciousness of good and evil--of two _wills_ in a

mind hitherto only animal-psychic.


"Well then--there being no occasion for grief in watching the progress of

his own perfect and unfailing plans--your difficulty in God's

impassibility vanishes. Christ, _quâ_ God, was, of course, impassible

too. It seems to me that your position implies that God's 'designs' have

partially (at least) failed, and hence the grief of perfect benevolence.

Now I stoutly deny that any jot or tittle of God's plans can fail. I

believe in the ordering of all for the best. I think that the pain

consequent on broken law is only an inevitable necessity, over which we

shall some day rejoice.


"The indifference shown to God's love cannot pain Him. Why? because it is

simply a sign of defectiveness in the creature which the ages will

rectify. The being who is indifferent is not yet educated up to the point

of love. But he _will be_. The pure and holy suffering of Christ was

(pardon me) _wholly_ the consequence of his human nature. True it was

because of the _perfection_ of his humanity. But his Divinity had nothing

to do with it. It was his _human heart_ that broke. It was because he

entered a world of broken laws and of incomplete education that he became

involved in suffering with the rest of his race.....


"No, Mrs. Besant; I never feel at all inclined to give up the search, or

to suppose that the other side may be right. I claim no merit for it, but

I have an invincible faith in the morality of God and the moral order of

the world. I have no more doubt about the falsehood of the popular

theology than I have about the unreality of six robbers who attacked me

three nights ago in a horrid dream. I exult and rejoice in the grandeur

and freedom of the little bit of truth it has been given me to see. I am

told that 'Present-day Papers', by Bishop Ewing (edited) are a wonderful

help, many of them, to puzzled people: I mean to get them. But I am sure

you will find that the truth will (even so little as we may be able to

find out) grow on you, make you free, light your path, and dispel, at no

distant time, your _painful_ difficulties and doubts. I should say on no

account give up your reading. I think with you that you could not do

without it. It will be a wonderful source of help and peace to you. For

there are struggles far more fearful than those of intellectual doubt. I

am keenly alive to the gathered-up sadness of which your last two pages

are an expression. I was sorrier than I can say to read them. They

reminded me of a long and very dark time in my own life, when I thought

the light never would come. Thank God it came, or I think I could not

have held out much longer. But you have evidently strength to bear it

now. The more dangerous time, I should fancy, has passed. You will have

to mind that the fermentation leaves clear spiritual wine, and not (as

too often) vinegar.


"I wish I could write something more helpful to you in this great matter.

But as I sit in front of my large bay window, and see the shadows on the

grass and the sunlight on the leaves, and the soft glimmer of the

rosebuds left by the storms, I cannot but believe that all will be very

well. 'Trust in the Lord; wait patiently for him'--they are trite words.

But he made the grass, the leaves, the rosebuds, and the sunshine, and he

is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And now the trite words have

swelled into a mighty argument."


Despite reading and argument, my scepticism grew only deeper and deeper.

The study of W.R. Greg's "Creed of Christendom", of Matthew Arnold's

"Literature and Dogma", helped to widen the mental horizon, while making

a return to the old faith more and more impossible. The church services

were a weekly torture, but feeling as I did that I was only a doubter, I

spoke to none of my doubts. It was possible, I felt, that all my

difficulties might be cleared up, and I had no right to shake the faith

of others while in uncertainty myself. Others had doubted and had

afterwards believed; for the doubter silence was a duty; the blinded had

better keep their misery to themselves. I found some practical relief in

parish work of a non-doctrinal kind, in nursing the sick, in trying to

brighten a little the lot of the poor of the village. But here, again, I

was out of sympathy with most of those around me. The movement among the

agricultural laborers, due to the energy and devotion of Joseph Arch, was

beginning to be talked of in the fens, and bitter were the comments of

the farmers on it, while I sympathised with the other side. One typical

case, which happened some months later, may stand as example of all.

There was a young man, married, with two young children, who was wicked

enough to go into a neighboring county to a "Union Meeting", and who was,

further, wicked enough to talk about it when he returned. He became a

marked man; no farmer would employ him. He tramped about vainly, looking

for work, grew reckless, and took to drink. Visiting his cottage one day

I found his wife ill, a dead child in the bed, a sick child in her arms;

yes, she "was pining; there was no work to be had". "Why did she leave

the dead child on the bed? because there was no other place to put it."

The cottage consisted of one room and a "lean-to", and husband and wife,

the child dead of fever and the younger child sickening with it, were all

obliged to lie on the one bed. In another cottage I found four

generations sleeping in one room, the great-grandfather and his wife, the

grandmother (unmarried), the mother (unmarried), and the little child,

while three men-lodgers completed the tale of eight human beings crowded

into that narrow, ill-ventilated garret. Other cottages were hovels,

through the broken roofs of which poured the rain, and wherein rheumatism

and ague lived with the dwellers. How could I do aught but sympathise

with any combination that aimed at the raising of these poor? But to

sympathise with Joseph Arch was a crime in the eyes of the farmers, who

knew that his agitation meant an increased drain on their pockets. For it

never struck them that, if they paid less in rent to the absent landlord,

they might pay more in wage to the laborers who helped to make their

wealth, and they had only civil words for the burden that crushed them,

and harsh ones for the builders-up of their ricks and the mowers of their

harvests. They made common cause with their enemy, instead of with their

friend, and instead of leaguing themselves with the laborers, as forming

together the true agricultural interest, they leagued themselves with the

landlords against the laborers, and so made fratricidal strife instead of

easy victory over the common foe.


In the summer and autumn of 1872, I was a good deal in London with my

mother.--My health had much broken down, and after a severe attack of

congestion of the lungs, my recovery was very slow. One Sunday in London,

I wandered into St. George's Hall, in which Mr. Charles Voysey was

preaching, and there I bought some of his sermons. To my delight I found

that someone else had passed through the same difficulties as I about

hell and the Bible and the atonement and the character of God, and had

given up all these old dogmas, while still clinging to belief in God. I

went to St. George's Hall again on the following Sunday, and in the

little ante-room, after the service, I found myself in a stream of

people, who were passing by Mr. and Mrs. Voysey, some evidently known to

him, some strangers, many of the latter thanking him for his morning's

work. As I passed in my turn I said: "I must thank you for very great

help in what you have said this morning", for indeed the possibility

opened of a God who was really "loving unto every man", and in whose care

each was safe for ever, had come like a gleam of light across the stormy

sea of doubt and distress on which I had been tossing for nearly twelve

months. On the following Sunday, I saw them again, and was cordially

invited down to their Dulwich home, where they gave welcome to all in

doubt. I soon found that the Theism they professed was free from the

defects which revolted me in Christianity. It left me God as a Supreme

Goodness, while rejecting all the barbarous dogmas of the Christian

faith. I now read Theodore Parker's "Discourse on Religion", Francis

Newman's "Hebrew Monarchy", and other works, many of the essays of Miss

Frances Power Cobbe and of other Theistic writers, and I no longer

believed in the old dogmas and hated while I believed; I no longer

doubted whether they were true or not; I shook them off, once for all,

with all their pain, and horror, and darkness, and felt, with relief and

joy inexpressible, that they were all but the dreams of ignorant and

semi-savage minds, not the revelation of a God. The last remnant of

Christianity followed swiftly these cast-off creeds, though, in parting

with this, one last pang was felt. It was the doctrine of the Deity of

Christ. The whole teaching of the Broad Church School tends, of course,

to emphasise the humanity at the expense of the Deity of Christ, and when

the eternal punishment and the substitutionary atonement had vanished,

there seemed to be no sufficient reason left for so stupendous a miracle

as the incarnation of the Deity. I saw that the idea of incarnation was

common to all Eastern creeds, not peculiar to Christianity; the doctrine

of the unity of God repelled the doctrine of the incarnation of a portion

of the Godhead. But the doctrine was dear from association; there was

something at once soothing and ennobling in the idea of a union between

Man and God, between a perfect man and divine supremacy, between a human

heart and an almighty strength. Jesus as God was interwoven with all art,

with all beauty in religion; to break with the Deity of Jesus was to

break with music, with painting, with literature; the Divine Child in his

mother's arms, the Divine Man in his Passion and in his triumph, the

human friend encircled with the majesty of the Godhead--did inexorable

Truth demand that this ideal figure, with all its pathos, its beauty, its

human love, should pass into the Pantheon of the dead Gods of the Past?







The struggle was a sharp one ere I could decide that intellectual honesty

demanded that the question of the Deity of Christ should be analysed as

strictly as all else, and that the conclusions come to from an impartial

study of facts should be faced as steadily as though they dealt with some

unimportant question. I was bound to recognise, however, that more than

intellectual honesty would be here required, for if the result of the

study were--as I dimly felt it would be--to establish disbelief in the

supernatural claims of Christ, I could not but feel that such disbelief

would necessarily entail most unpleasant external results. I might give

up belief in all save this, and yet remain a member of the Church of

England: views on Inspiration, on Eternal Torture, on the Vicarious

Atonement, however heterodox, might be held within the pale of the

Church; many broad church clergymen rejected these as decidedly as I did

myself, and yet remained members of the Establishment; the judgment on

"Essays and Reviews" gave this wide liberty to heresy within the Church,

and a laywoman might well claim the freedom of thought legally bestowed

on divines. The name "Christian" might well be worn while Christ was

worshipped as God, and obeyed as the "Revealer of the Father's will",

the "well-beloved Son", the "Savior and Lord of men". But once challenge

that unique position, once throw off that supreme sovereignty, and then

it seemed to me that the name "Christian" became a hypocrisy, and its

renouncement a duty incumbent on an upright mind. But I was a clergyman's

wife; my position made my participation in the Holy Communion a

necessity, and my withdrawal therefrom would be an act marked and

commented upon by all. Yet if I lost my faith in Christ, how could I

honestly approach "the Lord's Table", where Christ was the central figure

and the recipient of the homage paid there by every worshipper to "God

made man"? Hitherto mental pain alone had been the price demanded

inexorably from the searcher after truth; now to the inner would be added

the outer warfare, and how could I tell how far this might carry me?


One night only I spent in this struggle over the question: "Shall I

examine the claims to Deity of Jesus of Nazareth?". When morning broke

the answer was clearly formulated: "Truth is greater than peace or

position. If Jesus be God, challenge will not shake his Deity; if he be

Man, it is blasphemy to worship him." I re-read Liddon's "Bampton

Lectures" on this controversy and Renan's "Vie de Jesus". I studied the

Gospels, and tried to represent to myself the life there outlined; I

tested the conduct there given as I should have tested the conduct of any

ordinary historical character; I noted that in the Synoptics no claim to

Deity was made by Jesus himself, nor suggested by his disciples; I

weighed his own answer to an enquirer, with its plain disavowal of

Godhood: "Why callest thou me good? There is none good save one, that is

God" (Matt, xix., 17); I conned over his prayers to "my Father", his rest

on divine protection, his trust in a power greater than his own; I noted

his repudiation of divine knowledge: "Of that day and that hour knoweth

no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, _neither the Son_, but

the Father" (Mark xiii., 32); I studied the meaning of his prayer of

anguished submission: "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass

from me! nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matt, xxvi.,

39); I dwelt on his bitter cry in his dying agony: "My God, my God, why

hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt, xxvii., 46); I asked the meaning of the

final words of rest: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke

xxiii., 46). And I saw that, if there were any truth in the Gospels at

all, they told the story of a struggling, suffering, sinning, praying

man, and not of a God at all and the dogma of the Deity of Christ

followed the rest of the Christian doctrines into the limbo of past



Yet one other effort I made to save myself from the difficulties I

foresaw in connexion with this final breach with Christianity. There was

one man who had in former days wielded over me a great influence, one

whose writings had guided and taught me for many years--Dr. Pusey, the

venerable leader of the Catholic party in the Church, the learned

Patristic scholar, full of the wisdom of antiquity. He believed in Christ

as God; what if I put my difficulties to him? If he resolved them for me

I should escape the struggle I foresaw; if he could not resolve them,

then no answer to them was to be hoped for. My decision was quickly made;

being with my mother, I could write to him unnoticed, and I sat down and

put my questions clearly and fully, stating my difficulties and asking

him whether, out of his wider knowledge and deeper reading, he could

resolve them for me. I wish I could here print his answer, together with

two or three other letters I received from him, but the packet was

unfortunately stolen from my desk and I have never recovered it. Dr.

Pusey advised me to read Liddon's "Bampton Lectures", referred me to

various passages, chiefly from the Fourth Gospel, if I remember rightly,

and invited me to go down to Oxford and talk over my difficulties.

Liddon's "Bampton Lectures" I had thoroughly studied, and the Fourth

Gospel had no weight with me, the arguments in favor of its Alexandrian

origin being familiar to me, but I determined to accept his invitation to

a personal interview, regarding it as the last chance of remaining in the



To Oxford, accordingly, I took the train, and made my way to the famous

Doctor's rooms. I was shown in, and saw a short, stout gentleman, dressed

in a cassock, and looking like a comfortable monk; but the keen eyes,

steadfastly gazing straight into mine, told me of the power and subtlety

hidden by the unprepossessing form. The head was fine and impressive, the

voice low, penetrating, drilled into a somewhat monotonous and

artificially subdued tone. I quickly found that no sort of enlightenment

could possibly result from our interview. He treated me as a penitent

going to confession, seeking the advice of a director, not as an enquirer

struggling after truth, and resolute to obtain some firm standing-ground

in the sea of doubt, whether on the shores of orthodoxy or of heresy. He

would not deal with the question of the Deity of Jesus as a question for

argument; he reminded me: "You are speaking of your judge," when I

pressed some question. The mere suggestion of an imperfection in Jesus'

character made him shudder in positive pain, and he checked me with

raised hand, and the rebuke: "You are blaspheming; the very thought is a

terrible sin". I asked him if he could recommend to me any books which

would throw light on the subject: "No, no, you have read too much

already. You must pray; you must pray." Then, as I said that I could not

believe without proof, I was told: "Blessed are they that have not seen,

and yet have believed," and my further questioning was checked by the

murmur: "O my child, how undisciplined! how impatient!". Truly, he must

have found in me--hot, eager, passionate in my determination to know,

resolute not to profess belief while belief was absent--but very little

of that meek, chastened, submissive spirit to which he was accustomed in

the penitents wont to seek his counsel as their spiritual guide. In vain

did he bid me pray as though I believed; in vain did he urge the duty of

blind submission to the authority of the Church, of yielding, unreasoning

faith, which received but questioned not. He had no conception of the

feelings of the sceptical spirit; his own faith was solid as a rock--

firm, satisfied, unshakeable; he would as soon have committed suicide as

have doubted of the infallibility of the "Universal Church".


"It is not your duty to ascertain the truth," he told me sternly. "It is

your duty to accept and to believe the truth as laid down by the Church;

at your peril you reject it; the responsibility is not yours so long as

you dutifully accept that which the Church has laid down for your

acceptance. Did not the Lord promise that the presence of the Spirit

should be ever with his Church, to guide her into all truth?"


"But the fact of the promise and its value are the very points on which I

am doubtful," I answered.


He shuddered. "Pray, pray," he said. "Father, forgive her, for she knows

not what she says."


It was in vain I urged that I had everything to gain and nothing to lose

by following his directions, but that it seemed to me that fidelity to

truth forbade a pretended acceptance of that which was not believed.


"Everything to lose? Yes, indeed. You will be lost for time and lost for



"Lost or not," I rejoined, "I must and will try to find out what is true,

and I will not believe till I am sure."


"You have no right to make terms with God," he answered, "as to what you

will believe and what you will not believe. You are full of intellectual



I sighed hopelessly. Little feeling of pride was there in me just then,

and I felt that in this rigid unyielding dogmatism there was no

comprehension of my difficulties, no help for me in my strugglings. I

rose and, thanking him for his courtesy, said that I would not waste his

time further, that I must go home and just face the difficulties out,

openly leaving the Church and taking the consequences. Then for the first

time his serenity was ruffled.


"I forbid you to speak of your disbelief," he cried. "I forbid you to

lead into your own lost state the souls for whom Christ died."


Slowly and sadly I took my way back to the station, knowing that my last

chance of escape had failed me. I recognised in this famous divine the

spirit of the priest, which could be tender and pitiful to the sinner,

repentant, humble, submissive, craving only for pardon and for guidance,

but which was iron to the doubter, to the heretic, and would crush out

all questionings of "revealed truth", silencing by force, not by

argument, all challenge of the traditions of the Church. Out of such men

were made the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages, perfectly conscientious,

perfectly rigid, perfectly merciless to the heretic. To them heretics

were and are centres of infectious disease, and charity to them "the

worst cruelty to the souls of men". Certain that they hold "by no merit

of our own, but by the mercy of our God the one truth which he hath

revealed", they can permit no questionings, they can accept nought but

the most complete submission. But while man aspires after truth, while

his brain yearns after knowledge, while his intellect soars upward into

the heaven of speculation and "beats the air with tireless wing", so long

shall those who demand faith be met by challenge for proof, and those who

would blind him shall be defeated by his determination to gaze

unblenching on the face of Truth, even though her eyes should turn him

into stone.


During this same visit to London I saw Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Scott for the

first time. I had gone down to Dulwich to see Mr. and Mrs. Voysey, and

after dinner we went over to Upper Norwood, and I was introduced to one

of the most remarkable men I have ever met. At that time Mr. Scott was an

old man, with beautiful white hair, and eyes like those of a hawk

gleaming from under shaggy eyebrows; he had been a man of magnificent

physique, and though his frame was then enfeebled, the splendid lion-like

head kept its impressive strength and beauty, and told of a unique

personality. Of Scotch descent and wellborn, Thomas Scott had, as a boy,

been a page at the French Court; his manhood was spent in many lands, for

he "was a mighty hunter", though not "before the Lord". He had lived for

months among the North American Indians, sharing the hardships of their

wild life; he had hunted and fished all over the world. At last, he came

home, married, and ultimately settled down at Ramsgate, where he made his

home a centre of heretical thought. He issued an enormous number of

tracts and pamphlets, and each month he sent out a small packet to

hundreds of subscribers and friends. This monthly issue of heretical

literature soon made itself a power in the world of thought; the tracts

were of various shades of opinion, but were all heretical: some moderate,

some extreme; all were well-written, cultured and polished in tone--this

was a rule to which Mr. Scott made no exceptions; his writers might say

what they liked, but they must have something real to say, and they must

say that something in good English. The little white packets found their

way into many a quiet country parsonage, into many a fashionable home.

His correspondence was world-wide and came from all classes--now a letter

from a Prime Minister, now one from a blacksmith. All were equally

welcome, and all were answered with equal courtesy. At his house met

people of the most varying opinions. Colenso, Bishop of Natal, Edward

Maitland, E. Vansittart Neale, Charles Bray, Sara Hennell, W.J. Birch, R.

Suffield, and hundreds more, clerics and laymen, scholars and thinkers,

all gathered in this one home, to which the right of _entrée_ was gained

only by love of Truth and desire to spread Freedom among men.


Mr. Scott devoted his fortune to this great work. He would never let

publishers have his pamphlets in the ordinary way of trade, but issued

them all himself and distributed them gratuitously. If anyone desired to

subscribe, well and good, they might help in the work, but make it a

matter of business he would not. If anyone sent money for some tracts, he

would send out double the worth of the money enclosed, and thus for years

he carried on this splendid propagandist work. In all he was nobly

seconded by his wife, his "right hand" as he well named her, a sweet,

strong, gentle, noble woman, worthy of her husband, and than that no

higher praise can be spoken. Of both I shall have more to say hereafter,

but at present we are at the time of my first visit to them at Upper

Norwood, whither they had removed from Ramsgate.


Kindly greeting was given by both, and on Mr. Voysey suggesting that

judging by one essay of mine that he had seen--an essay which was later

expanded into the one on "Inspiration", in the Scott series--my pen would

be useful for propagandist work, Mr. Scott bade me try what I could do,

and send him for criticism anything I thought good enough for

publication; he did not, of course, promise to accept an essay, but he

promised to read it. A question arose as to the name to be attached to

the essay, in case of publication, and I told him that my name was not my

own to use, and that I did not suppose that Mr. Besant could possibly, in

his position, give me permission to attach it to a heretical essay; we

agreed that any essays I might write should for the present be published

anonymously, and that I should try my hand to begin with on the subject

of the "Deity of Jesus of Nazareth". And so I parted from those who were

to be such good friends to me in the coming time of struggle.







