Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Autobiographical Sketches by Annie Besant

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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 L60.

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 L8 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
Lempriere, 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 L500 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 _depot_ . 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 Francais a l'Universite 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 L200 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. Truebner, 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 L200 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 L400 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
of that which was an offence against the law, they were ready to submit
to the law and to do everything in their power to prevent the further
publication and circulation of a work which has been declared by the jury
to be a work calculated to deprave public morals, we should have been
prepared to discharge them on their own recognizances to be of good
behavior in the future. But we cannot help seeing in what has been said
and done pending this trial, and since the verdict of the jury was
pronounced, that the defendants, instead of submitting themselves to the
law, have set it at defiance by continuing to circulate this book. That
being so I must say that that which before was an offence of a
comparatively slight character--looking to what the jury have found in
reference to the contention of the defendants--now assumes the form of a
most grave and aggravated offence, and as such we must deal with it. The
sentence is that you, Charles Bradlaugh, and you, Annie Besant, be
imprisoned for the term of six calendar months; that you each pay a fine
of L200 to the Queen; and that you enter further into your own
recognizances in a sum of L500 each to be of good behavior for the term
of two years; and I tell you at the same time that you will not be of
'good behavior' and will be liable to forfeit that sum if you continue to
publish this book. No persuasion or conviction on your part that you are
doing that which is morally justifiable can possibly warrant you in
violating the law or excuse you in doing so. No one is above the law; all
owe obedience to the law from the highest to the lowest, and if you
choose to set yourself at defiance against the law--to break it and defy
it--you must expect to be dealt with accordingly. I am very sorry indeed
that such should be the result, but it is owing to your being thus
contumacious, notwithstanding that you have had a fair trial, and the
verdict of a competent jury, which ought to have satisfied you that you
ought to abstain from doing what has been clearly demonstrated and shown
to be wrong.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: Would your lordship entertain an application to stay
execution of the sentence?

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Certainly not. On consideration, if you will
pledge yourselves unreservedly that there shall be no repetition of the
publication of the book, at all events, until the Court of Appeal shall
have decided contrary to the verdict of the jury and our judgment; if we
can have that positive pledge, and you will enter into your recognizances
that you will not avail yourselves of the liberty we extend to continue
the publication of this book, which it is our bounden duty to suppress,
or do our utmost to suppress, we may stay execution; but we can show no
indulgence without such a pledge.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: My lord, I meant to offer that pledge in the fullest and
most unreserved sense, because, although I have my own view as to what is
right, I also recognise that the law having pronounced sentence, that is
quite another matter so far as I, as a citizen, am concerned. I do not
wish to ask your lordship for a favor without yielding to the Court
during the time that I take advantage of its indulgence.

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I wish you had taken this position sooner.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: If the sentence goes against us, it is another matter;
but if you should consent to give us time for the argument of this writ
of error, we would bind ourselves during that time. I should not like
your lordship to be induced to grant this request on the understanding
that in the event of the ultimate decision being against me I should feel
bound by that pledge.

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I must do you the justice to say that throughout
the whole of this battle our conduct has been straightforward since you
took it up.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: I would not like your lordship to think that, in the
event of the ultimate decision being against us, there was any sort of
pledge. I simply meant that the law having pronounced against us, if your
lordship gives us the indulgence of fighting it in the higher Court, no
sort of direct or indirect advantage shall be taken of the indulgence.

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: You will not continue the publication?

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: Not only will I stop the circulation of the book myself,
but I will do all in my power to prevent other people circulating it.

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Then you can be discharged on your own
recognizances for L100, 'to be of good behavior,' which you will
understand to mean, that you will desist from the publication of this
work until your appeal shall have been heard, and will engage to
prosecute the appeal without delay.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: Certainly; until the present, I have undoubtedly
circulated the book. Although there is a blunder in the affidavits I do
not disguise the matter of fact. I shall immediately put the thing under
my own control, and I will at once lock up every copy in existence, and
will not circulate another copy until the appeal is decided.

"Mr. JUSTICE MELLOR: It must be that you will really, to the best of your
ability, prevent the circulation of this book until this matter has been

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: And what Mr. Bradlaugh says, I understand that
you, Mrs. Besant, also assent to?

"Mrs. BESANT: Yes: that is my pledge until the writ of error has been
decided. I do not want to give a pledge which you may think was not given
honestly. I will give my pledge, but it must be understood that the
promise goes no further than that decision.

"Mr. JUSTICE MELLOR: You will abstain yourself from circulating the book,
and, so far as you can, suppress its circulation?