My resolve was now made, and henceforth there was at least no more doubt

so far as my position towards the Church was concerned. I made up my mind

to leave it, but was willing to make the leaving as little obtrusive as

possible. On my return to Sibsey I stated clearly the ground on which I

stood. I was ready to attend the Church services, joining in such parts

as were addressed to "the Supreme Being", for I was still heartily

Theistic; "the Father", shorn of all the horrible accessories hung round

him by Christianity, was still to me an object of adoration, and I could

still believe in and worship One who was "righteous in all His ways, and

holy in all His works", although the Moloch to whom was sacrificed the

well-beloved son had passed away for ever from my creed. Christian I was

not, though Theist I was, and I felt that the wider and more generous

faith would permit me to bow to the common God with my Christian

brethren, if only I was not compelled to pay homage to that "Son of Man"

whom Christians believed divine, homage which to me had become idolatry,

insulting to the "One God", to him of whom Jesus himself had spoken as of

"my God and your God".


Simply enough was the difficulty arranged for the moment. It was agreed

that I should withdraw myself from the "Holy Communion"--for in that

service, full of the recognition of Jesus as Deity, I could not join

without hypocrisy. The ordinary services I would attend, merely remaining

silent during those portions of them in which I could not honestly take

part, and while I knew that these changes in a clergyman's wife could not

pass unnoticed in a country village, I yet felt that nothing less than

this was consistent with barest duty. While I had merely doubted, I had

kept silence, and no act of mine had suggested doubt to others. Now that

I had no doubt that Christianity was a delusion, I would no longer act as

though I believed that to be of God which heart and intellect rejected as



For awhile all went smoothly. I daresay the parishioners gossipped about

the absence of their vicar's wife from the Sacrament, and indeed I

remember the pain and trembling wherewith, on the first "Sacrament

Sunday" after my return, I rose from my seat and walked quietly from the

church, leaving the white-spread altar. That the vicar's wife should

"communicate" was as much a matter of course as that the vicar should

"administer"; I had never in my life taken public part in anything that

made me noticeable in any way among strangers, and still I can recall the

feeling of deadly sickness that well nigh overcame me, as rising to go

out I felt that every eye in the church was on me, and that my exit would

be the cause of unending comment. As a matter of fact, everyone thought

that I was taken suddenly ill, and many were the calls and enquiries on

the following day. To any direct question, I answered quietly that I was

unable to take part in the profession of faith required from an honest

communicant, but the statement was rarely necessary, for the idea of

heresy in a vicar's wife did not readily suggest itself to the ordinary

bucolic mind, and I did not proffer information when it was unasked for.


It happened that, shortly after that (to me) memorable Christmas of 1872,

a sharp epidemic of typhoid fever broke out in the village of Sibsey. The

drainage there was of the most primitive type, and the contagion spread

rapidly. Naturally fond of nursing, I found in this epidemic work just

fitted to my hand, and I was fortunate enough to be able to lend personal

help that made me welcome in the homes of the stricken poor. The mothers

who slept exhausted while I watched beside their darlings' bedsides will

never, I like to fancy, think over harshly of the heretic whose hand was

as tender and often more skilful than their own. I think Mother Nature

meant me for a nurse, for I take a sheer delight in nursing anyone,

provided only that there is peril in the sickness, so that there is the

strange and solemn feeling of the struggle between the human skill one

wields and the supreme enemy, Death. There is a strange fascination in

fighting Death, step by step, and this is of course felt to the full

where one fights for life as life, and not for a life one loves. When the

patient is beloved, the struggle is touched with agony, but where one

fights with Death over the body of a stranger, there is a weird

enchantment in the contest without personal pain, and as one forces back

the hated foe there is a curious triumph in the feeling which marks the

death-grip yielding up its prey, as one snatches back to earth the life

which had well-nigh perished.


Meanwhile, the promise to Mr. Scott was not forgotten, and I penned the

essay on "The Deity of Jesus of Nazareth" which stands first in the

collection of essays published later under the title, "My Path to

Atheism". The only condition annexed to my sending it to Mr. Scott was

the perfectly fair one that if published it should appear without my

name. Mr. Scott was well pleased with the essay, and before long it was

printed as one of the "Scott Series", to my great delight.


But unfortunately a copy sent to a relative of Mr. Besant's brought about

a storm. That gentlemen did not disagree with it--indeed he admitted that

all educated persons must hold the views put forward--but what would

Society say? What would "the county families" think if one of the

clerical party was known to be a heretic. This dreadful little paper bore

the inscription "By the wife of a beneficed clergyman"; what would happen

if the "wife of the beneficed clergyman" were identified with Mrs. Besant

of Sibsey?


After some thought I made a compromise. Alter or hide my faith I would

not, but yield personal feelings I would. I gave up my correspondence

with Mr. and Mrs. Voysey, which might, it was alleged, he noticed in the

village and so give rise to mischievous gossip. In this Mr. and Mrs.

Voysey most generously helped me, bidding me rest assured of their

cordial friendship while counselling me for awhile to cease the

correspondence which was one of the few pleasures of my life, but was not

part of my duty to the higher and freer faith which we had all embraced.

With keen regret I bade them for awhile farewell, and went back to my

lonely life.


In that spring of 1873, I delivered my first lecture. It was delivered to

no one, queer as that may sound to my readers. And indeed, it was queer

altogether. I was learning to play the organ, and was in the habit of

practising in the church by myself, without a blower. One day, being

securely locked in, I thought I would like to try how "it felt" to speak

from the pulpit. Some vague fancies were stirring in me, that I could

speak if I had the chance; very vague they were, for the notion that I

might ever speak on the platform had never dawned on me; only the longing

to find outlet in words was in me; the feeling that I had something to

say, and the yearning to say it. So, queer as it may seem? I ascended the

pulpit in the big, empty, lonely church, and there and then I delivered

my first lecture! I shall never forget the feeling of power and of

delight which came upon me as my voice rolled down the aisles, and the

passion in me broke into balanced sentences, and never paused for

rhythmical expression, while I felt that all I wanted was to see the

church full of upturned faces, instead of the emptiness of the silent

pews. And as though in a dream the solitude became peopled, and I saw the

listening faces and the eager eyes, and as the sentences came unbidden

from my lips, and my own tones echoed back to me from the pillars of the

ancient church, I knew of a verity that the gift of speech was mine, and

that if ever--and it seemed then so impossible--if ever the chance came

to me of public work, that at least this power of melodious utterance

should win hearing for any message I had to bring.


But that knowledge remained a secret all to my own self for many a long

month, for I quickly felt ashamed of that foolish speechifying in an

empty church, and I only recall it now because, in trying to trace out

one's mental growth, it is only fair to notice the first silly striving

after that expression in spoken words, which, later, has become to me one

of the deepest delights of life. And indeed none can know save they who

have felt it what joy there is in the full rush of language which, moves

and sways; to feel a crowd respond to the lightest touch; to see the

faces brighten or graven at your bidding; to know that the sources of

human passion and human emotion gush at the word of the speaker, as the

stream from the riven rock; to feel that the thought that thrills through

a thousand hearers has its impulse from you and throbs back to you the

fuller from a thousand heart-beats; is there any joy in life more

brilliant than this, fuller of passionate triumph, and of the very

essence of intellectual delight?


My pen was busy, and a second pamphlet, dealing with the Johannine

gospel, was written and sent up to Mr. Scott under the same conditions of

anonymity as before, for it was seen that my authorship could in nowise

be suspected, and Mr. Scott paid me for my work. I had also made a

collection of Theistic, but non-Christian, hymns, with a view of meeting

a want felt by Mr. Voysey's congregation at St. George's Hall, and this

was lying idle, while it might be utilised. So it was suggested that I

should take up again my correspondence with Mr. and Mrs. Voysey, and glad

enough was I to do so. During this time my health was rapidly failing,

and in the summer of 1873 it broke down completely. At last I went up to

London to consult a physician, and was told I was suffering from general

nervous exhaustion, which, was accompanied by much disturbance of the

functions of the heart. "There is no organic disease yet," said Dr.

Sibson, "but there soon will be, unless you can completely change your

manner of life." Such a change was not possible, and I grew rapidly

worse. The same bad adviser who had before raised the difficulty of "what

will Society say?" again interfered, and urged that pressure should be

put on me to compel me at least to conform to the outward ceremonies of

the Church, and to attend the Holy Communion. This I was resolved not to

do, whatever might be the result of my "obstinacy ", and the result was

not long in coming.


I had been with the children to Southsea, to see if the change would

restore my shattered health, and stayed in town with my mother on my

return under Dr. Sibson's care. Very skilful and very good to me was Dr.

Sibson, giving me for almost nothing all the wealthiest could have bought

with their gold, but he could not remove all then in my life which made

the re-acquiring of health impossible. What the doctor could not do,

however, others did. It was resolved that I should either resume

attendance at the Communion, or should not return home; hypocrisy or

expulsion--such was the alternative; I chose the latter.


A bitterly sad time followed; my dear mother was heartbroken; to her,

with her wide and vague form of Christianity, loosely held, the intensity

of my feeling that where I did not believe I would not pretend belief,

was incomprehensible. She recognised far more fully than I all that a

separation from my home meant for me, and the difficulties which would

surround a young woman not yet six-and-twenty, living alone. She knew how

brutally the world judges, and how the mere fact that a woman is young

and alone justifies any coarseness of slander. Then, I did not guess how

cruel men and women could be, but knowing it from eleven years'

experience, I deliberately say that I would rather go through it all

again with my eyes wide open from the first, than have passed those

eleven years "in Society" under the burden of an acted lie.


But the struggle was hard when she prayed me for her sake to give way;

against harshness I had been rigid as steel, but to remain steadfast when

my darling mother, whom I loved as I loved nothing else on earth, begged

me on her knees to yield, was indeed hard. I felt as though it must be a

crime to refuse submission when she urged it, but still--to live a lie?

Not even for her was that possible.


Then there were the children, the two little ones who worshipped me, I

who was to them mother, nurse, and playfellow. Were these also to be

resigned? For awhile, at least, this complete loss was spared me, for

facts (which I have not touched on in this record) came accidentally to

my brother's knowledge, and he resolved that I should have the protection

of legal separation, and should not be turned wholly penniless and alone

into the world. So, when everything was arranged, I found myself

possessed of my little girl, of complete personal freedom, and of a small

monthly income sufficient for respectable starvation.







The "world was all before us where to choose", but circumstances narrowed

the choice down to Hobson's. I had no ready money beyond the first

month's payment of my annuity; furnished lodgings were beyond my means,

and I had nothing wherewith to buy furniture. My brother offered me a

home, on condition that I should give up my "heretical friends" and keep

quiet; but, being freed from one bondage, nothing was further from my

thoughts than to enter another. Besides, I did not choose to be a burden

on anyone, and I resolved to "get something to do", to rent a tiny house,

and to make a nest where my mother, my little girl, and I could live

happily together. The difficulty was the "something"; I spent various

shillings in agencies, with a quite wonderful unanimity of failures. I

tried to get some fancy needlework, advertised as an infallible source of

income to "ladies in reduced circumstances"; I fitted the advertisement

admirably, for I was a lady, and my circumstances were decidedly reduced,

but I only earned 4s. 6d. by weeks of stitching, and the materials cost

nearly as much as the finished work. I experimented with a Birmingham

firm, who generously offered everyone an opportunity of adding to their

incomes, and received in answer to the small fee demanded a pencil-case,

with an explanation that I was to sell little articles of that

description--going as far as cruet-stands--to my friends; I did not feel

equal to springing pencil-cases and cruet-stands casually on my

acquaintances, so did not start in that business. It would be idle to

relate all the things I tried, and failed in, until I began to think that

the "something to do" was not so easy to find as I had expected.


I made up my mind to settle at Upper Norwood, near Mr. and Mrs. Scott,

who were more than good to me in my trouble; and I fixed on a very little

house in Colby Road, Gipsy Hill, to be taken from the ensuing Easter.

Then came the question of furniture; a friend of Mr. Scott's gave me an

introduction to a manufacturer, who agreed to let me have furniture for a

bedroom and sitting-room, and to let me pay him by monthly instalments.

The next thing was to save a few months' annuity, and so have a little

money in hand, wherewith to buy necessaries on starting, and to this end

I decided to accept a loving invitation to Folkestone, where my

grandmother was living with two of my aunts, and there to seek some

employment, no matter what, provided it gave me food and lodging, and

enabled me to put aside my few pounds a month.


Relieved from the constant strain of fear and anxiety, my health was

quickly improving, and the improvement became more rapid after I went

down with my mother to Folkestone. The hearty welcome offered to me there

was extended with equal warmth to little Mabel, who soon arrived, a most

forlorn little maiden. She was only three years old, and she had not seen

me for some weeks; her passion of delight was pitiful; she clung to me,

in literal fashion, for weeks afterwards, and screamed if she lost sight

of me for a moment; it was long before she got over the separation and

the terror of her lonely journey from Sibsey and London in charge only of

the guard. But she was a "winsome wee thing", and danced into everyone's

heart; after "mamma", "granny" was the prime favorite, and my dear mother

worshipped her first grand-daughter; never was prettier picture than the

red-golden hair nestled against the white, the baby-grace contrasting

with the worn stateliness of her tender nurse. From that time forward--

with the exception of a few weeks of which I shall speak presently and of

the yearly stay of a month with her father--little Mabel was my constant

companion, until Sir George Jessel's brutality robbed me of my child. She

would play contentedly while I was working, a word now and again enough

to make her happy; when I had to go out without her she would run to the

door with me, and the "good-bye" came from down-curved lips, and she was

ever watching at the window for my return, and the sunny face was always

the first to welcome me home. Many and many a time have I been coming

home, weary and heart-sick, and the glimpse of the little face watching

has reminded me that I must not carry in a grave face to sadden my

darling, and the effort to throw off the dreariness for her sake shook it

off altogether, and brought back the sunshine. I have never forgiven Sir

George Jessel, and I never shall, though his death has left me only his

memory to hate.


At Folkestone, I continued my search for "something to do", and for some

weeks sought for pupils, thinking I might thus turn my heresy to account.

But pupils are not readily attainable by a heretic woman, away from her

natural home, and with a young child as "encumbrance". It chanced,

however, that the vicar of Folkestone, Mr. Woodward, was then without a

governess, and his wife was in very delicate health. My people knew him

well, and as I had plenty of spare time, I offered to teach the children

for a few hours a day. The offer was gladly accepted, and I soon arranged

to go and stay at the house for awhile, until he could find a regular

governess. I thought that at least I could save my small income while I

was there, and Mabel and I were to be boarded and lodged in exchange for

my work. This work was fairly heavy, but I did not mind that; it soon

became heavier. Some serious fault on the part of one or both servants

led to their sudden retirement, and I became head cook as well as

governess and nurse. On the whole, I think I shall not try to live by

cooking, if other trades fail; I don't mind boiling and frying, and

making pie-crust is rather pleasant, but I do object to lifting saucepans

and blistering my hands over heavy kettles. There is a certain charm in

making a stew, especially to the unaccustomed cook, because of the

excitement of wondering what the result of such various ingredients will

be, and whether any flavor save that of onions will survive the

competition in the mixture. On the whole my services as cook were voted

very successful; I did my cooking better than I did my sweeping: the

latter was a failure from sheer want of muscular strength.


This curious episode came to an end abruptly. One of my little pupils

fell ill with diptheria, and I was transformed from cook into sick-nurse.

I sent my Mabel off promptly to her dear grandmother's care, and gave

myself up to my old delight in nursing. But it is a horrible disease,

diptheria, and the suffering of the patient is frightful to witness. I

shall never forget the poor little girl's black parched lips and gasping



Scarcely was she convalescent, when the youngest boy, a fine, strong,

healthy little fellow, sickened with scarlet fever. We elders held a

consultation, and decided to isolate the top floor from the rest of the

house, and to nurse the little lad there; it seemed almost hopeless to

prevent such a disease from spreading through a family of children, but

our vigorous measures were successful, and none other suffered. I was

voted to the post of nurse, and installed myself promptly, taking up the

carpets, turning out the curtains, and across the door ways hanging

sheets which I kept always wet with chloride of lime. My meals were

brought upstairs and put on the landing outside; my patient and I

remained completely isolated, until the disease had run its course; and

when all risk was over, I proudly handed over my charge, the disease

touching no other member of the flock.


It was a strange time, those weeks of the autumn and early winter in Mr.

Woodward's house. He was a remarkably good man, very religious and to a

very remarkable extent not "of this world". A "priest" to the tips of his

finger-nails, and looking on his priestly office as the highest a man

could fill, he yet held it always as one which put him at the service of

the poorest who needed help. He was very good to me, and, while deeply

lamenting my "perversion", held, by some strange unpriestlike charity,

that my "unbelief" was but a passing cloud, sent as trial by "the Lord",

and soon to vanish again, leaving me in the "sunshine of faith". He

marvelled much, I learned afterwards, where I gained my readiness to work

heartily for others, and to remain serenely content amid the roughnesses

of my toiling life. To my great amusement I heard later that his elder

daughters, trained in strictest observance of all Church ceremonies, had

much discussed my non-attendance at the Sacrament, and had finally

arrived at the conclusion that I had committed some deadly sin, for which

the humble work which I undertook at their house was the appointed

penance, and that I was excluded from "the Blessed Sacrament" until the

penance was completed!


Very shortly after the illness above-mentioned, my mother went up to

town, whither I was soon to follow her, for now the spring had arrived,

and it was time to prepare our new home. How eagerly we had looked

forward to taking possession; how we had talked over our life together

and knitted on the new one we anticipated to the old one we remembered;

how we had planned out Mabel's training and arranged the duties that

should fall to the share of each! Day-dreams, that never were to be



But a brief space had passed since my mother's arrival in town, when I

received a telegram from my brother, stating that she was dangerously

ill, and summoning me at once to her bedside. As swiftly as express train

could carry me to London I was there, and found my darling in bed,

prostrate, the doctor only giving her three days to live. One moment's

sight I caught of her face, drawn and haggard; then as she saw me it all

changed into delight; "At last! now I can rest."


The brave spirit had at length broken down, never again to rise; the

action of her heart had failed, the valves no longer performed their

duty, and the bluish shade of forehead and neck told that the blood was

no longer sent pure and vivifying through the arteries. But her death was

not as near as the doctor had feared; "I do not think she can live

four-and-twenty hours," he said to me, after I had been with her for two

days. I told her his verdict, but it moved her little; "I do not feel

that I am going to die just yet," she said resolutely, and she was right.

There was an attack of fearful prostration, a very wrestling with death,

and then the grim shadow drew backwards, and she struggled back to life.

Soon, as is usual in cases of such disease, dropsy intervened, with all

its weariness of discomfort, and for week after week her long martyrdom

dragged on. I nursed her night and day, with a very desperation of

tenderness, for now fate had touched the thing that was dearest to me in

life. A second horrible crisis came, and for the second time her tenacity

and my love beat back the death-stroke. She did not wish to die--the love

of life was strong in her; I would not let her die; between us we kept

the foe at bay.


At this period, after eighteen months of abstention, and for the last

time, I took the Sacrament. This statement will seem strange to my

readers, but the matter happened in this wise:


My dear mother had an intense longing to take it, but absolutely refused

to do so unless I partook of it with her.


"If it be necessary to salvation," she persisted doggedly, "I will not

take it if darling Annie is to be shut out. I would rather be lost with

her than saved without her." In vain I urged that I could not take it

without telling the officiating clergyman of my heresy, and that under

such circumstances the clergyman would be sure to refuse to administer to

me. She insisted that she could not die happy if she did not take it with

me. I went to a clergyman I knew well, and laid the case before him; as I

expected, he refused to allow me to communicate. I tried a second; the

result was the same. I was in despair; to me the service was foolish and

superstitious, but I would have done a great deal more for my mother than

eat bread and drink wine, provided that the eating and drinking did not,

by pretence of faith on my part, soil my honesty. At last a thought

struck me; there was Dean Stanley, my mother's favorite, a man known to

be of the broadest school within the Church of England; suppose I asked

him? I did not know him, though as a young child I had known his sister

as my mother's friend, and I felt the request would be something of an

impertinence. Yet there was just the chance that he might consent, and

then my darling's death-bed would be the easier. I told no one, but set

out resolutely for the Deanery, Westminster, timidly asked for the Dean,

and followed the servant upstairs with a very sinking heart. I was left

for a moment alone in the library, and then the Dean came in. I don't

think I ever in my life felt more intensely uncomfortable than I did in

that minute's interval, as he stood waiting for me to speak, his clear,

grave, piercing eyes gazing right into mine.


Very falteringly I preferred my request, stating baldly that I was not a

believer in Christ, that my mother was dying, that she was fretting to

take the Sacrament, that she would not take it unless I took it with her,

that two clergymen had refused to allow me to take part in the service,

that I had come to him in despair, feeling how great was the intrusion,

but--she was dying.


"You were quite right to come to me," he said as I concluded, in that

soft musical voice of his, his keen gaze having changed into one no less

direct, but marvellously gentle: "of course, I will go and see your

mother, and I have little doubt that if you will not mind talking over

your position with me, we may see our way clear to doing as your mother



I could barely speak my thanks, so much did the kindly sympathy move me;

the revulsion from the anxiety and fear of rebuff was strong enough to be

almost pain. But Dean Stanley did more than I asked. He suggested that he

should call that afternoon, and have a quiet chat with my mother, and

then come again on the following day to administer the Sacrament.


"A stranger's presence is always trying to a sick person," he said, with

rare delicacy of thought; "and joined to the excitement of the service it

might be too much for your dear mother. If I spend half-an-hour with her

to-day, and administer the Sacrament to-morrow, it will, I think, be

better for her."


So Dean Stanley came that afternoon, and remained talking with my mother

for about half-an-hour, and then set himself to understand my own

position. He finally told me that conduct was far more important than

theory, and that he regarded all as "Christians" who recognised and tried

to follow the moral law. On the question of the absolute Deity of Jesus

he laid but little stress; Jesus was, "in a special sense", the "Son of

God", but it was folly to jangle about words with only human meanings

when dealing with the mysteries of divine existence, and above all it was

folly to make such words into dividing lines between earnest souls. The

one important matter was the recognition of "duty to God and man", and

all who were one in that recognition might rightfully join in an act of

worship, the essence of which was not acceptance of dogma, but love of

God and self-sacrifice for man. "The Holy Communion", he said, in his

soft tones, "was never meant to divide from each other hearts that are

searching after the one true God; it was meant by its founder as a symbol

of unity, not of strife".


On the following day he came again, and celebrated the "Holy Communion"

by the bedside of my dear mother. Well was I repaid for the struggle it

had cost me to ask so great a kindness from a stranger, when I saw the

comfort that gentle noble heart had given to my mother. He soothed away

all her anxiety about my heresy with tactful wisdom, bidding her have no

fear of differences of opinion where the heart was set on truth.

"Remember", she told me he had said to her, "remember that our God is the

God of truth, and that therefore the honest search for truth can never be

displeasing in his eyes".


Once again after that he came, and after his visit to my mother we had

another long talk. I ventured to ask him, the conversation having turned

that way, how, with views so broad as his own, he found it possible to

remain in communion with the Church of England. "I think", he said

gently, "that I am of more service to true religion by remaining in the

Church and striving to widen its boundaries from within, than if I left

it and worked from without". And he went on to explain how, as Dean of

Westminster, he was in a rarely independent position, and could make the

Abbey of a wider national service than would otherwise be possible. In

all he said on this his love for and his pride in the glorious Abbey were

manifest, and it was easy to see that old historical associations, love

of music, of painting, and of stately architecture, were the bonds that

held him bound to the "old historic Church of England". His emotions, not

his intellect, kept him Churchman, and he shrunk with the

over-sensitiveness of the cultured scholar from the idea of allowing the

old traditions, to be handled roughly by inartistic hands. Naturally of a

refined and delicate nature, he had been rendered yet more sensitive by

the training of the college and the court; the exquisite courtesy of his

manners was but the high polish of a naturally gentle and artistic

spirit, a spirit whose gentleness sometimes veiled its strength. I have

often heard Dean Stanley harshly spoken of, I have heard his honesty

roughly challenged, but never in my presence has he been attacked that I

have not uttered my protest against the injustice done him, and thus

striven to repay some small fraction of that great debt of gratitude

which I shall owe to his memory as long as I live.


As the spring grew warmer, my mother rallied wonderfully, and we began to

dare to hope. At last it was decided to move her down to Norwood; she was

wearying for change, and it was thought that the purer air of the country

might aid the system to recover tone and strength. The furniture was

waiting for me to send for it, and it was soon, conveyed to Colby Road;

it only furnished two rooms, but I could easily sleep on the floor, and I

made the two rooms on the ground floor into bedroom and sitting-room for

my dear invalid. One little servant-maid was all our slender resources

could afford, and a very charming one was found for me by Mrs. Scott.

Through the months of hard work and poor living that followed, Mary was

the most thoughtful and most generous of comrades. And, indeed, I have

been very fortunate in my servants, always finding in them willingness to

help, and freely-rendered, ungrudging kindness.


I have just said that I could only furnish two rooms, but on my next

visit to complete all the arrangements for my mother's reception, I found

the bedroom that was to be mine neatly and prettily furnished. The good

fairy was Mrs. Scott, who, learning the "nakedness of the land" from

Mary, had determined that I should not be as uncomfortable as I had



It was the beginning of May, and the air was soft and bright and warm. We

hired an invalid carriage and drove slowly down to Norwood. My mother

seemed to enjoy the drive, and when we lifted her into the bright cosy

room prepared for her, she was delighted with the change. On the

following morning the improvement was continued, but in the evening she

was taken suddenly worse, and we lifted her into bed and telegraphed for

the doctor. But now the end had come; her strength completely failed, and

she felt that death was upon her; but selfless to the last, her only fear

was for me. "I am leaving you alone," she would sigh from time to time,

and truly I felt, with an anguish I dared not realise, that when she died

I should indeed be alone on earth.


For two days longer she was with me, and, miser with my last few hours, I

never left her side for five minutes. At last on the 10th of May the

weakness passed into delirium, but even then the faithful eyes followed

me about the room, until at length they closed for ever, and as the

sun sank low in the heavens, the breath came slower and slower, till the

silence of death came down upon us and she was gone.


All that followed was like a dream. I would have none touch my dead save

myself and her favorite sister, who was with us at the last; she wept

over her, but I could not, not even when they hid her beneath the

coffin-lid, nor all that weary way to Kensal Green, whither we took her

to lay her with her husband and her baby-son. I could not believe that

our day-dream was dead and buried, and the home destroyed ere it was

fairly made. My "house was left unto" me "desolate", and the rooms filled

with sunshine, but unlighted by her presence, seemed to reiterate to me:

"You are all alone ".







The two months after my mother's death were the dreariest my life has

known, and they were months of tolerably hard struggle. The little house

in Colby Road taxed my slender resources heavily, and the search for work

was not yet successful. I do not know how I should have managed but for

the help, ever at hand, of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Scott. During this time I

wrote for Mr. Scott pamphlets on Inspiration, Atonement, Mediation and

Salvation, Eternal Torture, Religious Education of Children, Natural _v._

Revealed Religion, and the few guineas thus earned were very valuable.

Their house, too, was always open to me, and this was no small help, for

often in those days the little money I had was enough to buy food for two

but not enough to buy it for three, and I would go out and study all day

at the British Museum, so as to "have my dinner in town", the said dinner

being conspicuous by its absence. If I was away for two evenings running

from the hospitable house in the terrace, Mrs. Scott would come down to

see what had happened, and many a time the supper there was of real

physical value to me. Well might I write, in 1879, when Thomas Scott lay

dead: "It was Thomas Scott whose house was open to me when my need was

sorest, and he never knew, this generous noble heart, how sometimes, when

I went in, weary and overdone, from a long day's study in the British

Museum, with scarce food to struggle through the day--he never knew how

his genial 'Well, little lady', in welcoming tone, cheered the then utter

loneliness of my life. To no living man or woman--save one--do I owe the

debt of gratitude that I owe to Thomas Scott."


The small amount of jewellery I possessed, and all my superfluous

clothes, were turned into more necessary articles, and the child, at

least, never suffered a solitary touch of want. Mary was a wonderful

contriver, and kept house on the very slenderest funds that could be put

into a servant's hands, and she also made the little place so bright and

fresh-looking that it was always a pleasure to go into it. Recalling

those days of "hard living", I can now look on them without regret. More,

I am glad to have passed through them, for they have taught me how to

sympathise with those who are struggling as I struggled then, and I never

can hear the words fall from pale lips: "I am hungry", without

remembering how painful a thing hunger is, and without curing that pain,

at least for the moment.


But I turn from this to the brighter side of my life, the intellectual

and social side, where I found a delight unknown in the old days of

bondage. First, there was the joy of freedom, the joy of speaking out

frankly and honestly each thought. Truly, I had the right to say: "With a

great price obtained I this freedom," and having paid the price, I

revelled in the Liberty I had bought. Mr. Scott's valuable library was at

my service; his keen brain challenged my opinions, probed my assertions,

and suggested phases of thought hitherto untouched. I studied harder than

ever, and the study now was unchecked by any fear of possible

consequences. I had nothing left of the old faith save belief in "a God",

and that began slowly to melt away. The Theistic axiom: "If there be a

God at all he must be at least as good as his highest creature", began

with an "if", and to that "if" I turned my attention. "Of all impossible

things", writes Miss Frances Power Cobbe, "the most impossible must

surely be that a man should dream something of the good and the noble,

and that it should prove at last that his Creator was less good and less

noble than he had dreamed." But, I questioned, are we sure that there is

a Creator? Granted that, if there is, he must be above his highest

creature, but--is there such a being? "The ground", says the Rev. Charles

Voysey, "on which our belief in God rests is man. Man, parent of Bibles

and Churches, inspirer of all good thoughts and good deeds. Man, the

master-piece of God's thought on earth. Man, the text-book of all

spiritual knowledge. Neither miraculous nor infallible, man is

nevertheless the only trustworthy record of the Divine mind in things

perhaps pertaining to God. Man's reason, conscience, and affections are

the only true revelation of his Maker." But what if God were only man's

own image reflected in the mirror of man's mind? What if man were the

creator, not the revelation of his God?


It was inevitable that such thoughts should arise after the more palpably

indefensible doctrines of Christianity had been discarded. Once encourage

the human mind to think, and bounds to the thinking can never again be

set by authority. Once challenge traditional beliefs, and the challenge

will ring on every shield which is hanging in the intellectual arena.

Around me was the atmosphere of conflict, and, freed from its long

repression, my mind leapt up to share in the strife with a joy in the

intellectual tumult, the intellectual strain.


At this time I found my way to South Place Chapel, to which Mr. Moncure

D. Conway was attracting many a seeker after truth. I was fortunate

enough to be introduced to this remarkable religious leader, and to his

charming wife, one of the sweetest and steadiest natures which it has

been my lot to meet. It was from. Mrs. Conway that I first heard of Mr.

Bradlaugh as a speaker that everyone should hear. She asked me one day if

I had been to the Hall of Science, and I said, with the stupid, ignorant

reflexion of other people's prejudices which is but too common:


"No, I have never been. Mr. Bradlaugh is rather a rough sort of speaker,

is he not?"


"He is the finest speaker of Saxon English that I have ever heard," Mrs.

Conway answered, "except, perhaps, John Bright, and his power over a

crowd is something marvellous. Whether you agree with him or not, you

should hear him."


I replied that I really did not know what his views were, beyond having a

vague notion that he was an Atheist of a rather pronounced type, but that

I would go and hear him when I had an opportunity.


Mr. Conway had passed beyond the emotional Theism of Mr. Voysey, and talk

with him did something towards widening my views on the question of a

Divine Existence. I re-read carefully Mansel's Bampton Lectures, and

found in them much to provoke doubt, nothing to induce faith. Take the

following phrases, and think whither they carry us. Dean Mansel is

speaking of God as Infinite, and he says: "That a man can be conscious of

the Infinite is, then, a supposition which, in the very terms in which it

is expressed, annihilates itself.... The Infinite, if it is to be

conceived at all, must be conceived as potentially everything and

actually nothing; for if there is anything in general which it cannot

become, it is thereby limited; and if there is anything in particular

which it actually is, it is thereby excluded from being any other thing.

But again, it must also be conceived as actually everything and

potentially nothing: for an unrealised potentiality is likewise a

limitation. If the infinite can be that which it is not, it is by that

very possibility marked out as incomplete and capable of a higher

perfection. If it is actually everything, it possesses no characteristic

feature by which it can be distinguished from anything else and discerned

as an object of consciousness."


Could any argument more thoroughly Atheistic be put before a mind which

dared to think out to the logical end any train of thought? Such

reasoning can lead but to one of two ends: despair of truth and

consequent acceptance of the incomprehensible as Divine, or else the

resolute refusal to profess belief where reason is helpless, and where

faith is but the credulity of ignorance. In my case, it had the latter



At the same time I re-read Mill's "Examination of Sir W. Hamilton's

Philosophy", and also went through a pretty severe study of Comte's

_Philosophic Positive_. I had entirely given up the use of prayer, not

because I was an Atheist but because I was still a Theist. It seemed to

me to be absurd to pray, if I believed in a God who was wiser and better

than myself. An all-wise God did not need my suggestions: an all-good God

would do all that was best without my prompting. Prayer appeared to me to

be a blasphemous impertinence, and for a considerable time I had

discontinued its use. But God fades gradually out of the daily life of

those who never pray; a God who is not a Providence is a superfluity;

when from the heaven does not smile a listening Father, it soon becomes

an empty space whence resounds no echo of man's cry.


At last I said to Mr. Scott: "Mr. Scott, may I write a tract on the

nature and existence of God?"


He glanced at me keenly: "Ah, little lady; you are facing then that

problem at last? I thought it must come. Write away."


The thought that had been driving me forward found its expression in the

opening words of the essay (published a few months later, with one or two

additions that were made after I had read two of Mr. Bradlaugh's essays,

his "Plea for Atheism", and "Is there a God?"): "It is impossible for

those who study the deeper religious problems of our time to stave off

much longer the question which lies at the root of them all, 'What do you

believe in regard to God?' We may controvert Christian doctrines one

after another; point by point we may be driven from the various beliefs

of our churches; reason may force us to see contradictions where we had

imagined harmony, and may open our eyes to flaws where we had dreamed of

perfection; we resign all idea of a revelation; we seek for God in Nature

only: we renounce for ever the hope (which glorified our former creed

into such alluring beauty) that at some future time we should verily

'see' God; that 'our eyes should behold the King in his beauty', in that

fairy 'land which is very far off'. But every step we take onwards

towards a more reasonable faith and a surer light of Truth, leads us

nearer and nearer to the problem of problems: 'What is THAT which men

call God?".


I sketched out the plan of my essay and had written most of it when on

returning one day from the British Museum I stopped at the shop of Mr.

Edward Truelove, 256 High Holborn. I had been working at some Comtist

literature, and had found a reference to Mr. Truelove's shop as one at

which Comtist publications might be bought. Lying on the counter was a

copy of the _National Reformer_, and attracted by the title I bought it.

I had never before heard of nor seen the paper, and I read it placidly in

the omnibus; looking up, I was at first puzzled and then amused to see an

old gentleman gazing at me with indignation and horror printed on his

countenance; I realised that my paper had disturbed his peace of mind,

and that the sight of a young woman, respectably dressed in crape,

reading an Atheistic journal in an omnibus was a shock too great to be

endured by the ordinary Philistine without sign of discomposure. He

looked so hard at the paper that I was inclined to offer it to him for

his perusal, but repressed the mischievous inclination, and read on



This first copy of the paper with which I was to be so closely connected

bore date July 19th, 1874, and contained two long letters from a Mr.

Arnold of Northampton, attacking Mr. Bradlaugh, and a brief and

singularly self-restrained answer from the latter. There was also an

article on the National Secular Society, which made me aware that there

was an organisation devoted to the propagandism of Free Thought. I felt

that if such a society existed, I ought to belong to it, and I

consequently wrote a short note to the editor of the _National Reformer_,

asking whether it was necessary for a person to profess Atheism before

being admitted to the Society. The answer appeared in the _National



"S.E.--To be a member of the National Secular Society it is only

necessary to be able honestly to accept the four principles, as given in

the _National Reformer_ of June 14th. This any person may do without

being required to avow himself an Atheist. Candidly, we can see no

logical resting-place between the entire acceptance of authority, as in

the Roman Catholic Church, and the most extreme nationalism. If, on again

looking to the Principles of the Society, you can accept them, we repeat

to you our invitation."


I sent my name in as an active member, and find it recorded in the

_National Reformer_ of August 9th. Having received an intimation that

Londoners could receive their certificates at the Hall of Science from

Mr. Bradlaugh on any Sunday evening, I betook myself thither, and it was

on the 2nd August, 1874, that I first set foot in a Freethought hall.


As I sat, much crushed, surveying the crowded audience with much interest

and longing to know which were members of the brotherhood I had entered,

a sudden roar of cheering startled me. I saw a tall figure passing

swiftly along and mounting the stairs, and the roar deepened and swelled

as he made a slight acknowledgment of the greeting and sat down. I

remember well my sensations as I looked at Charles Bradlaugh for the

first time. The grave, quiet, _strong_ look, as he sat facing the crowd,

impressed me strangely, and most of all was I surprised at the breadth of

forehead, the massive head, of the man I had heard described as a mere

ignorant demagogue.


The lecture was on "The ancestry and birth of Jesus", and was largely

devoted to tracing the resemblance between the Christ and Krishna myths.

As this ground was well-known to me, I was able to judge of the

lecturer's accuracy, and quickly found that his knowledge was as sound as

his language was splendid. I had never before heard eloquence, sarcasm,

fire, and passion brought to bear on the Christian superstition, nor had

I ever before felt the sway of the orator, nor the power that dwells in

spoken words.


After the lecture, Mr. Bradlaugh came down the Hall with some

certificates of membership of the National Secular Society in his hand,

and glancing round for their claimants caught, I suppose, some look of

expectancy in my face, for he paused and handed me mine, with a

questioning, "Mrs. Besant?". Then he said that if I had any doubt at all

on the subject of Atheism, he would willingly discuss it with me, if I

would write making an appointment for that purpose. I made up my mind to

take advantage of the opportunity, and a day or two later saw me walking

down Commercial Road, looking for Turner Street.


My first conversation with Mr. Bradlaugh was brief, direct, and

satisfactory. We found that there was little real difference between our

theological views, and my dislike of the name "Atheist" arose from my

sharing in the vulgar error that the Atheist asserted, "There is no God".

This error I corrected in the draft of my essay, by inserting a few

passages from pamphlets written by acknowledged Atheists, to which Mr.

Bradlaugh drew my attention; with this exception the essay remained as it

was sketched, being described by Mr. Bradlaugh as "a very good Atheistic

essay", a criticism which ended with the smiling comment: "You have

thought yourself into Atheism without knowing it."


Very wise were some of the suggestions made: "You should never say you

have an opinion on a subject until you have tried to study the strongest

things said against the view to which you are inclined". "You must not

think you know a subject until you are acquainted with all that the best

minds have said about it." "No steady work can be done in public unless

the worker study at home far more than he talks outside." And let me say

here that among the many things for which I have to thank Mr. Bradlaugh,

there is none for which I owe him more gratitude than for the fashion in

which he has constantly urged the duty of all who stand forward as

teachers to study deeply every subject they touch, and the impetus he has

given to my own love of knowledge by the constant spur of criticism and

of challenge, criticism of every weak statement, challenge of every

hastily-expressed view. It will be a good thing for the world when a

friendship between a man and a woman no longer means protective

condescension on one side and helpless dependence on the other, but when

they meet on equal ground of intellectual sympathy, discussing,

criticising, studying, and so aiding the evolution of stronger and

clearer thought-ability in each.


A few days after our first discussion, Mr. Bradlaugh offered me a place

on the staff of the _National Reformer_ at a small weekly salary; and my

first contribution appeared in the number for August 30th, over the

signature of "Ajax"; I was obliged to use a _nom de guerre_ at first, for

the work I was doing for Mr. Scott would have been injured had my name

appeared in the columns of the terrible _National Reformer_, and until

the work commenced and paid for was concluded I did not feel at liberty

to use my own name. Later, I signed my _National Reformer_ articles, and

the tracts written for Mr. Scott appeared anonymously.


The name was suggested by the famous statue of "Ajax crying for light", a

cast of which stands in the centre walk of the Crystal Palace. The cry

through the darkness for light, even if light brought destruction, was

one that awoke the keenest sympathy of response from my heart:


  "If our fate be death,

  Give light, and let us die!"


To see, to know, to understand, even though the seeing blind, though the

knowledge sadden, though the understanding shatter the dearest hopes,

such has ever been the craving of the upward-striving mind of man. Some

regard it as a weakness, as a folly, but I am sure that it exists most

strongly in some of the noblest of our race; that from the lips of those

who have done most in lifting the burden of ignorance from the

overstrained and bowed shoulders of a stumbling world has gone out most

often into the empty darkness the pleading, impassioned cry :--


"Give light."







My first lecture was delivered at the Co-operative Society's Hall, 55,

Castle Street, on August 25, 1873. Twice before this, I had ventured to

raise my voice in discussion, once at a garden-party at which I was

invited to join in a brief informal debate, and discovered that words

came readily and smoothly, and the second time at the Liberal Social

Union, in a discussion on a paper read by a member--I forget by whom--

dealing with the opening of Museums and Art Galleries on Sunday.


My membership of that same "Liberal" Social Union was not, by the way, of

very long duration. A discussion arose, one night, on the admissibility

of Atheists to the society. Dr. Zerffi declared that he would not remain

a member if avowed Atheists were admitted. I declared that I was an

Atheist, and that the basis of the Union was liberty. The result was that

I found myself coldshouldered, and those who had been warmly cordial to

me as a Theist looked askance at me after I had avowed that my scepticism

had advanced beyond their "limits of religious thought". The Liberal

Social Union knew me no more, but in the wider field of work open before

me the narrowmindedness of this petty clique troubled me not at all.


To return from this digression to my first essay in lecturing work. An

invitation to read a paper before the Co-operative Society came to me

from Mr. Greenwood, who was, I believe, the Secretary, and as the subject

was left to my own choice, I determined that my first public attempt at

speech should be on behalf of my own sex, and selected for it, "The

Political Status of Women". With much fear and trembling was that paper

written, and it was a very nervous person who presented herself at the

Co-operative Hall. When a visit to the dentist is made, and one stands on

the steps outside, desiring to run away ere the neat little boy in

buttons opens the door and beams on one with a smile of compassionate

contempt and implike triumph, then the world seems dark and life is as a

huge blunder. But all such feelings are poor and weak when compared with

the sinking of the heart, and the trembling of the knees, which, seize

upon the unhappy lecturer as he advances towards his first audience, and

as before his eyes rises a ghastly vision of a tongue-tied would-be

speaker facing rows of listening faces, listening to--silence.


All this miserable feeling, however, disappeared the moment I rose to my

feet and looked at the faces before me. No tremor of nervousness touched

me from the first word to the last. And a similar experience has been

mine ever since. I am still always nervous before a lecture, and feel

miserable and ill-assured, but, once on my feet, I am at my ease, and not

once on the platform after the lecture has commenced have I experienced

the painful feeling of hesitancy and "fear of the sound of my own voice"

of which I have often heard people speak.


The death of Mr. Charles Gilpin in September left vacant one of the seats

for Northampton, and Mr. Bradlaugh at once announced his intention of

again presenting himself to the constituency as a candidate. He had at

first stood for the borough in 1868, and had received 1086 votes; on

February 5th, 1874, he received 1653 votes, and of these 1060 were

plumpers; the other candidates were Messrs. Merewether, Phipps, Gilpin,

and Lord Henley; Mr. Merewether had 12 plumpers; Mr. Phipps, 113; Mr.

Gilpin, 64; Lord Henley, 21. Thus signs were already seen of the compact

and personally loyal following which was to win the seat for its chief in

1880, after twelve years of steady struggle. In 1868, Mr. John Stuart

Mill had strongly supported Mr. Bradlaugh's candidature, and had sent a

donation to his election fund. Mr. Mill wrote in his Autobiography (pp.



"He had the support of the working classes; having heard him speak I knew

him to be a man of ability, and he had proved that he was the reverse of

a demagogue by placing himself in strong opposition to the prevailing

opinion of the Democratic party on two such important subjects as

Malthusianism. and Personal Representation. Men of this sort, who, while

sharing the democratic feelings of the working classes, judge political

questions for themselves, and have courage to assert their individual

convictions against popular opposition, were needed, as it seemed to me,

in Parliament; and I did not think that Mr. Bradlaugh's anti-religious

opinions (even though he had been intemperate in the expression of them)

ought to exclude him."


When the election was over, and after Mr. Mill had himself been beaten at

Westminster, he wrote, referring to his donation: "It was the right thing

to do, and if the election were yet to take place, I would do it again".

The election in February, 1874 took place while Mr. Bradlaugh was away in

America, and this second one in the same year took place on the eve of

his departure on another American lecturing tour.


I went down to Northampton to report electioneering incidents for the

_National Reformer_, and spent some days there in the whirl of the

struggle. The Whig party was more bitter against Mr. Bradlaugh than was

the Tory, and every weapon that could be forged out of slander and

falsehood was used against him by "Liberals", who employed their

Christianity as an electioneering dodge to injure a man whose sturdy

Radicalism they feared. Over and over again Mr. Bradlaugh was told that

he was an "impossible candidate", and gibe and sneer and scoff were flung

at the man who had neither ancestors nor wealth to recommend him, who

fought his battle with his brain and his tongue, and whose election

expenses were paid by hundreds of contributions from poor men and women

in every part of the land. Strenuous efforts were made to procure a

"Liberal" candidate, who should be able at least to prevent Mr.

Bradlaugh's return by obtaining the votes of the Liberal as against the

Radical party. Messrs. Bell and James and Dr. Pearce came on the scene

only to disappear. Mr. Jacob Bright and Mr. Arthur Arnold were suggested.

Mr. Ayrton's name was whispered. Major Lumley was recommended by Mr.

Bernal Osborne. Dr. Kenealy proclaimed himself ready to rescue the

Liberal party in their dire strait. Mr. Tillet of Norwich, Mr. Cox of

Belper, were invited, but neither of these would consent to oppose a

sound Radical, who had fought two elections at Northampton and who had

been before the constituency for six years. At last Mr. William Fowler, a

banker, was invited, and accepted the task of handing over the

representation of a Radical borough to a Tory.


October 6th was fixed as the election day, and at 7.30 on that day Mr.

Merewether, the Tory, was declared elected with 2,171 votes. Mr.

Bradlaugh polled 1,766, having added another 133 voters to those who had

polled for him in the previous February.


The violent abuse levelled against Mr. Bradlaugh by the Whigs, and the

foul and wicked slanders circulated against him, had angered almost to

madness those who knew and loved him, and when it was found that the

unscrupulous Whig devices had succeeded in turning the election against

him, the fury broke out into open violence. As Mr. Bradlaugh was sitting

well-nigh exhausted in the hotel, the landlord rushed in, crying to him

to go out and try to stop the people, or there would be murder done at

the "Palmerston", Mr. Fowler's head-quarters; the crowd was charging the

door, and the windows were being broken, with showers of stones. Weary as

he was, Mr. Bradlaugh sprang to his feet and swiftly made his way to the

rescue of those who had defeated him. Flinging himself before the door,

he drove the crowd back, scolded them into quietness and dispersed them.

But at nine o'clock he had to leave the town to catch the mail for

Queenstown, where he was to join the steamer for America, and after he

had left, the riot he had quelled broke out afresh. The soldiers were

called out, the Riot Act was read, stones flew freely, heads and windows

were broken, but no very serious harm was done. The "Palmerston" and the

printing office of the _Mercury_, the Whig organ, were the principal

sufferers, windows and doors vanishing somewhat completely.


In this same month of October I find I noted in the _National Reformer_

that it was rumored "that on hearing that the Prince of Wales had

succeeded the Earl of Ripon as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of

England, Mr. Bradlaugh immediately sent in his resignation". "The

report", I added demurely, "seems likely to be a true one". I had not

much doubt of the fact, having seen the cancelled certificate.


My second lecture was delivered on September 27th, during the election

struggle, at Mr. Moncure D. Conway's Chapel in St. Paul's Road, Camden

Town, and was on "The true basis of morality.". The lecture was

re-delivered a few weeks later at a Unitarian chapel, where the minister

was the Rev. Peter Dean, and gave, I was afterwards told, great offence

to some of the congregation, especially to Miss Frances Power Cobbe, who

declared that she would have left the chapel had not the speaker been a

woman. The ground of complaint was that the suggested "basis" was

Utilitarian and human instead of Intuitional and Theistic. Published as a

pamphlet, the lecture has reached its seventh thousand.


In October I had a severe attack of congestion of the lungs, and soon

after my recovery I left Norwood to settle in London. I found that my

work required that I should be nearer head-quarters, and I arranged to

rent part of a house--19, Westbourne Park Terrace, Bayswater--two lady

friends taking the remainder. The arrangement proved a very comfortable

one, and it continued until my improved means enabled me, in 1876, to

take a house of my own.


In January, 1875, I made up my mind to lecture regularly, and in the

_National Reformer_ for January 17th I find the announcement that "Mrs.

Annie Besant (Ajax) will lecture at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, on

'Civil and religious liberty'", Mr. Conway took the chair at this first

identification of "Ajax" with myself, and sent a very kindly notice of

the lecture to the _Cincinnati Commercial_. Mr. Charles Watts wrote a

report in the _National Reformer_ of January 24th. Dr. Maurice Davies

also wrote a very favorable article in a London journal, but

unfortunately he knew Mr. Walter Besant, who persuaded him to suppress my

name, so that although the notice appeared it did me no service. My

struggle to gain my livelihood was for some time rendered considerably

more difficult by this kind of ungenerous and underhand antagonism. A

woman's road to the earning of her own living, especially when she is

weighted with the care of a young child, is always fairly thorny at the

outset, and does not need to be rendered yet more difficult by secret

attempts to injure, on the part of those who trust that suffering and

poverty may avail to bend pride to submission.


My next lecture was given in the Theatre Royal, Northampton, and in the

_National Reformer_ of February 14th appears for the first time my list

of lecturing engagements, so that in February next I shall complete my

first decade of lecturing for the Freethought and Republican Cause.

Never, since first I stood on the Freethought platform, have I felt one

hour's regret for the resolution taken in solitude in January, 1875, to

devote to that sacred Cause every power of brain and tongue that I

possessed. Not lightly was that resolution taken, for I know no task of

weightier responsibility than that of standing forth as teacher, and

swaying thousands of hearers year after year. But I pledged my word then

to the Cause I loved that no effort on my part should be wanting to

render myself worthy of the privilege of service which I took; that I

would read, and study, and would train every faculty that I had; that I

would polish my language, discipline my thought, widen my knowledge; and

this, at least, I may say, that if I have written and spoken much I have

studied and thought more, and that at least I have not given to my

mistress, Liberty, that "which hath cost me nothing".


A queer incident occurred on February 17th. I had been invited by the

Dialectical Society to read a paper, and selected for subject "The

existence of God". The Dialectical Society had for some years held their

meetings in a room in Adam Street rented from the Social Science

Association. When the members gathered as usual on this 17th February,

the door was found closed, and they were informed that Ajax's paper had

been too much for the Social Science nerves, and that entrance to the

ordinary meeting-place was henceforth denied. We found refuge in the

Charing Cross Hotel, where we speculated merrily on the eccentricities of

religious charity.


On February 12th, I started on my first lecturing tour in the provinces.

After lecturing at Birkenhead on the evening of that day, I started by

the night mail for Glasgow. Some races--dog races, I think--had been

going on, and very unpleasant were many of the passengers waiting on the

platform. Some Birkenhead friends had secured me a compartment, and

watched over me till the train began to move. Then, after we had fairly

started, the door was flung open by a porter and a man was thrust in who

half tumbled on to the seat. As he slowly recovered, he stood up, and as

his money rolled out of his hand on to the floor and he gazed vaguely at

it, I saw, to my horror, that he was drunk. The position was pleasant,

for the train was an express and was not timed to stop for a considerable

time. My odious fellow-passenger spent some time on the floor hunting for

his scattered coins. Then he slowly gathered himself up, and presently

became conscious of my presence. He studied me for some time and then

proposed to shut the window. I assented quietly, not wanting to discuss a

trifle, and feeling in deadly terror. Alone at night in an express, with

a man not drunk enough to be helpless but too drunk to be controlled.

Never, before or since, have I felt so thoroughly frightened, but I sat

there quiet and unmoved, only grasping a penknife in my pocket, with a

desperate resolve to use my feeble weapon as soon as the need arose. The

man had risen again to his feet and had come over to me, when a jarring

noise was heard and the train began to slacken.


"What is that?" stammered my drunken companion.


"They are putting on the brakes to stop the train," I said very slowly

and distinctly, though a very passion of relief made it hard to say

quietly the measured words.


The man sat down stupidly, staring at me, and in a minute or two more the

train pulled up at a station. It had been stopped by signal. In a moment

I was at the window, calling the guard. I rapidly explained to him that I

was travelling alone, that a half-drunken man was with me, and I begged

him to put me into another carriage. With the usual kindliness of a

railway official, the guard at once moved my baggage and myself into an

empty compartment, into which he locked me, and he kept a friendly watch

over me at every station at which we stopped until he landed me safely at



At Glasgow a room had been taken for me at a Temperance Hotel, and it

seemed to me a new and lonely sort of thing to be "on my own account" in

a strange city in a strange hotel. By the way, why are Temperance Hotels

so often lacking in cleanliness? Surely abstinence from wine and

superfluity of "matter in the wrong place" need not necessarily be

correlated in hotel-life, and yet my experience leads me to look for the

twain together. Here and there I have been to Temperance Hotels in which

water is used for other purposes than that of drinking, but these are, I

regret to say, the exceptions to a melancholy rule.


From Glasgow I went north to Aberdeen, and from Aberdeen home again to

London. A long weary journey that was, in a third-class carriage in the

cold month of February, but the labor had in it a joy that outpaid all

physical discomfort, and the feeling that I had found my work in the

world gave a new happiness to my life.


I reported my doings to the chief of our party in America, and found them

only half approved. "You should have waited till I returned, and at least

I could have saved you some discomforts," he wrote; but the discomforts

troubled me little, and I think I rather preferred the independent launch

out into lecturing work, trusting only to my own courage and ability to

win my way. So far as health was concerned, the lecturing acted as a

tonic. My chest had always been a little delicate, and when I consulted a

doctor on the possibility of my lecturing he answered: "It will either

kill you or cure you". It has entirely cured the lung weakness, and I

have grown strong and vigorous instead of being frail and delicate as of



On February 28th I delivered my first lecture at the Hall of Science,

London, and was received with that warmth of greeting which Freethinkers

are ever willing to extend to one who sacrifices aught to join their

ranks. From that day to this that hearty welcome at our central London

hall has never failed me, and the love and courage wherewith Freethinkers

have ever stood by me have overpaid a thousandfold any poor services I

have been fortunate enough to render to the common cause.


It would be wearisome to go step by step over the ten years' journeys and

lectures; I will only select, here and there, incidents illustrative of

the whole.


Some folk say that the lives of Freethought lecturers are easy, and that

their lecturing tours are lucrative in the extreme. On one occasion I

spent eight days in the north lecturing daily, with three lectures on the

two Sundays, and made a deficit of 11s. on the journey! I do not pretend

that such a thing would happen now, but I fancy that every Freethought

lecturer could tell of a similar experience in the early days of "winning

his way".


There is no better field for Freethought and Radical work than

Northumberland and Durham; the miners there are as a rule shrewd and

hard-headed men, and very cordial is the greeting given by them to those

whom they have reason to trust. At Seghill and at Bedlington I have slept

in their cottages and have been welcomed to their tables, and I remember

one evening at Seghill, after a lecture, that my host invited about a

dozen miners to supper to meet me; the talk ran on politics, and I soon

found that my companions knew more of English politics and had a far

shrewder notion of political methods than I had found among the ordinary

"diners-out" in "society". They were of the "uneducated" class despised

by "gentlemen" and had not the vote, but politically they were far better

educated than their social superiors, and were far better fitted to

discharge the duties of citizenship.


On May 16th I attended, for the first time, the Annual Conference called

by the National Secular Society. It was held at Manchester, in the

Society's rooms in Grosvenor Street, and it is interesting and

encouraging to note how the Society has grown and strengthened since that

small meeting held nearly ten years ago. Mr. Bradlaugh was elected

President; Messrs. A. Trevelyan, T. Slater, C. Watts, C.C. Cattell, R.A.

Cooper, P.A.V. Le Lubez, N. Ridgway, G.W. Foote, G.H. Reddalls, and Mrs.

Besant Vice Presidents. Messrs. Watts and Standring were elected as

Secretary and Assistant-Secretary--both offices were then honorary, for

the Society was too poor to pay the holders--and Mr. Le Lubez Treasurer.

The result of the Conference was soon seen in the energy infused into the

Freethought propaganda, and from that time to this the Society has

increased in numbers and in influence, until that which was scarcely more

than a skeleton has become a living power in the land on the side of all

social and political reforms. The Council for 1875 consisted of but

thirty-nine members, including President, Vice-Presidents, and Secretary,

and of these only nine were available as a Central Executive. Let

Freethinkers compare this meagre list with the present, and then let them

"thank" man "and take courage".


Lecturing at Leicester in June, I came for the first time across a

falsehood of which I have since heard plenty. An irate Christian declared

that I was responsible for a book entitled the "Elements of Social

Science", which was, he averred, the "Bible of Secularists". I had never

heard of the book, but as he insisted that it was in favor of the

abolition of marriage, and that Mr. Bradlaugh agreed with it, I promptly

contradicted him, knowing that Mr. Bradlaugh's views on marriage were

conservative rather than revolutionary. On enquiry afterwards I found

that the book in question had been written some years before by a Doctor

of Medicine, and had been sent for review by its publisher to the

_National Reformer_ among other papers. I found further that it consisted

of three parts; the first dealt with the sexual relation, and advocated,

from the standpoint of an experienced medical man, what is roughly known

as "free love"; the second was entirely medical, dealing with diseases;

the third consisted of a very clear and able exposition of the law of

population as laid down by Malthus, and insisted--as John Stuart Mill had

done--that it was the duty of married persons to voluntarily limit their

families within their means of subsistence. Mr. Bradlaugh, in the

_National Reformer_, in reviewing the book, stated that it was written

"with honest and pure intent and purpose", and recommended to working men

the exposition of the law of population. Because he did this Christians

and Tories who desire to injure him still insist that he shares the

author's views on sexual relations, and despite his reiterated

contradictions, they quote detached pieces of the work, speaking against

marriage, as containing his views. Anything more meanly vile and

dishonest than this it would be difficult to imagine, yet such are the

weapons used against Atheists in a Christian country. Unable to find in

Mr. Bradlaugh's own writings anything to serve their purpose, they take

isolated passages from a book he neither wrote nor published, but once

reviewed with a recommendation of a part of it which says nothing against



That the book is a remarkable one and deserves to be read has been

acknowledged on all hands. Personally, I cordially dislike a large part

of it, and dissent utterly from its views on the marital relation, but

none the less I feel sure that the writer is an honest, good, and right

meaning man. In the _Reasoner_, edited by Mr. George Jacob Holyoake, I

find warmer praise of it than in the _National Reformer_; in the review

the following passage appears:--


"In some respects all books of this class are evils: but it would be

weakness and criminal prudery--a prudery as criminal as vice itself--not

to say that such a book as the one in question is not only a far lesser

evil than the one that it combats, but in one sense a book which it is a

mercy to issue and courage to publish."


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


"A very valuable, though rather heterogeneous book.... This is, we

believe, the only book that has fully, honestly, and in a scientific

spirit recognised all the elements in the problem--How are mankind to

triumph over poverty, with its train of attendant evils?--and fearlessly

endeavored to find a practical solution."


The _British Journal of Homæopathy_ wrote:


"Though quite out of the province of our journal, we cannot refrain from

stating that this work is unquestionably the most remarkable one, in many

respects, we have ever met with. Though we differ _toto coelo_ from the

author in his views of religion and morality, and hold some of his

remedies to tend rather to a dissolution than a reconstruction of

society, yet we are bound to admit the benevolence and philanthropy of

his motives. The scope of the work is nothing less than the whole field

of political economy."


Ernest Jones and others wrote yet more strongly, but out of all these

Charles Bradlaugh alone has been selected for reproach, and has had the

peculiar views of the anonymous author fathered on himself. Why? The

reason is not far to seek. None of the other writers are active Radical

politicians, dangerous to the luxurious idleness of the non-producing but

all-consuming "upper classes" of society. These know how easy it is to

raise social prejudice against a man by setting afloat the idea that he

desires to "abolish marriage and the home". It is the most convenient

poniard and the one most certain to wound. Therefore those whose

profligacy is notorious, who welcome into their society the Blandfords,

Aylesburys, and St. Leonards, rave against a man as a "destroyer of

marriage" whose life is pure, and whose theories on this, as it happens,

are "orthodox", merely because his honest Atheism shames their

hypocritical professions, and his sturdy Republicanism menaces their

corrupt and rotting society.







Sometimes my lecturing experiences were not of the smoothest. In June,

1875, I visited Darwen in Lancashire, and found that stone-throwing was

considered a fair argument to be addressed to "the Atheist lecturer". On

my last visit to that place in May, 1884, large and enthusiastic

audiences attended the lectures, and not a sign of hostility was to be

seen outside the hall. At Swansea, in March, 1876, the fear of violence

was so great that no local friend had the courage to take the chair for

me (a guarantee against damage to the hall had been exacted by the

proprietor). I had to march on to the platform in solitary state,

introduce myself, and proceed with my lecture. If violence had been

intended, none was offered: it would have needed much brutality to charge

on to a platform occupied by a solitary woman. (By the way, those who

fancy that a lecturer's life is a luxurious one may note that the Swansea

lecture spoken of was one of a series of ten, delivered within eight days

at Wednesbury, Bilston, Kidderminster, Swansea, and Bristol, most of the

travelling being performed through storm, rain, and snow.) On September,

4th, 1876, I had rather a lively time at Hoyland, a village near

Barnsley. A Mr. Hebblethwaite, a Primitive Methodist minister, "prepared

the way of the" Atheist by pouring out virulent abuse on Atheism in

general, and this Atheist in particular; two Protestant missionaries

aided him vigorously, exhorting the pious Christians to "sweep

Secularists out". The result was a very fair row; I got through the

lecture, despite many interruptions, but when it was over a regular riot

ensued; the enraged Christians shook their fists at me, swore at me, and

finally took to kicking as I passed out to the cab; only one kick,

however, reached me, and the attempts to overturn the cab were foiled by

the driver, who put his horse at a gallop. A somewhat barbarous village,

that same village of Hoyland. Congleton proved even livelier on September

25th and 26th. Mr. Bradlaugh lectured there on September 25th to an

accompaniment of broken windows; I was sitting with Mrs. Wolstenholme

Elmy in front of the platform, and received a rather heavy blow at the

back of the head from a stone thrown by someone in the room. We had a

mile and a half to walk from the hall to Mrs. Elmy's house, and this was

done in the company of a mud-throwing crowd, who yelled curses, hymns,

and foul words with delightful impartiality. On the following evening I

was to lecture, and we were escorted to the hall by a stone-throwing

crowd; while I was lecturing a man shouted "Put her out!" and a

well-known wrestler of the neighborhood, named Burbery, who had come to

the hall with seven friends, stood up in the front row and loudly

interrupted. Mr. Bradlaugh, who was in the chair, told him to sit down,

and as he persisted in making a noise, informed him that he must either

be quiet or go out. "Put me out!" said Burbery, striking an attitude. Mr.

Bradlaugh left the platform and walked up to the noisy swashbuckler, who

at once grappled with him and tried to throw him; but Mr. Burbery had not

reckoned on his opponent's strength, and when the "throw" was complete

Mr. Burbery was underneath. Amid much excitement Mr. Burbery was

propelled to the door, where he was handed over to the police, and the

chairman resumed his seat and said "Go on", whereupon on I went and

finished the lecture. There was plenty more stone-throwing outside, and

Mrs. Elmy received a cut on the temple, but no serious harm was done--

except to Christianity.


In the summer of 1875 a strong protest was made by the working classes

against the grant of £142,000 for the Prince of Wales visit to India, and

on Sunday, July 18th, I saw for the first time one of the famous "Hyde

Park Demonstrations". Mr. Bradlaugh called a meeting to support Messrs.

Taylor, Macdonald, Wilfrid Lawson, Burt, and the other fourteen members

of the House of Commons who voted in opposition to the grant, and to

protest against burdening the workers to provide for the amusement of a

spendthrift prince. I did not go into the meeting, but, with Mr.

Bradlaugh's two daughters, hovered on the outskirts. A woman is

considerably in the way in such a gathering, unless the speakers reach

the platform in carriages, for she is physically unfitted to push her way

through the dense mass of people, and has therefore to be looked after

and saved from the crushing pressure of the crowd. I have always thought

that a man responsible for the order of such huge gatherings ought not to

be burdened in addition with the responsibility of protecting his female

friends, and have therefore preferred to take care of myself outside the

meetings both at Hyde Park and in Trafalgar Square. The method of

organisation by which the London Radicals have succeeded in holding

perfectly orderly meetings of enormous size is simple but effective. A

large number of "marshals" volunteer, and each of these hands in to Mr.

Bradlaugh a list of the "stewards" he is prepared to bring; the

"marshals" and "stewards" alike are members of the Radical and Secular

associations of the metropolis. These officials all wear badges, a

rosette of the Northampton election colors; directions are given to the

marshals by Mr. Bradlaugh himself, and each marshal, with his stewards,

turns up at the appointed place at the appointed time, and does the share

of the work allotted to him. A ring two or three deep is formed round the

place whence the speakers are to address the meeting, and those who form

the ring stand linked arm-in-arm, making a living barrier round this

empty spot. There a platform, brought thither in pieces, is screwed

together, and into this enclosure only the chosen speakers and newspaper

reporters are admitted. The marshals and stewards who are not told off

for guarding the platform are distributed over the ground which the

meeting is to occupy, and act as guardians of order.


The Hyde Park meeting against the royal grant was a thoroughly successful

one, and a large number of protests came up from all parts of the

country. Being from the poorer classes, they were of course disregarded,

but none the less was a strong agitation against royal grants carried on

throughout the autumn and winter months. The National Secular Society

determined to gather signatures to a "monster petition against royal

grants", and the superintendence of this was placed in my hands. The

petition was drafted by Mr. Bradlaugh, and ran as follows:--





"The humble petition of the undersigned,


"Prays,--That no further grant or allowance may be made to any member of

the Royal Family until an account shall have been laid before your

Honorable House, showing the total real and personal estates and incomes

of each and every member of the said Royal Family who shall be in receipt

of any pension or allowance, and also showing all posts and places of

profit severally held by members of the said Royal Family, and also

showing all pensions, if any, formerly charged on any estates now enjoyed

by any member or members of the said Royal Family, and in case any such

pensions shall have been transferred, showing how and at what date such

transfer took place."


Day after day, week after week, month after month, the postman delivered

rolls of paper, little and big, each roll containing names and addresses

of men and woman who protested against the waste of public money on our

greedy and never-satisfied Royal House. The sheets often bore the marks

of the places to which they had been carried; from a mining district some

would come coal-dust-blackened, which had been signed in the mines by

workers who grudged to idleness the fruits of toil; from an agricultural

district the sheets bore often far too many "crosses", the "marks" of

those whom Church and landlord had left in ignorance, regarding them only

as machines for sowing and reaping. From September, 1875, to March, 1876,

they came in steady stream, and each was added to the ever-lengthening

roll which lay in one corner of my sitting-room and which assumed ever

larger and larger proportions. At last the work was over, and on June

16th, 1876, the "monster"--rolled on a mahogany pole presented by a

London friend, and encased in American cloth--was placed in a carriage to

be conveyed to the House of Commons; the heading ran: "The petition of

the undersigned Charles Bradlaugh, Annie Besant, Charles Watts, and

102,934 others". Unrolled, it was nearly a mile in length, and a very

happy time we had in rolling the last few hundred yards. When we arrived

at the House, Mr. Bradlaugh and Mr. Watts carried the petition up

Westminster Hall, each holding one end of the mahogany pole. Messrs. Burt

and Macdonald took charge of the "monster" at the door of the House, and,

carrying it in, presented it in due form. The presentation caused

considerable excitement both in the House and in the press, and the

_Newcastle Daily Chronicle_ said some kindly words of the "labor and

enthusiasm" bestowed on the petition by myself.


At the beginning of August, 1875, the first attempt to deprive me of my

little daughter, Mabel, was made, but fortunately proved unsuccessful.

The story of the trick played is told in the _National Reformer_ of

August 22nd, and I quote it just as it appeared there :--


"PERSONAL.--Mrs. Annie Besant, as some of our readers are aware, was the

wife of a Church of England clergyman, the Rev. Frank Besant, Vicar of

Sibsey, near Boston, in Lincolnshire. There is no need, _at present_, to

say anything about the earlier portion of her married life; but when Mrs.

Besant's opinions on religious matters became liberal, the conduct of her

husband rendered a separation absolutely necessary, and in 1873 a formal

deed of separation was drawn up, and duly executed. Under this deed Mrs.

Besant is entitled to the sole custody and control of her infant daughter

Mabel until the child becomes of age, with the proviso that the little

girl is to visit her father for one month in each year. Having recently

obtained possession of the person of the little child under cover of the

annual visit, the Rev. Mr. Besant sought to deprive Mrs. Besant entirely

of her daughter, on the ground of Mrs. Besant's Atheism. Vigorous steps

were at once taken by Messrs. Lewis and Lewis (to whom our readers will

remember we entrusted the case of Mr. Lennard against Mr. Woolrych), by

whose advice Mrs. Besant at once went down herself to Sibsey to demand

the child; the little girl had been hidden, and was not at the Vicarage,

but we are glad to report that Mrs. Besant has, after some little

difficulty, recovered the custody of her daughter. It was decided against

Percy Bysshe Shelley that an Atheist father could not be the guardian of

his own children. If this law be appealed to, and anyone dares to enforce

it, we shall contest it step by step; and while we are out of England, we

know that in case of any attempt to retake the child by force we may

safely leave our new advocate to the protection of the stout arms of our

friends, who will see that no injustice of this kind is done her. So far

as the law courts are concerned, we have the most complete confidence in

Mr. George Henry Lewis, and we shall fight the case to House of Lords if

need be.




The attempt to take the child from me by force indeed failed, but later

the theft was successfully carried out by due process of law. It is

always a blunder from a tactical point of view for a Christian to use

methods of illegal violence in persecuting an Atheist in this Christian

land; legal violence is a far safer weapon, for courage can checkmate the

first, while it is helpless before the second. All Christians who adopt

the sound old principle that "no faith need be kept with the heretic"

should remember that they can always guard themselves against unpleasant

consequences by breaking faith under cover of the laws against heresy,

which still remain on our Statute Book _ad majorem Dei gloriam_.


In September, 1875, Mr. Bradlaugh again sailed for America, leaving

plenty of work to be done by his colleagues before he returned. The

Executive of the National Secular Society had determined to issue a

"Secular Song Book", and the task of selection and of editing was

confided to me. The little book was duly issued, and ran through two

editions; then, feeling that it was marred by many sins both of

commission and omission, I set my face against the publication of a third

edition, hoping that a compilation more worthy of Free Thought might be

made. I am half inclined to take the matter up again, and set to work at

a fresh collection.


The delivery and publication of a course of six lectures on the early

part of the French Revolution was another portion of that autumn's work;

they involved a large amount of labor, as I had determined to tell the

story from the people's point of view, and was therefore compelled to

read a large amount of the current literature of the time, as well as the

great standard histories of Louis Blanc, Michelet, and others.

Fortunately for me, Mr. Bradlaugh had a splendid collection of works on

the subject, and before he left England he brought to me two cabs full of

books, French and English, from all points of view, aristocratic,

ecclesiastical, democratic, and I studied these diligently and

impartially until the French Revolution became to me as a drama in which

I had myself taken part, and the actors therein became personal friends

and foes. In this, again, as in so much of my public work, I have to

thank Mr. Bradlaugh for the influence which led me to read fully all

sides of a question, and to read most carefully those from which I

differed most, ere I judged myself competent to write or to speak



The late autumn was clouded by the news of Mr. Bradlaugh's serious

illness in America. After struggling for some time against ill-health he

was struck down by an attack of pleurisy, to which soon was added typhoid

fever, and for a time lay at the brink of the grave. Dr. Otis, his able

physician, finding that it was impossible to give him the necessary

attendance at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, put him into his own carriage and

drove him to the Hospital of St. Luke's, where he confided him to the

care of Dr. Leaming, himself also visiting him daily. Of this illness the

_Baltimore Advertiser_ wrote:


"Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, the famous English Radical lecturer, has been so

very dangerously ill that his life has almost been despaired of. He was

taken ill at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and partially recovered; but on the

day upon which a lecture had been arranged from him before the Liberal

Club he was taken down a second time with a relapse, which has been very

near proving fatal. The cause was overwork and complete nervous

prostration which brought on low fever. His physician has allowed one

friend only to see him daily for five minutes, and removed him to St.

Luke's Hospital for the sake of the absolute quiet, comfort, and

intelligent attendance he could secure there, and for which he was glad

to pay munificently. This long and severe illness has disappointed the

hopes and retarded the object for which he came to this country; but he

is gentleness and patience itself in his sickness in this strange land,

and has endeared himself greatly to his physicians and attendants by his

gratitude and appreciation of the slightest attention."


There is no doubt that the care so willingly lavished on the English

stranger saved his life, and those who in England honor Charles Bradlaugh

as chief and love him as friend must always keep in grateful memory those

who in his sorest need served him so nobly well. Those who think that an

Atheist cannot calmly face the prospect of death might well learn a

lesson from the fortitude and courage shown by an Atheist as he lay at

the point of death, far from home and from all he loved best. The Rev.

Mr. Frothingham bore public and admiring testimony in his own church to

Mr. Bradlaugh's perfect serenity, at once fearless and unpretending, and,

himself a Theist, gave willing witness to the Atheist's calm strength.


Mr. Bradlaugh returned to England at the end of December, worn to a

shadow and terribly weak, and for many a long month he bore the traces of

his wrestle with death. Indeed, he felt the effect of the illness for

years, for typhoid fever is a foe whose weapons leave scars even after

the healing of the wounds it inflicts.


The first work done by Mr. Bradlaugh on resuming the editorial chair of

the _National Reformer_, was to indite a vigorous protest against the

investment of national capital in the Suez Canal Shares. He exposed the

financial condition of Egypt, gave detail after detail of the Khedive's

indebtedness, unveiled the rottenness of the Egyptian Government, warned

the people of the danger of taking the first steps in a path which must

lead to continual interference in Egyptian finance, denounced the

shameful job perpetrated by Mr. Disraeli in borrowing the money for the

purchase from the Rothschilds at enormous interest. His protest was, of

course, useless, but its justice has been proved by the course of events.

The bombarding of Alexandria, the shameful repression of the national

movement in Egypt, the wholesale and useless slaughter in the Soudan, the

waste of English lives and English money, the new burden of debt and of

responsibility now assumed by the Government, all these are the results

of the fatal purchase of shares in the Suez Canal by Mr. Disraeli; yet

against the chorus of praise which resounded from every side when the

purchase was announced, but one voice of disapproval and of warning was

raised at first; others soon caught the warning and saw the dangers it

pointed out, but for awhile Charles Bradlaugh stood alone in his

opposition, and to him belongs the credit of at once seeing the peril

which lay under the purchase.


The 1876 Conference of the National Secular Society held at Leeds showed

the growing power of the organisation, and was made notable by a very

pleasant incident--the presentation to a miner, William Washington, of a

silver tea-pot and some books, in recognition of a very noble act of

self-devotion. An explosion had occurred on December 6th, 1875, at

Swaithe Main pit, in which 143 miners were killed; a miner belonging to a

neighboring pit, named William Washington, an Atheist, when every one was

hanging back, sprang into the cage to descend into the pit in forlorn

hope of rescue, when to descend seemed almost certain death. Others

swiftly followed the gallant volunteer, but he had set the example, and

it was felt by the Executive of the National Secular Society that his

heroism deserved recognition, William Washington set his face against any

gift to himself, so the subscription to a testimonial was limited to 6d.,

and a silver teapot was presented to him for his wife and some books for

his children. At this same Conference a committee was appointed,

consisting of Messrs. Charles Bradlaugh, G.J. Holyoake, C. Watts, R.A.

Cooper,--Gimson, T. Slater, and Mrs. Besant, to draw up a fresh statement

of the principles and objects of the National Secular Society; it was

decided that this statement should be submitted to the ensuing

Conference, that the deliberation on the report of the Committee should

"be open to all Freethinkers, but that only those will be entitled to

vote on the ratification who declare their determination to enter the

Society on the basis of the ratified constitution". It was hoped that by

this means various scattered and independent societies might be brought

into union, and that the National Secular Society might he thereby

strengthened. The committee held a very large number of meetings and

finally decided on the following statement, which was approved of at the

Conference held at Nottingham in 1877, and stands now as the "Principles

and Object of the National Secular Society":--


"The National Secular Society has been formed to maintain the principles

and rights of Freethought, and to direct their application to the Secular

improvement of this life.


"By the principle of Freethought is meant the exercise of the

understanding upon relevant facts, and independently of penal or priestly



"By the rights of Freethought are meant the liberty of free criticism for

the security of truth, and the liberty of free publicity for the

extension of truth.


"Secularism relates to the present existence of man, and to actions the

issue of which can be tested by experience.


"It declares that the promotion of human improvement and happiness is the

highest duty, and that morality is to be tested by utility.


"That in order to promote effectually the improvement and happiness of

mankind, every individual of the human family ought to be well placed and

well instructed, and that all who are of a suitable age ought to be

usefully employed for their own and the general good.


"That human improvement and happiness cannot be effectually promoted

without civil and religious liberty; and that, therefore, it is the duty

of every individual to actively attack all barriers to equal freedom of

thought and utterance for all, upon political, theological, and social



"A Secularist is one who deduces his moral duties from considerations

which pertain to this life, and who, practically recognising the above

duties, devotes himself to the promotion of the general good.


"The object of the National Secular Society is to disseminate the above

principles by every legitimate means in its power."


At this same Conference of Leeds was inaugurated the subscription to the

statue to be erected in Rome to the memory of Giordano Bruno, burned in

that city for Atheism in 1600; this resulted in the collection of £60.


The Executive appointed by the Leeds Conference made great efforts to

induce the Freethinkers of the country to work for the repeal of the

Blasphemy Laws, and in October 1876 they issued a copy of a petition

against those evil laws to every one of the forty branches of the

Society. The effort proved, however, of little avail. The laws had not

been put in force for a long time, and were regarded with apathy as being

obsolete, and it has needed the cruel imprisonments inflicted by Mr.

Justice North on Messrs. Foote, Ramsey, and Kemp, to arouse the

Freethought party to a sense of their duty in the matter.


The year 1877 had scarcely opened ere we found ourselves with a serious

fight on our hands. A pamphlet written early in the present century by

Charles Knowlton, M.D., entitled "The Fruits of Philosophy", which had

been sold unchallenged in England for nearly forty years, was suddenly

seized at Bristol as an obscene publication. The book had been supplied

in the ordinary course of business by Mr. Charles Watts, but the Bristol

bookseller had altered its price, had inserted some indecent pictures in

it, and had sold it among literature to which the word obscene was fairly

applied. In itself, Dr. Knowlton's work was merely a physiological

treatise, and it advocated conjugal prudence and parental responsibility;

it argued in favor of early marriage, but as over-large families among

persons of limited incomes imply either pauperism, or lack of necessary

food, clothing, education, and fair start in life for the children, Dr.

Knowlton advocated the restriction of the number of the family within the

means of existence, and stated the means by which this restriction should

be carried out. On hearing of the prosecution, Mr. Watts went down to

Bristol, and frankly announced himself as the publisher of the book. Soon

after his return to London he was arrested on the charge of having

published an obscene book, and was duly liberated on bail. Mr. and Mrs.

Watts, Mr. Bradlaugh and myself met to arrange our plan of united action

on Friday, January 12th, and it was decided that Mr. Watts should defend

the book, that a fund should at once be raised for his legal expenses,

and that once more the right of publication of useful knowledge in a

cheap form should be defended by the leaders of the Freethought party.

After long and friendly discussion we separated with the plan of the

campaign arranged, and it was decided that I should claim the sympathy

and help of the Plymouth friends, whom I was to address on the following

Sunday, January 14th. I went down to Plymouth on January 13th, and there

received a telegram from Mr. Watts, saying that a change of plan had been

decided on. I was puzzled, but none the less I appealed for help as I had

promised to do, and a collection of £8 1s. 10d. for Mr. Watts' Defence

Fund was made after my evening lecture. To my horror, on returning to

London, I found that Mr. Watts had given way before the peril of

imprisonment, and had decided to plead guilty to the charge of publishing

an obscene book, and to throw himself on the mercy of the Court, relying

on his previous good character and on an alleged ignorance of the

contents of the incriminated work. The latter plea we knew to be false,

for Mr. Watts before going down to Bristol to declare himself responsible

for the pamphlet had carefully read it and had marked all the passages

which, being physiological, might be attacked as "obscene". This marked

copy he had sent to the Bristol bookseller, before he himself went to

Bristol to attend the trial, and under these circumstances any pretence

of ignorance of the contents of the book was transparently inaccurate.

Mr. Watts' surrender, of course, upset all the arrangements we had agreed

on; Mr. Bradlaugh and myself were prepared to stand by him in battle, but

not in surrender. I at once returned to the Secretary of the Plymouth

Branch the money collected for defence, not for capitulation, and Mr.

Bradlaugh published the following brief statement in the _National

Reformer_ for January 21st:


"PROSECUTION OF Mr. CHARLES WATTS.--Mr. Charles Watts, as most of our

readers will have already learned, has been committed for trial at the

Central Criminal Court for February 5th, for misdemeanor, for publication

of a work on the population question, entitled "Fruits of Philosophy", by

Charles Knowlton, M.D. This book has been openly published in England and

America for more than thirty years. It was sold in England by James

Watson, who always bore the highest repute. On James Watson's retirement

from business it was sold by Holyoake & Co., at Fleet Street House, and

was afterwards sold by Mr. Austin Holyoake until the time of his death;

and a separate edition was, up till last week, still sold by Mr. Brooks,

of 282, Strand, W.C. When Mr. James Watson died, Mr. Charles Watts bought

from James Watson's widow a large quantity of stereotype plates,

including this work. If this book is to be condemned as obscene, so also

in my opinion must be many published by Messrs. W.H. Smith & Son, and

other publishers, against whose respectability no imputation has been

made. Such books as Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and 'Descent of Man'

must immediately be branded as obscene, while no medical work must be

permitted publication; and all theological works, like those of Dulaure,

Inman, etc., dealing with ancient creeds, must at once be suppressed. The

bulk of the publications of the society for the repeal of the Contagious

Diseases Acts, together with its monthly organ, the _Shield_, would be

equally liable. The issue of the greater part of classic authors, and of

Lemprière, Shakspere, Sterne, Fielding, Richardson, Rabelais, etc., must

be stopped: while the Bible--containing obscene passages omitted from the

lectionary--must no longer be permitted circulation. All these contain

obscenity which is either inserted to amuse or to instruct, and the

medical work now assailed deals with physiological points purely to

instruct, and to increase the happiness of men and women.


"If the pamphlet now prosecuted had been brought to me for publication, I

should probably have declined to publish it, not because of the

subject-matter, but because I do not like its style. If I had once

published it, I should defend it until the very last. Here Mr. Watts and

myself disagree in opinion; and as he is the person chiefly concerned, it

is, of course, right that his decision should determine what is done. He

tells me that he thinks the pamphlet indefensible, and that he was misled

in publishing it without examination as part of James Watson's stock. I

think it ought to be fought right through. Under these circumstances I

can only leave Mr. Watts to speak for himself, as we so utterly differ in

opinion on this case that I cease to be his proper interpreter. I have,

therefore, already offered Mr. Watts the columns of the _National

Reformer_, that he may put before the party his view of the case, which

he does in another column."--C. BRADLAUGH.







Up to this time (January, 1877) Mr. Watts had acted as sub-editor of the

_National Reformer_, and printer and publisher of the books and pamphlets

issued by Mr. Bradlaugh and myself. The continuance of this common work

obviously became impossible after Mr. Watts had determined to surrender

one of his publications under threat of prosecution. We felt that for two

main reasons we could no longer publicly associate ourselves with him:

(1) We could not retain on our publications the name of a man who had

pleaded guilty to the publication of an obscene work; (2) Many of our

writings were liable to prosecution for blasphemy, and it was necessary

that we should have a publisher who could be relied on to stand firm in

time of peril; we felt that if Mr. Watts surrendered one thing he would

be likely to surrender others. This feeling on my part was strengthened

by the remembrance of a request of his made a few months before, that I

would print my own name instead of his as publisher of a political song I

had issued, on the ground that it might come within the law of seditious

libel. I had readily acceded at the time, but when absolute surrender

under attack followed on timid precaution against attack, I felt that a

bolder publisher was necessary to me. No particular blame should be laid

on persons who are constitutionally timid; they have their own line of

usefulness, and are often pleasant and agreeable folk enough; but they

are out of place in the front rank of a fighting movement, for their

desertion in face of the enemy means added danger for those left to carry

on the fight. We therefore decided to sever ourselves from Mr. Watts; and

Mr. Bradlaugh, in the _National Reformer_ of January 28th, inserted the

following statement:


"The divergence of opinion between myself and Mr. Charles Watts is so

complete on the Knowlton case, that he has already ceased to be

sub-editor of this journal, and I have given him notice determining our

connexion on and from March 25th. My reasons for this course are as

follows. The Knowlton pamphlet is either decent or indecent. If decent it

ought to be defended; if indecent it should never have been published. To

judge it indecent is to condemn, with the most severe condemnation, James

Watson whom I respected, and Austin Holyoake with whom I worked. I hold

the work to be defensible, and I deny the right of any one to interfere

with the full and free discussion of social questions affecting the

happiness of the nation. The struggle for a free press has been one of

the marks of the Freethought Party throughout its history, and as long as

the Party permits me to hold its flag, I will never voluntarily lower it.

I have no right and no power to dictate to Mr. Watts the course he should

pursue, but I have the right and duty to refuse to associate my name with

a submission which is utterly repugnant to my nature, and inconsistent

with my whole career."


After a long discussion, Mr. Bradlaugh and I made up our minds as to the

course we would pursue. We decided that we would never again place

ourselves at a publisher's mercy, but would ensure the defence of all we

published by publishing everything ourselves; we resolved to become

printers and publishers, and to take any small place we could find and

open it as a Freethought shop. I undertook the sub-editorship of the

_National Reformer_, and the weekly Summary of News, which had hitherto

been done by Mr. Watts, was placed in the hands of Mr. Bradlaugh's

daughters. The next thing to do was to find a publishing office.

Somewhere within reach of Fleet Street the office must be; small it must

be, as we had no funds and the risk of starting a business of which we

knew nothing was great. Still "all things are possible to" those who are

resolute; we discovered a tumble-down little place in Stonecutter Street

and secured it by the good offices of our friend, Mr. Charles Herbert; we

borrowed a few hundred pounds from personal friends, and made our new

tenement habitable; we drew up a deed of partnership, founding the

"Freethought Publishing Company", Mr. Bradlaugh and myself being the only

partners; we engaged Mr. W.J. Ramsey as manager of the business; and in

the _National Reformer_ of February 25th we were able to announce:


"The publishing office of the _National Reformer_ and of all the works of

Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant is now at 28, Stonecutter Street,

E.C., three doors from Farringdon Street, where the manager, Mr. W.J.

Ramsey, will be glad to receive orders for the supply of any Freethought



A week later we issued the following address:





"When the prospectus of the _National Reformer_ was issued by the

founder, Charles Bradlaugh, in 1859, he described its policy as

'Atheistic in theology, Republican in politics, and Malthusian in social

economy', and a free platform was promised and has been maintained for

the discussion of each of these topics. In ventilating the population

question the stand taken by Mr. Bradlaugh, both here and on the platform,

is well known to our old readers, and many works bearing on this vital

subject have been advertised and reviewed in these columns. In this the

_National Reformer_ has followed the course pursued by Mr. George Jacob

Holyoake, who in 1853 published a 'Freethought Directory', giving a list

of the various books supplied from the 'Fleet Street House', and which

list contained amongst others:


"'Anti-Marcus on the Population Question.'


"Fowler's Tracts on Physiology, etc.


"Dr. C. Knowlton's 'Fruits of Philosophy'.


"'Moral Physiology: a plain treatise on the Population Question.'


"In this Directory Mr. G.J. Holyoake says:


"'No. 147 Fleet Street is a Central Secular Book Depot, where all works

extant in the English language on the side of Freethought in Religion,

Politics, Morals, and Culture are kept in stock, or are procured at short



"We shall try to do at 28 Stonecutter Street that which Mr. Holyoake's

Directory promised for Fleet Street House.


"The partners in the Freethought Publishing Company are Annie Besant and

Charles Bradlaugh, who have entered into a legal partnership for the

purpose of sharing the legal responsibility of the works they publish.


"We intend to publish nothing that we do not think we can morally defend.

All that we do publish we shall defend. We do not mean that we shall

agree with all we publish, but we shall, so far as we can, try to keep

the possibility of free utterance of earnest, honest opinion.


"It may not be out of place here to remind new readers of this journal of

that which old readers well know, that no articles are editorial except

those which are unsigned or bear the name of the editor, or that of the

sub-editor; for each and every other article the author is allowed to say

his own say in his own way; the editor only furnishes the means to

address our readers, leaving to him or to her the right and

responsibility of divergent thought.





Thus we found ourselves suddenly launched on a new undertaking, and with

some amusement and much trepidation I realised that I was "in business",

with business knowledge amounting to _nil_. I had, however, fair ability

and plenty of goodwill, and I determined to learn my work, feeling proud

that I had become one of the list of "Freethought publishers", who

published for love of the cause of freedom, and risked all for the

triumph of a principle ere it wore "silver slippers and walked in the

sunshine with applause".


On February 8th Mr. Watts was tried at the Old Bailey. He withdrew his

plea of "Not Guilty", and pleaded "Guilty". His counsel urged that he was

a man of good character, that Mr. George Jacob Holyoake had sold the

incriminated pamphlet, that Mr. Watts had bought the stereo-plates of it

in the stock of the late Mr. Austin Holyoake, which he had taken over

bodily, and that he had never read the book until after the Bristol

investigation. "Mr. Watts pledges himself to me", the counsel stated,

"that he was entirely ignorant of the contents of this pamphlet until he

heard passages read from it in the prosecution at Bristol". The counsel

for the prosecution pointed out that this statement was inaccurate, and

read passages from Mr. Watts' deposition made on the first occasion at

Bristol, in which Mr. Watts stated that he had perused the book, and was

prepared to justify it as a medical work. He, however, did not wish to

press the case, if the plates and stock were destroyed, and Mr. Watts was

accordingly discharged on his own recognisances in £500 to come up for

judgment when called on.


While this struggle was raging, an old friend of Mr. Bradlaugh's, Mr.

George Odger, was slowly passing away; the good old man lay dying in his

poor lodgings in High Street, Oxford Street, and I find recorded in the

_National Reformer_ of March 4th, that on February 28th we had been to

see him, and that "he is very feeble and is, apparently, sinking fast;

but he is as brave and bright, facing his last enemy, as he has ever been

facing his former ones". He died on March 4th, and was buried in Brompton

Cemetery on the 10th of the same month.


A grave question now lay before us for decision. The Knowlton pamphlet

had been surrendered; was that surrender to stand as the last word of the

Freethought party on a book which had been sold by the most prominent men

in its ranks for forty years? To our minds such surrender, left

unchallenged, would be a stain on all who submitted to it, and we decided

that faulty as the book was in many respects it had yet become the symbol

of a great principle, of the right to circulate physiological knowledge

among the poor in pamphlets published at a price they could afford to

pay. Deliberately counting the risk, recognising that by our action we

should subject ourselves to the vilest slander, knowing that Christian

malice would misrepresent and ignorance would echo the misrepresentation

--we yet resolved that the sacrifice must be made, and made by us in

virtue of our position in the Freethought Party. If the leaders flinched

how could the followers be expected to fight? The greatest sacrifice had

to be made by Mr. Bradlaugh. How would an indictment for publishing an

obscene book affect his candidature for Northampton? What a new weapon

for his foes, what a new difficulty for his friends! I may say here that

our worst forebodings were realised by the event; we have been assailed

as "vendors of obscene literature", as "writers of obscene books", as

"living by the circulation of filthy books". And it is because such

accusations have been widely made that I here place on permanent record

the facts of the case, for thus, at least, some honest opponents will

learn the truth and will cease to circulate the slanders they may have

repeated in ignorance.


On February 27th our determination to republish the Knowlton pamphlet was

announced by Mr. Bradlaugh in an address delivered by him at the Hall of

Science on "The Right of Publication". Extracts from a brief report,

published in the _National Reformer_ of March 11th, will show the drift

of his statement:


"Mr. Bradlaugh was most warmly welcomed to the platform, and reiterated

cheers greeted him as he rose to make his speech. Few who heard him that

evening will forget the passion and the pathos with which he spoke. The

defence of the right to publish was put as strongly and as firmly as

words could put it, and the determination to maintain that right, in dock

and in jail as on the platform, rang out with no uncertain sound. Truly,

as the orator said: 'The bold words I have spoken from this place would

be nothing but the emptiest brag and the coward's boast, if I flinched

now in the day of battle'. Every word of praise of the fighters of old

would fall in disgrace on the head of him who spoke it, if when the time

came to share in their peril he shrunk back from the danger of the

strife.... Mr. Bradlaugh drew a graphic picture of the earlier struggles

for a free press, and then dealt with the present state of the law; from

that he passed on to the pamphlet which is the test-question of the hour;

he pointed out how some parts of it were foolish, such as the

'philosophical proem', but remarked that he knew no right in law to

forbid the publication of all save wisdom; he then showed how, had he

originally been asked to publish the pamphlet, he should have raised some

objections to its style, but that was a very different matter from

permitting the authorities to stop its sale; the style of many books

might be faulty without the books being therefore obscene. He contended

the book was a perfectly moral medical work, and was no more indecent

than every other medical work dealing with the same subject. The

knowledge it gave was useful knowledge; many a young man might be saved

from disease by such a knowledge as was contained in the book; if it was

argued that such books should not be sold at so cheap a rate, he replied

that it was among the masses that such physiological knowledge was

needed, 'and if there is one subject above all others', he exclaimed,

'for which a man might gladly sacrifice his hopes and his life, surely it

is for that which would relieve his fellow-men from poverty, the mother

of crimes, and would make happy homes where now only want and suffering

reign'. He had fully counted the cost; he knew all he might lose; but

Carlile before him had been imprisoned for teaching the same doctrine,

'and what Carlile did for his day, I, while health and strength remain,

will do for mine'."


The position we took up in republishing the pamphlet was clearly stated

in the preface which we wrote for it, and which I here reprint, as it

gives plainly and briefly the facts of the case:




"The pamphlet which we now present to the public is one which has been

lately prosecuted under Lord Campbell's Act, and which we now republish

in order to test the right of publication. It was originally written by

Charles Knowlton, M.D., an American physician, whose degree entitles him

to be heard with respect on a medical question. It is openly sold and

widely circulated in America at the present time. It was first published

in England, about forty years ago, by James Watson, the gallant Radical

who came to London and took up Richard Carlile's work when Carlile was in

jail. He sold it unchallenged for many years, approved it, and

recommended it. It was printed and published by Messrs. Holyoake and Co.,

and found its place, with other works of a similar character, in their

'Freethought Directory' of 1853, and was thus identified with Freethought

literature at the then leading Freethought _depôt_ . Mr. Austin Holyoake,

working in conjunction with Mr. Bradlaugh at the _National Reformer_

office, Johnson's Court, printed and published it in his turn, and this

well-known Freethought advocate, in his 'Large or Small Families'.

selected this pamphlet, together with R.D. Owen's 'Moral Physiology' and

the 'Elements of Social Science', for special recommendation. Mr. Charles

Watts, succeeding to Mr. Austin Holyoake's business, continued the sale,

and when Mr. Watson died in 1875, he bought the plates of the work (with

others) from Mrs. Watson, and continued to advertise and to sell it until

December 23rd, 1876. For the last forty years the book has thus been

identified with Freethought, advertised by leading Freethinkers,

published under the sanction of their names, and sold in the

head-quarters of Freethought literature. If during this long period the

party has thus--without one word of protest--circulated an indecent work,

the less we talk about Freethought morality the better; the work has been

largely sold, and if leading Freethinkers have sold it--profiting by the

sale--in mere carelessness, few words could be strong enough to brand the

indifference which thus scattered obscenity broadcast over the land. The

pamphlet has been withdrawn from circulation in consequence of the

prosecution instituted against Mr. Charles Watts, but the question of its

legality or illegality has not been tried; a plea of 'Guilty' was put in

by the publisher, and the book, therefore, was not examined, nor was any

judgment passed upon it; no jury registered a verdict, and the judge

stated that he had not read the work.


"We republish this pamphlet, honestly believing that on all questions

affecting the happiness of the people, whether they be theological,

political, or social, fullest right of free discussion ought to be

maintained at all hazards. We do not personally endorse all that Dr.

Knowlton says: his 'Philosophical Proem' seems to us full of

philosophical mistakes, and--as we are neither of us doctors--we are not

prepared to endorse his medical views; but since progress can only be

made through discussion, and no discussion is possible where differing

opinions are suppressed, we claim the right to publish all opinions, so

that the public, enabled to see all sides of a question, may have the

materials for forming a sound judgment.


"The alterations made are very slight; the book was badly printed, and

errors of spelling and a few clumsy grammatical expressions have been

corrected; the sub-title has been changed, and in one case four lines

have been omitted, because they are repeated word for word further on. We

have, however, made some additions to the pamphlet, which are in all

cases kept distinct from the original text. Physiology has made great

strides during the past forty years, and not considering it right to

circulate erroneous physiology, we submitted the pamphlet to a doctor in

whose accurate knowledge we have the fullest confidence, and who is

widely known in all parts of the world as the author of the "Elements of

Social Science"; the notes signed "G.R." are written by this gentleman.

References to other works are given in foot notes for the assistance of

the reader, if he desires to study the subject further.


"Old Radicals will remember that Richard Carlile published a work

entitled 'Every Woman's Book', which deals with the same subject, and

advocates the same object, as Dr. Knowlton's pamphlet. E.D. Owen objected

to the 'style and tone' of Carlile's 'Every Woman's Book' as not being

'in good taste', and he wrote his 'Moral Physiology', to do in America

what Carlile's work was intended to do in England. This work of Carlile's

was stigmatised as 'indecent' and 'immoral' because it advocated, as does

Dr. Knowlton's, the use of preventive checks to population. In striving

to carry on Carlile's work, we cannot expect to escape Carlile's

reproach, but whether applauded or condemned we mean to carry it on,

socially as well as politically and theologically.


"We believe, with the Rev. Mr. Malthus, that population has a tendency to

increase faster than the means of existence, and that _some_ checks must

therefore exercise control over population; the checks now exercised are

semi-starvation and preventible disease; the enormous mortality among the

infants of the poor is one of the checks which now keeps down the

population. The checks that ought to control population are scientific,

and it is these which we advocate. We think it more moral to prevent the

conception of children, than, after they are born, to murder them by want

of food, air, and clothing. We advocate scientific checks to population,

because, so long as poor men have large families, pauperism is a

necessity, and from pauperism grow crime and disease. The wage which

would support the parents and two or three children in comfort and

decency is utterly insufficient to maintain a family of twelve or

fourteen, and we consider it a crime to bring into the world human beings

doomed to misery or to premature death. It is not only the hand-working

classes which are concerned in this question. The poor curate, the

struggling man of business, the young professional man, are often made

wretched for life by their inordinately large families, and their years

are passed in one long battle to live; meanwhile the woman's health is

sacrificed and her life embittered from the same cause. To all of these,

we point the way of relief and of happiness; for the sake of these we

publish what others fear to issue, and we do it, confident that if we

fail the first time, we shall succeed at last, and that the English

public will not permit the authorities to stifle a discussion of the most

important social question which can influence a nation's welfare.





We advertised the sale of the pamphlet in the _National Reformer_ of

March 25th (published March 22nd) in the following words:




This Pamphlet will be republished on Saturday, March 24th, _in extenso_,

with some additional Medical Notes by a London Doctor of Medicine. It

will be on sale at 28, Stonecutter Street, E.G., after 4 p.m. until close

of shop. No one need apply before this time, as none will be on sale. Mr.

Charles Bradlaugh and Mrs. Annie Besant will be in attendance from that

hour, and will sell personally the first hundred copies.




In addition to this we ourselves delivered copies on March 23rd to Mr.

Martin, the Chief Clerk of the magistrates at Guildhall, to the officer

in charge at the City Police Office in Old Jewry, and to the Solicitor

for the City of London. With each pamphlet we handed in a notice that we

should attend personally to sell the book on March 24th, at Stonecutter

Street, from 4 to 5 p.m. These precautions were taken in order to force

the authorities to prosecute us, and not any of our subordinates, if they

prosecuted at all. The account of the first sale will interest many:


"On Saturday we went down to Stonecutter Street, accompanied by the

Misses Bradlaugh and Mr. and Mrs. Touzeau Parris; we arrived at No. 28 at

three minutes to four, and found a crowd awaiting us. We promptly filled

the window with copies of the pamphlet, as a kind of general notice of

the sale within, and then opened the door. The shop was filled

immediately, and in twenty minutes over 500 copies were sold. No one sold

save Mr. Bradlaugh and myself, but Miss Bradlaugh sorted dozens with a

skill that seemed to stamp her as intended by nature for the business,

while her sister supplied change with a rapidity worthy of a bank clerk.

Several detectives favored us with a visit, and one amused us by coming

in and buying two copies from Mr. Bradlaugh, and then retiring

gracefully; after an interval of perhaps a quarter of an hour he

reappeared, and purchased one from me. Two policemen outside made

themselves useful; one patrolled the street calmly, and the other very

kindly aided Norrish, Mr. Eamsey's co-worker, in his efforts to keep the

stream flowing quietly, without too much pressure. Mr. Bradlaugh's voice

was heard warningly from time to time, bidding customers not to crowd,

and everything went well and smoothly, save that I occasionally got into

fearful muddles in the intricacies of 'trade price'; I disgusted one

customer, who muttered roughly 'Ritchie', and who, when I gave him two

copies, and put his shilling in the till, growled: 'I shan't take them'.

I was fairly puzzled, till Mr. Bradlaugh enlightened me as to the

difficulty, 'Ritchie' to me being unknown; it appeared that 'Ritchie',

muttered by the buyer, meant that the copies were wanted by a bookseller

of that name, and his messenger was irate at being charged full price.

Friends from various parts appeared to give a kindly word; a number of

the members of the Dialectical Society came in, and many were the

congratulations and promises of aid in case of need. Several who came in

offered to come forward as bail, and their names were taken by Mr.

Parris. The buyer that most raised my curiosity was one of Mr. Watts'

sons, who came in and bought seven copies, putting down only trade-price

on the counter; no one is supplied at trade-price unless he buys to sell

again, and we have all been wondering why Mr. Watts should intend to sell

the Knowlton pamphlet, after he has proclaimed it to be obscene and

indecent. At six o'clock the shutters were put up, and we gave up our

amateur shop-keeping; our general time for closing on Saturday is 2 p.m.,

but we kept the shop open on Saturday for the special purpose of selling

the Knowlton pamphlet. We sold about 800 copies, besides sending out a

large number of country parcels, so that if the police now amuse

themselves in seizing the work, they will entirely have failed in

stopping its circulation. The pamphlet, during the present week, will

have been sold over England and Scotland, and the only effect of the

foolish police interference will be to have sold a large edition. We must

add one word of thanks to them for the kindly aid given us by their

gratuitous advertisement."


[I may note here, in passing, that we printed our edition verbatim from

that issued by James Watson, not knowing that various editions were in

circulation. It was thereupon stated by Mr. Watts that we had not

reprinted the pamphlet for which he was prosecuted, so we at once issued

another edition, printed from his own version.]


The help that flowed in to us from all sides was startling both in

quantity and quality; a Defence Committee was quickly formed, consisting

of the following persons:


"C.R. Drysdale, M.D., Miss Vickery, H.R.S. Dalton, B.A., W.J. Birch,

M.A., J. Swaagman, Mrs. Swaagman, P.A.V. Le Lubez, Mdme. Le Lubez, Miss

Bradlaugh, Miss H. Bradlaugh, Mrs. Parris, T. Allsop, E. Truelove, Mark

E. Marsden, F.A. Ford, Mrs. Fenwick Miller, G.N. Strawbridge, W.W.

Wright, Mrs. Rennick, Mrs. Lowe, W. Bell, Thomas Slater, G. F. Forster,

J. Scott, G. Priestley, J.W. White, J. Hart, H. Brooksbank, Mrs.

Brooksbank, G. Middleton, J. Child, Ben. W. Elmy, Elizabeth Wolstenholme

Elmy, Touzeau Parris (Hon. Sec.), Captain R.H. Dyas, Thomas Roy

(President of the Scottish Secular Union), R.A. Cooper, Robert Forder,

William Wayham, Mrs. Elizabeth Wayham, Professor Emile Acollas (ancien

Professeur de Droit Français à l'Université de Berne), W. Reynolds, C.

Herbert, J.F. Haines, H. Rogers (President of the Trunk and Portmanteau

Makers' Trade Society), Yves Guyot (Redacteur en chef du _Radical_ et du

_Bien Public),_ W.J. Ramsey, J. Wilks, Mrs. Wilks, J.E. Symes, E. Martin,

W.E. Adams, Mrs. Adams, John Bryson (President of the Northumberland

Miners' Mutual Confident Association), Ralph Young, J. Grout, Mrs. Grout,

General Cluseret, A. Talandier (Member of the Chamber of Deputies), J.

Baxter Langley, LL.D., M.R.C.S., F.L.S."


Mrs. Fenwick Miller's letter of adhesion is worthy republication; it puts

so tersely the real position:


"59, Francis Terrace. Victoria Park.

"March 31st.


"My dear Mrs. Besant,--I feel myself privileged in having the opportunity

of expressing both to you and to the public, by giving you my small aid

to your defence, how much I admire the noble position taken up by Mr.

Bradlaugh and yourself upon this attempt to suppress free discussion, and

to keep the people in enforced ignorance upon the most important of

subjects. It is shameful that you should have to do it through the

cowardice of the less important person who might have made himself a hero

by doing as you now do, but was too weak for his opportunities. Since you

have had to do it, however, accept the assurance of my warm sympathy, and

my readiness to aid in any way within my power in your fight. Please add

my name to your Committee. You will find a little cheque within: I wish I

had fifty times as much to give.


"Under other circumstances, the pamphlet might well have been withdrawn

from circulation, since its physiology its obsolete, and consequently its

practical deductions to some extent unsound. But it must be everywhere

comprehended that _this is not the point_. The book would have been

equally attacked had its physiology been new and sound; the prosecution

is against the right to issue a work upon the special subject, and

against the freedom of the press and individual liberty.--Believe me,

yours very faithfully,




Among the many received were letters of encouragement from General

Garibaldi, M. Talandier, Professor Emile Acollas, and the Rev. S.D.



As we did not care to be hunted about London by the police, we offered to

be at Stonecutter Street daily from 10 to 11 a.m. until we were arrested,

and our offer was readily accepted. Friends who were ready to act as bail

came forward in large numbers, and we arranged with some of them that

they should be within easy access in case of need. There was a little

delay in issuing the warrants for our arrest. A deputation from the

Christian Evidence Society waited on Mr. (now Sir Richard) Cross, to ask

that the Government should prosecute us, and he acceded to their request.

The warrants were issued on April 3rd, and were executed on April 5th.

The story of the arrest I take from my own article in the _National

Reformer,_ premising that we had been told that "the warrants were in the

hands of Simmons".


"Thursday morning found us again on our way to Stonecutter Street, and as

we turned into it we were aware of three gentlemen regarding us

affectionately from beneath the shelter of a ladder on the off-side of

Farringdon Street. 'That's Simmons,' quoth Mr. Bradlaugh, as we went in,

and I shook my head solemnly, regarding 'Simmons' as the unsubstantial

shadow of a dream. But as the two Misses Bradlaugh and myself reached the

room above the shop, a gay--'I told you so', from Mr. Bradlaugh

downstairs, announced a visit, and in another moment Mr. Bradlaugh came

up, followed by the three unknown. 'You know what we have come for,' said

the one in front; and no one disputed his assertion. Detective-Sergeant

R. Outram was the head officer, and he produced his warrant at Mr.

Bradlaugh's request; he was accompanied by two detective officers,

Messrs. Simmons and Williams. He was armed also with a search warrant, a

most useful document, seeing that the last copy of the edition (of 5,000

copies) had been sold on the morning of the previous day, and a high pile

of orders was accumulating downstairs, orders which we were unable to

fulfil. Mr. Bradlaugh told him, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was

too late, but offered him every facility for searching. A large packet of

'Text Books'--left for that purpose by Norrish, if the truth were known--

whose covers were the same color as those of the 'Fruits', attracted Mr.

Outram's attention, and he took off some of the brown paper wrapper, but

found the goods unseizable. He took one copy of the 'Cause of Woman', by

Ben Elmy, and wandered up and down the house seeking for goods to devour,

but found nothing to reward him for his energy. Meanwhile we wrote a few

telegrams and a note or two, and after about half-an-hour's delay, we

started for the police-station in Bridewell Place, arriving there at

10.25. The officers, who showed us every courtesy and kindness consistent

with the due execution of their duty, allowed Mr. Bradlaugh and myself to

walk on in front, and they followed us across the roar of Fleet Street,

down past Ludgate Hill Station, to the Police Office. Here we passed into

a fair-sized room, and were requested to go into a funny iron-barred

place; it was a large oval railed in, with a brightly polished iron bar

running round it, the door closing with a snap. Here we stood while two

officers in uniform got out their books; one of these reminded Mr.

Bradlaugh of his late visits there, remarking that he supposed the

'gentleman you were so kind to will do you the same good turn now'. Mr.

Bradlaugh dryly replied that he didn't think so, accepting service and

giving it were two very different things. Our examination then began;

names, ages, abodes, birth-places, number of children, color of hair and

eyes, were all duly enrolled; then we were measured, and our heights put

down; next we delivered up watches, purses, letters, keys--in fact

emptied our pockets; then I was walked off by the housekeeper into a

neighboring cell and searched--a surely most needless proceeding; it

strikes me this is an unnecessary indignity to which to subject an

uncondemned prisoner, except in cases of theft, where stolen property

might be concealed about the person. It is extremely unpleasant to be

handled, and on such a charge as that against myself a search was an

absurdity. The woman was as civil as she could be, but, as she fairly

enough said, she had no option in the matter. After this, I went back to

the room and rejoined my fellow prisoner and we chatted peaceably with

our guardians; they quite recognised our object in our proceedings, and

one gave it as his opinion that we ought to have been summoned, and not

taken by warrant. Taken, however, we clearly were, and we presently drove

on to Guildhall, Mr. Outram in the cab with us, and Mr. Williams on the



"At Guildhall, we passed straight into the court, through the dock, and

down the stairs. Here Mr. Outram delivered us over to the gaoler, and the

most uncomfortable part of our experiences began. Below the court are a

number of cells, stone floored and whitewashed walled; instead of doors

there are heavy iron gates, covered with thick close grating; the

passages are divided here and there with similar strong iron gates, only

some of which are grated. The rules of the place of course divided the

sexes, so Mr. Bradlaugh and myself were not allowed to occupy the same

cell; the gaoler, however, did the best he could for us, by allowing me

to remain in a section of the passage which separated the men's from the

women's cells, and by putting Mr. Bradlaugh into the first of the men's.

Then, by opening a little window in the thick wall, a grating was

discovered, through which we could dimly see each other. Mr. Bradlaugh's

face, as seen from my side, scored all over with the little oblong holes

in the grating reflected by the dull glimmer of the gas in the passage,

was curious rather than handsome; mine was, probably, not more

attractive. In this charming place we passed two hours-and-a-half, and it

was very dull and very cold. We solaced ourselves, at first, by reading

the _Secular Review_, Mr. Bradlaugh tearing it into pages, and passing

them one by one through the grating. By pushing on his side and pulling

on mine, we managed to get them through the narrow holes. Our position

when we read them was a strange satire on one article (which I read with

great pain), which expressed the writer's opinion that the book was so

altered as not to be worth prosecuting. Neither the police nor the

magistrate recognised any difference between the two editions. As I knew

the second edition, taken from Mr. Watts', was almost ready for delivery

as I read, I could not help smiling at the idea that no one 'had the

courage' to reprint it.


"Mr. Bradlaugh paced up and down his limited kingdom, and after I had

finished correcting an _N.R._, I sometimes walked and sometimes sat, and

we chatted over future proceedings, and growled at our long detention,

and listened to names of prisoners being called, until we were at last

summoned to 'go up higher', and we joyfully obeyed. It was a strange sort

of place to stand in, the dock of a police-court the position struck one

as really funny, and everyone who looked at us seemed to feel the same

incongruity: officials, chief clerk, magistrate, all were equally polite,

and Mr. Bradlaugh seemed to get his own way from the dock as much as

everywhere else. The sitting magistrate was Alderman Figgins, a nice,

kindly old gentleman, robed in marvellous, but not uncomely, garments of

black velvet, purple, and dark fur. Below the magistrate, on either hand,

sat a gentleman writing, one of whom was Mr. Martin, the chief clerk, who

took the purely formal evidence required to justify the arrest. The

reporters all sat at the right, and Mr. Touzeau Parris shared their

bench, sitting on the corner nearest us. Just behind him Mr. Outram had

kindly found seats for the two Misses Bradlaugh, who surveyed us

placidly, and would, I am sure, had their duty called them to do so, have

gladly and willingly changed places with us. The back of the court was

filled with kindly faces, and many bright smiles greeted us; among the

people were those who so readily volunteered their aid, those described

by an official as 'a regular waggon-load of bail'. Their presence there

was a most useful little demonstration of support, and the telegrams that

kept dropping in also had their effect. 'Another of your friends, Mr.

Bradlaugh,' quoth the chief clerk, as the fourth was handed to him, and I

hear that the little buff envelopes continued to arrive all the

afternoon. I need not here detail what happened in the court, as a full

report by a shorthand writer appears in another part of the paper, and I

only relate odds and ends. It amused me to see the broad grin which ran

round when the detective was asked whether he had executed the seizure

warrant, and he answered sadly that there was 'nothing to seize'. When

bail was called for, Dr. Drysdale, Messrs. Swaagman, Truelove, and Bell

were the first summoned, and no objections being raised to them, nor

further securities asked for, these four gentlemen were all that were

needed. We were then solemnly and severally informed that we were bound

over in our own recognizances of £200 each to appear on Tuesday, April

17th, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, to answer, etc., etc., etc., to

which adjuration I only replied by a polite little bow. After all this we

passed into a small room at one side, and there waited till divers papers

were delivered unto us, and we were told to depart in peace. A number of

people had gathered outside and cheered us warmly as we came out, one

voice calling: 'Bravo! there's some of the old English spirit left yet'.

Being very hungry (it was nearly three o'clock), we went off to luncheon,

very glad that the warrant was no longer hanging over our heads, and on

our way home we bought a paper announcing our arrest. The evening papers

all contained reports of the proceedings, as did also the papers of the

following morning. I have seen the _Globe, Standard, Daily News, Times,

Echo, Daily Telegraph_, and they all give perfectly fair reports of what

took place. It is pleasant that they all seem to recognise that our

reason for acting as we have done is a fair and honorable desire to test

the right of publication."







The preliminary investigation before the magistrates at Guildhall duly

came on upon April 17th, the prosecution being conducted by Mr. Douglas

Straight and Mr. F. Mead. The case was put by Mr. Straight with extreme

care and courtesy, the learned counsel stating, "I cannot conceal from

myself, or from those who instruct me, that everything has been done in

accordance with fairness and _bona fides_ on the part of Mr. Bradlaugh

and the lady sitting by the side of him". Mr. Straight contended that the

good intentions of a publisher could not be taken as proving that a book

was not indictable, and laid stress on the cheapness of the work, "the

price charged is so little as sixpence". Mr. Bradlaugh proved that there

was no physiological statement in Knowlton, which was not given in far

fuller detail in standard works on physiology, quoting Carpenter, Dalton,

Acton, and others; he showed that Malthus, Professor Fawcett, Mrs.

Fawcett, and others, advocated voluntary limitation of the family,

establishing his positions by innumerable quotations. A number of eminent

men were in Court, subpoenaed to prove their own works, and I find on

them the following note, written by myself at the time:--


"We necessarily put some of our medical and publishing witnesses to great

inconvenience in summoning them into court, but those who were really

most injured were the most courteous. Mr. Trübner, although suffering

from a painful illness, and although, we had expressed our willingness to

accept in his stead some member of his staff, was present, kindly and

pleasant as usual. Dr. Power, a most courteous gentleman, called away

from an examination of some 180 young men, never thought of asking that

he should be relieved from the citizen's duty, but only privately asked

to be released as soon as possible. Dr. Parker was equally worthy of the

noble profession to which he belonged, and said he did not want to stay

longer than he need, but would be willing to return whenever wanted.

Needless to say that Dr. Drysdale was there, ready to do his duty. Dr.

W.B. Carpenter was a strange contrast to these; he was rough and

discourteous in manner, and rudely said that he was not responsible for

'Human Physiology, by Dr. Carpenter', as his responsibility had ceased

with the fifth edition. It seems a strange thing that a man of eminence,

presumably a man of honor, should disavow all responsibility for a book

which bears his name as author on the title-page. Clearly, if the 'Human

Physiology' is not Dr. Carpenter's, the public is grossly deceived by the

pretence that it is, and if, as Dr. Carpenter says, the whole

responsibility rests on Dr. Power, then that gentleman should have the

whole credit of that very useful book. It is not right that Dr. Carpenter

should have all the glory and Dr. Power all the annoyance resulting from

the work."


Among all the men we came into contact with during the trial, Dr.

Carpenter and Professor Fawcett were the only two who shrank from

endorsing their own written statements.


The presiding magistrate, Mr. Alderman Figgins, devoted himself gallantly

to the unwonted task of wading through physiological text books, the poor

old gentleman's hair sometimes standing nearly on end, and his composure

being sadly ruffled when he found that Dr. Carpenter's florid treatise,

with numerous illustrations of a, to him, startling character, was given

to young boys and girls as a prize in Government examinations. He

compared Knowlton with the work of Dr. Acton's submitted to him, and said

despondingly that one was just the same as the other. At the end of the

day the effect made on him by the defence was shown by his letting us go

free without bail. Mr. Bradlaugh finished his defence at the next hearing

of the case on April 19th, and his concluding remarks, showing the

position we took, may well find their place here:


"The object of this book is to circulate amongst the masses of the poor

and wretched (as far as my power will circulate it), and to seek to

produce in their minds such prudential views on the subject of population

as shall at least hinder some of the horrors to be witnessed amongst the

starving. I have not put you to the trouble of hearing proof--even if I

were, in this court, permitted to do so--of facts on the Population

Question, because the learned counsel for the prosecution, with the

frankness which characterises this prosecution, admitted there was the

tendency on the part of animated nature to increase until checked by the

absence or deficiency of the means of subsistence. This being so, some

checks must step in; these checks must be either positive or preventive

and prudential. What are positive checks? The learned counsel has told

you what they are. They are war, disease, misery, starvation. They are in

China--to take a striking instance--accompanied by habits so revolting

that I cannot now allude to them. See the numbers of miserable starving

children in the great cities and centres of population. Is it right to go

to these people and say, 'bring into the world children who cannot live',

who all their lives are prevented by the poverty-smitten frames of their

parents, and by their own squalid surroundings, from enjoying almost

every benefit of the life thrust on them! who inherit the diseases and

adopt the crimes which poverty and misery have provided for them? The

very medical works I have put in in this case show how true this is in

too many cases, and if you read the words of Dr. Acton, crime is

sometimes involved of a terrible nature which the human tongue governed

by training shrinks from describing. We justly or erroneously believe

that we are doing our duty in putting this information in the hands of

the people, and we contest this case with no kind of bravado; the penalty

we already have to pay is severe enough, for even while we are defending

this, some portion of the public press is using words of terrorism

against the witnesses to be called, and is describing myself and my

co-defendant in a fashion that I feel sure will find no sanction here,

and that I hope will never occur again. We contest this because the

advocacy of such views on population has been familiar to me for many

years. The _Public Journal of Health_, edited by Dr. Hardwicke, the

coroner for Central Middlesex, will show you that in 1868 I was known, in

relation to this question, to men high in position in the land as

original thinkers and political economists; that the late John Stuart

Mill has left behind him, in his Autobiography, testimony concerning me

on this subject, according unqualified praise to me for the views thereon

which I had labored to disseminate; and that Lord Amberley thanked me, in

a society of which we were then both associates, for having achieved what

I had in bringing these principles to the knowledge of the poorer classes

of the people. With taxation on every hand extending, with the cost of

living increasing, and with wages declining--and, as to the last element,

I am reminded that recently I was called upon to arbitrate in a wages'

dispute in the north of England for a number of poor men, and, having

minutely scrutinised every side of the situation, was compelled to reduce

their wages by 15 per cent., there having been already a reduction of 35

per cent, in the short space of some twenty months previously--I say,

with wages declining, with the necessaries of life growing dearer and

still dearer, and with the burden of rent and taxation ever increasing--

if, in the presence of such a condition of life among the vast industrial

and impoverished masses of this land, I am not to be allowed to tell them

how best to prevent or to ameliorate the wretchedness of their lot--if,

with all this, I may not speak to them of the true remedy, but the law is

to step in and say to me, 'Your mouth is closed'; then, I ask you, what

remedy is there remaining by which I am to deal with this awful misery?"


The worthy magistrate duly committed us for trial, accepting our own

recognizances in £200 each to appear at the Central Criminal Court on May

7th. To the Central Criminal Court, however, we had not the smallest

intention of going, if we could possibly avoid it, so Mr. Bradlaugh

immediately took steps to obtain a writ of _certiorari_ to remove the

indictment to the Court of Queen's Bench. On April 27th Mr. Bradlaugh

moved for the writ before Lord Chief Justice Cockburn and Mr. Justice

Mellor, and soon after he began his argument the judge stopped him,

saying that he would grant the writ if, "upon, looking at it we think its

object is the legitimate one of promoting knowledge on a matter of human

interest, then, lest there should be any miscarriage resulting from any

undue prejudice, we might think it is a case for trial by a judge and a

special jury. I do not say it is so, mark, but only put it so, that if,

on the other hand, science and philosophy are merely made the pretence of

publishing a book which is calculated to arouse the passions of those who

peruse it, then it follows that we must not allow the pretence to

prevail, and treat the case otherwise than as one which may come before

anybody to try. If we really think it is a fair question as to whether it

is a scientific work or not, and its object is a just one, then we should

be disposed to accede to your application, and allow it to be tried by a

judge and special jury, and for that purpose allow the proceedings to be

removed into this court. But, before we decide that, we must look into

the book and form our own judgment as to the real object of the work."


Two copies of the book were at once handed up to the Bench, and on April

30th the Court granted the writ, the Lord Chief Justice saying: "We have

looked at the book which is the subject-matter of the indictment, and we

think it really raises a fair question as to whether it is a scientific

production for legitimate purposes, or whether it is what the indictment

alleged it to be, an obscene publication." Further, the Court accepted

Mr. Bradlaugh's recognisances for £400 for the costs of the prosecution.


Some, who have never read the Knowlton pamphlet, glibly denounce it as a

filthy and obscene publication. The Lord Chief Justice of England and Mr.

Justice Mellor, after reading it, decided to grant a writ which they had

determined not to grant if the book had merely a veneer of science and

was "calculated to arouse the passions". Christian bigotry has ever since

1877 striven to confound our action with the action of men who sell filth

for gain, but only the shameless can persist in so doing when their

falsehoods are plainly exposed, as they are exposed here.


The most touching letters from the poor came to us from all parts of the

kingdom. One woman, who described herself as "very poor", and who had had

thirteen children and was expecting another, wrote saying, "if you want

money we will manage to send you my husband's pay one week". An army

officer wrote thanking us, saying he had "a wife, seven children, and

three servants to keep on 11s. 8d. a day; 5d. per head per diem keeps

life in us. The rest for education and raiment." A physician wrote of his

hospital experience, saying that it taught him that "less dangerous

preventive checks to large families [than over-lactation] should be

taught to the lower classes". Many clergymen wrote of their experience

among the poor, and their joy that some attempt was being made to teach

them how to avoid over-large families, and letter after letter came to me

from poor curates' wives, thanking me for daring to publish information

of such vital importance. In many places the poor people taxed themselves

so much a week for the cost of the defence, because they could not afford

any large sum at once.


As soon as we were committed for trial, we resigned our posts on the

Executive of the National Secular Society, feeling that we had no right

to entangle the Society in a fight which it had not authorised us to

carry on. We stated that we did not desire to relinquish our positions,

"but we do desire that the members of the Executive shall feel free to

act as they think wisest for the interest of Freethought". The letter was

sent to the branches of the Society, and of the thirty-three who answered

all, except Burnley and Nottingham, refused to accept our resignation. On

the Executive a very clever attempt was made to place us in a difficult

position by stating that the resignations were not accepted, but that, as

we had resigned, and as the Council had no power to renew appointments

made by the Conference, it could not invite us to resume our offices.

This ingenious proposal was made by Mr. George Jacob Holyoake, who all

through the trial did his best to injure us, apparently because he had

himself sold the book long before we had done so, and was anxious to

shield himself from condemnation by attacking us. His resolution was

carried by five votes to two. Mr. Haines and Mr. Ramsey, detecting its

maliciousness, voted against it. The votes of the Branches, of course,

decided the question overwhelmingly in our favor, but we declined to sit

on the Executive with such a resolution standing, and it was then

carried--Mr. Holyoake and Mr. Watts only voting against--that "This

Council acknowledge the consideration shown by Mr. Bradlaugh and Mrs.

Besant for the public repute of the National Secular Society by tendering

their resignations, and whilst disclaiming all responsibility for the

book, 'Fruits of Philosophy', decline to accept such resignations". So

thoroughly did we agree that the Society ought not to be held responsible

for our action, that we published the statement: "The Freethought party

is no more the endorser of our Malthusianism than it is of our

Republicanism, or of our advocacy of Woman Suffrage, or of our support of

the North in America, or of the part we take in French politics". I may

add that at the Nottingham Conference Mr. Bradlaugh was re-elected

President with only four dissentients, the party being practically

unanimous in its determination to uphold a Free Press.


The next stage of the prosecution was the seizure of our book packets and

letters in the Post-office by the Tory Government. The "Freethinker's

Text Book", the _National Reformer_, and various pamphlets were seized,

as well as the "Fruits of Philosophy", and sealed letters were opened.

Many meetings were held denouncing the revival of a system of Government

_espionage_ which, it was supposed, had died out in England, and so great

was the commotion raised that a stop was soon put to this form of

Government theft, and we recovered the stolen property. On May 15th Mr.

Edward Truelove was attacked for the publication of Robert Dale Owen's

"Moral Physiology", and of a pamphlet entitled "Individual, Family, and

National Poverty", and as both were pamphlets dealing with the Population

Question, Mr. Truelove's case was included in the general defence.


Among the witnesses we desired to subpoena was Charles Darwin, as we

needed to use passages from his works; he wrote back a most interesting

letter, telling us that he disagreed with preventive checks to population

on the ground that over-multiplication was useful, since it caused a

struggle for existence in which only the strongest and the ablest

survived, and that he doubted whether it was possible for preventive

checks to serve as well as positive. He asked us to avoid calling him if

we could: "I have been for many years much out of health, and have been

forced to give up all society or public meetings, and it would be great

suffering to me to be a witness in court.... If it is not asking too

great a favor, I should be greatly obliged if you would inform me what

you decide, as apprehension of the coming exertion would prevent the rest

which I require doing me much good." Needless to add that I at once wrote

to Mr. Darwin that we would not call him, but his gentle courtesy has

always remained a pleasant memory to me. Another kind act was that of the

famous publisher, Mr. H.G. Bohn, who volunteered himself as a witness,

and drew attention to the fact that every publisher of serious literature

was imperilled by the attempt to establish a police censorship.


The trial commenced on June 18th, in the Court of Queen's Bench at

Westminster, before the Lord Chief Justice of England and a special jury.

Sir Hardinge Giffard, the Solicitor-General of the Tory Government, Mr.

Douglas Straight, and Mr. Mead, were the prosecuting counsel. The special

jury consisted of the following: Alfred Upward, Augustus Voelcker,

Captain Alfred Henry Waldy, Thomas Richard Walker, Robert Wallace, Edmund

Waller, Arthur Walter, Charles Alfred Walter, John Ward, Arthur Warre;

the two talesmen, who were afterwards added to make up the number, were

George Skinner and Charles Wilson.


The Solicitor-General made a bitter and violent speech, full of party

hate and malice, endeavoring to prejudice the jury against the work by

picking out bits of medical detail and making profuse apologies for

reading them, and shuddering and casting up his eyes with all the skill

of a finished actor. For a man accustomed to Old Bailey practice he was

really marvellously easily shocked; a simple physiological fact brought

him to the verge of tears, while the statement that people often had too

large families covered him with such modest confusion that he found it

hard to continue his address. It fell to my lot to open the defence, and

to put the general line of argument by which we justified the

publication; Mr. Bradlaugh dealt with the defence of the book as a

medical work--until the Lord Chief Justice suggested that there was no

"redundancy of details, or anything more than it is necessary for a

medical man to know"--and strongly urged that the knowledge given by the

pamphlet was absolutely necessary for the poor. We called as witnesses

for the defence Miss Alice Vickery--the first lady who passed the

examination of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, and who has

since passed the examinations qualifying her to act as a physician--Dr.

Charles Drysdale, and Mr. H.G. Bohn. Dr. Drysdale bore witness to the

medical value of the pamphlet, stating that "considering it was written

forty years ago ... the writer must have been a profound student of

physiology, and far advanced in the medical science of his time". "I have

always considered it an excellent treatise, and I have found among my

professional brethren that they have had nothing to say against it." Mr.

Bohn bore witness that he had published books which "entirely covered

your book, and gave a great deal more." Mr. Bradlaugh and myself then

severally summed up our case, and the Solicitor-General made a speech for

the prosecution very much of the character of his first one, doing all he

could to inflame the minds of the jury against us. The Lord Chief

Justice, to quote a morning paper, "summed up strongly for an acquittal".

He said that "a more ill-advised and more injudicious proceeding in the

way of a prosecution was probably never brought into a Court of Justice".

He described us as "two enthusiasts, who have been actuated by the desire

to do good in a particular department of Society". He bade the jury be

careful "not to abridge the full and free right of public discussion, and

the expression of public and private opinion on matters which are

interesting to all, and materially affect the welfare of society." Then

came an admirable statement of the law of population, and of his own view

of the scope of the book which I present in full as our best



"The author, Doctor Knowlton, professes to deal with the subject of

population. Now, a century ago a great and important question of

political economy was brought to the attention of the scientific and

thinking world by a man whose name everybody is acquainted with, namely,

Malthus. He started for the first time a theory which astonished the

world, though it is now accepted as an irrefragable truth, and has since

been adopted by economist after economist. It is that population has a

strong and marked tendency to increase faster than the means of

subsistence afforded by the earth, or that the skill and industry of man

can produce for the support of life. The consequence is that the

population of a country necessarily includes a vast number of persons

upon whom poverty presses with a heavy and sad hand. It is true that the

effects of over-population are checked to a certain extent by those

powerful agencies which have been at work since the beginning of the

world. Great pestilences, famines, and wars have constantly swept away

thousands from the face of the earth, who otherwise must have contributed

to swell the numbers of mankind. The effect, however, of this tendency to

increase faster than the means of subsistence, leads to still more

serious evils amongst the poorer classes of society. It necessarily

lowers the price of labor by reason of the supply exceeding the demand.

It increases the dearth of provisions by making the demand greater than

the supply, and produces direful consequences to a large class of persons

who labor under the evils, physical and moral, of poverty. You find it,

as described by a witness called yesterday, in the overcrowding of our

cities and country villages, and the necessarily demoralising effects

resulting from that over-crowding. You have heard of the way in which

women--I mean child-bearing women--are destroyed by being obliged to

submit to the necessities of their position before they are fully

restored from the effects of child-birth, and the effects thus produced

upon the children by disease and early death. That these are evils--evils

which, if they could be prevented, it would be the first business of

human charity to prevent--there cannot be any doubt. That the evils of

over-population are real, and not imaginary, no one acquainted with the

state of society in the present day can possibly deny. Malthus suggested,

years ago, and his suggestion has been supported by economists since his

time, that the only possible way of keeping down population was by

retarding marriage to as late a period as possible, the argument being

that the fewer the marriages the fewer would be the people. But another

class of theorists say that that remedy is bad, and possibly worse than

the disease, because, although you might delay marriage, you cannot

restrain those instincts which are implanted in human nature, and people

will have the gratification and satisfaction of passions powerfully

implanted, if not in one way, in some other way. So you have the evils of

prostitution substituted for the evils of over-population. Now, what says

Dr. Knowlton? There being this choice of evils--there being this

unquestioned evil of over-population which exists in a great part of the

civilised world--is the remedy proposed by Malthus so doubtful that

probably it would lead to greater evils than the one which it is intended

to remedy? Dr. Knowlton suggests--and here we come to the critical point

of this inquiry--he suggests that, instead of marriage being postponed,

it shall be hastened. He suggests that marriage shall take place in the

hey-day of life, when the passions are at their highest, and that the

evils of over-population shall be remedied by persons, after they have

married, having recourse to artificial means to prevent the procreation

of a numerous offspring, and the consequent evils, especially to the

poorer classes, which the production of a too numerous offspring is

certain to bring about. Now, gentlemen, that is the scope of the book.

With a view to make those to whom these remedies are suggested

understand, appreciate, and be capable of applying them, he enters into

details as to the physiological circumstances connected with the

procreation of the species. The Solicitor-General says--and that was the

first proposition with which he started--that the whole of this is a

delusion and a sham. When Knowlton says that he wishes that marriage

should take place as early as possible--marriage being the most sacred

and holy of all human relations--he means nothing of the kind, but means

and suggests, in the sacred name of marriage, illicit intercourse between

the sexes, or a kind of prostitution. Now, gentlemen, whatever may be

your opinion about the propositions contained in this work, when you come

to weigh carefully the views of this undoubted physician and would-be

philosopher, I think you will agree with me that to say that he meant to

depreciate marriage for the sake of prostitution, and that all he says

about marriage is only a disguise, and intended to impress upon the mind

sentiments of an entirely different character for the gratification of

passion, otherwise than by marriage, is a most unjust accusation.

(Applause in court.) I must say that I believe that every word he says

about marriage being a desirable institution, and every word he says with

reference to the enjoyments and happiness it engenders, is said as

honestly and truly as anything probably ever uttered by any man. I can

only believe that when the Solicitor-General made that statement he had

not half studied the book. But I pass that by. I come to the plain issue

before you. Knowlton goes into physiological details connected with the

functions of the generation and procreation of children. The principles

of this pamphlet, with its details, are to be found in greater abundance

and distinctness in numerous works to which your attention has been

directed, and, having these details before you, you must judge for

yourselves whether there is anything in them which is calculated to

excite the passions of man and debase the public morals. If so, every

medical work is open to the same imputation."


The Lord Chief Justice then dealt with the question whether conjugal

prudence was in itself immoral, and pointed out to the jury that the

decision of this very serious question was in their hands:


"A man and woman may say, 'We have more children than we can supply with

the common necessaries of life: what are we to do? Let us have recourse

to this contrivance.' Then, gentlemen, you should consider whether that

particular course of proceeding is inconsistent with morality, whether it

would have a tendency to degrade and deprave the man or woman. The

Solicitor-General, while doubtless admitting the evils and mischiefs of

excessive population, argues that the checks proposed are demoralising in

their effects, and that it is better to bear the ills we have than have

recourse to remedies having such demoralising results. These are

questions for you, twelve thinking men, probably husbands and fathers of

families, to consider and determine. That the defendants honestly believe

that the evils that this work would remedy, arising from over-population

and poverty, are so great that these checks may be resorted to as a

remedy for the evils, and as bettering the condition of humanity,

although there might be things to be avoided, if it were possible to

avoid them, and yet remedy the evils which they are to prevent--that such

is the honest opinion of the defendants, we, who have read the book, and

who have heard what they have said, must do them the justice of

believing. I agree with the Solicitor-General if, with a view to what is

admitted to be a great good, they propose something to the world, and

circulate it especially among the poorer classes, if they propose

something inconsistent with public morals, and tending to destroy the

domestic purity of women, that it is not because they do not see the

evils of the latter, while they see the evils of the former, that they

must escape; if so, they must abide the consequences of their actions,

whatever may have been their motive. They say, 'We are entitled to submit

to the consideration of the thinking portion of mankind the remedies

which we propose for these evils. We have come forward to challenge the

inquiry whether this is a book which we are entitled to publish.' They do

it fairly, I must say, and in a very straightforward manner they come to

demand the judgment of the proper tribunal. You must decide that with a

due regard and reference to the law, and with an honest and determined

desire to maintain the morals of mankind. But, on the other hand, you

must carefully consider what is due to public discussion, and with an

anxious desire not, from any prejudiced view of this subject, to stifle

what may be a subject of legitimate inquiry. But there is another view of

this subject, that Knowlton intended to reconcile with marriage the

prevention of over-population. Upon the perusal of this work, I cannot

bring myself to doubt that he honestly believed that the remedies he

proposed were less evils than even celibacy or over-population on the one

hand, or the prevention of marriage on the other hand--in that honesty of

intention I entirely concur. But whether, in his desire to reconcile

marriage with a check on over-population, he did not overlook one very

important consideration connected with that part of society which should

abuse it, is another and a very serious consideration."


When the jury retired there was but one opinion in court, namely, that

we had won our case. But they were absent for an hour and thirty-five

minutes, and we learned afterwards that several were anxious to convict,

not so much because of the book as because we were Freethinkers. At last

they agreed to a compromise, and the verdict delivered was: "We are

unanimously of opinion that the book in question is calculated to deprave

public morals, but at the same time we entirely exonerate the defendants

from any corrupt motives in publishing it."


The Lord Chief Justice looked troubled, and said gravely that he would

have to direct them to return a verdict of guilty on such a finding. The

foreman, who was bitterly hostile, jumped at the chance without

consulting his colleagues, some of whom had turned to leave the box, and

thus snatched a technical verdict of "guilty" against us. Mr. George

Skinner, of 27, Great Chapel Gate, Westminster, wrote to me on the

following day to say that six of the jurymen did not consent to the

verdict of "guilty", and that they had agreed that if the judge would not

accept the verdict as handed in they would then retire again, and that

they would never have given a verdict of guilty; but the stupid men had

not the sense to speak out at the right time, and their foreman had his

way. The Lord Chief Justice at once set us free to come up for judgment

on that day week, June 28th--the trial had lasted till the 21st--and we

went away on the same recognizances given before by Mr. Bradlaugh, an

absolutely unprecedented courtesy to two technically "convicted



[Footnote 1: A Report of the Trial can be obtained from the Freethought

Publishing Company, price 5s. It contains an exact report of all that was

said and done.]







The week which intervened between the verdict of the jury and the day on

which we were ordered to appear in Court to receive sentence was spent by

us in arranging all our affairs, and putting everything in train for our

anticipated absence. One serious question had to be settled, but it did

not need long consideration. What were we to do about the Knowlton

pamphlet? We promptly decided to ignore the verdict and to continue the

sale. Recognising that the fact of this continued sale would be brought

up against us in Court and would probably seriously increase our

sentence, we none the less considered that as we had commenced the fight

we were bound to maintain it, and we went on with the sale as before.


On June 28th we attended the Court of Queen's Bench to receive judgment,

the Lord Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Mellor being on the Bench. We

moved to quash the indictment, on arrest of judgment, and for a new

trial, the first on the ground that the indictment did not set out the

words complained of. The judges were against us on this, but it is

interesting to note that the Lord Chief Justice remarked that "the

language of the book is not open to any particular objection". I argued

that the jury, having exonerated us from any corrupt motive, could not be

regarded as having found us guilty on an indictment which charged us with

a corrupt motive: the Lord Chief Justice held that "in the unnecessary

and superfluous part of the indictment, there is no judgment against

you", and refused to believe that anyone would be found afterwards so

base as to accuse us of evil intent, because of the formal words of the

indictment, the jury having acquitted us of any corrupt intention. The

judge unfortunately imputed to others his own uprightness, and we have

found many--among them Sir W.T. Charley, the present Common Sergeant--

vile enough to declare what he thought impossible, that we were found

guilty of wilfully corrupting the morals of the people. The judges

decided against us on all the points raised, but it is due to them to say

that in refusing to quash the indictment, as Mr. Bradlaugh asked, they

were misled by the misrepresentation of an American case by Sir Hardinge

Giffard, and, to quote the words of the Lord Chief Justice, they

sheltered themselves "under the decisions of the American Courts, and

left this matter to be carefully gone into by the Court of Error".


The question of sentence then arose, and two affidavits were put in, one

by a reporter of the _Morning Advertiser_, named Lysaght. This individual

published in the _Advertiser_ a very garbled report of a meeting at the

Hall of Science on the previous Sunday, evidently written to anger the

Lord Chief Justice, and used by Sir Hardinge Giffard with the same

object. In one thing, however, it was accurate, and that was in stating

that we announced our intention to continue the sale of the book. On this

arose an argument with the Lord Chief Justice; he pointed out that we did

not deny that the circulation of the book was going on, and we assented

that it was so. It was almost pathetic to see the judge, angry at our

resolution, unwilling to sentence us, but determined to vindicate the law

he administered. "The question is," he urged, "what is to be the future

course of your conduct? The jury have acquitted you of any intention to

deliberately violate the law; and that, although you did publish this

book, which was a book that ought not to have been published, you were

not conscious of the effect it might have, and had no intention to

violate the law. That would induce the Court, if it saw a ready

submission on your part, to deal with the case in a very lenient way. The

jury having found that it was a violation of the law, but with a good

motive or through ignorance, the Court, in awarding punishment upon such

a state of things, would, of course, be disposed to take a most indulgent

view of the matter. But if the law has been openly set at defiance, the

matter assumes a very different aspect, and it must be dealt with as a

very grave and aggravated case." We could not, however, pledge ourselves

to do anything more than stop the sale pending the appeal on the writ of

error which we had resolved to go for. "Have you anything to say in

mitigation?" was the judge's last appeal; but Mr. Bradlaugh answered: "I

respectfully submit myself to the sentence of the Court"; and I: "I have

nothing to say in mitigation of punishment".


The sentence and the reason for its heavy character have been so

misrepresented, that I print here, from the shorthand report taken at the

time, the account of what passed:--


"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE, after having conferred for some minutes with Mr.

Justice Mellor, said: The case has now assumed a character of very, very

grave importance. We were prepared, if the defendants had announced

openly in this Court that having acted in error as the jury found--of

which finding I think they are entitled to the benefit--but still having

been, after a fair and impartial trial, found by the jury guilty of doing