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: Every copy that is unsold shall be at once put under lock
and key until the decision of the case.

"The SOLICITOR-GENERAL: My lord, I think there should be no
misunderstanding upon this; I understand that the defendants have
undertaken that during the pendency of the appeal this book shall not be
circulated at all. But if the decision should be against them they are
under no pledge not to publish.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: I hope your lordship will not ask us what we shall do in

"The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: We have meted out the amount of punishment upon
the assumption--there being no assertion to the contrary, but rather an
admission--that they do intend to set the law at defiance. If we had
understood that they were prepared to submit themselves to the law, we
should have been disposed to deal with them in the most indulgent manner;
but as we understood that they did not intend this, we have meted out to
them such a punishment as we hope, when undergone, will have a deterrent
effect upon them, and may prevent other people offending in like manner.
We have nothing to do with what may happen after the defendants obtain a
judgment in their favor, if they do so, or after the sentence is carried
out, if they do not. Our sentence is passed, and it will stand, subject
only to this, that we stay execution until a writ of error may be
disposed of, the defendants giving the most unqualified and unreserved
pledge that they will not allow another copy of the book to be sold.

"Mr. BRADLAUGH: Quite so, my lord; quite so."

We were then taken into custody, and went down to the Crown Office to get
the form for the recognizances, the amount of which, L100, after such a
sentence, was a fair proof of the view of the Court as to our good faith
in the whole matter. As a married woman, I was unable to give
recognizances, being only a chattel, not a person cognisable by law; the
Court mercifully ignored this--or I should have had to go to prison--and
accepted Mr. Bradlaugh's sole recognizance as covering us both. It
further inserted in the sentence that we were "to be placed in the First
Class of Misdemeanants", but as the sentence was never executed, we did
not profit by this alleviation.

The rest of the story of the Knowlton pamphlet is soon told. We appeared
in the Court of Appeal on January 29th, 30th, and 31st, 1878. Mr.
Bradlaugh argued the case, I only making a brief speech, and on February
12th the Court, composed of Lords Justices Bramwell, Brett, and Cotton,
gave judgment in our favor and quashed the indictment. Thus we triumphed
all along the line; the jury acquitted us of all evil motive, and left us
morally unstained; the Court of Appeal quashed the indictment, and set us
legally free. None the less have the ignorant, the malicious, and the
brutal, used this trial and sentence against us as a proof of moral
obliquity, and have branded us as "vendors of obscene books" on this sole

With the decision of the Court of Appeal our pledge not to sell the
Knowlton pamphlet came to an end, and we at once recommenced the sale.
The determination we came to was announced in the _National Reformer_ of
March 3rd, and I reprint here the statement I wrote at the time in Mr.
Bradlaugh's name as well as my own.


"The first pitched battle of the new campaign for the Liberty of the
Press has, as all our readers know, ended in the entire defeat of the
attacking army, and in the recapture of the position originally lost.
There is no conviction--of ours--registered against the Knowlton
Pamphlet, the whole of the proceedings having been swept away; and the
prosecutors are left with a large sum out of pocket, and no one any the
worse for all their efforts. The banker's account of the unknown
prosecutor shows a long and melancholy catalogue of expenses, and there
is no glory and no success to balance them on the other side of the
ledger. On the contrary, our prosecutors have advertised the attacked
pamphlet, and circulated it by thousands and by hundreds of thousands;
they have caused it to be reprinted in Holland and in America, and have
spread it over India, Australia, New Zealand, and the whole continent of
Europe; they have caused the Population Question to be discussed, both at
home and abroad, in the press and in the public meeting; they have
crammed the largest halls in England and Scotland to listen to the
preaching of Malthusianism; they have induced the publication of a modern
pamphlet on the question which is selling by thousands; they have
enormously increased the popularity of the defendants, and made new
friends for them in every class of society; in the end, Knowlton is being
circulated as vigorously as ever, and since the case was decided more
copies have been sold than would have been disposed of in ten years at
the old rate of sale. Truly, our prosecutors must feel delighted at the
results of their labors.

"So much for the past: what as to the future? Some, fancying we should
act as they themselves would do under the like circumstances, dream that
we shall now give way. We have not the smallest intention of doing
anything of the kind. We said, nearly a year ago, that so long as
Knowlton was prosecuted we should persist in selling him; we repeated the
same determination in Court, and received for it a heavy sentence; we
repeat the same to-day, in spite of the injudicious threat of Lord
Justice Brett. Before we went up for judgment in the Court of Appeal we
had made all preparations for the renewal of the struggle; parcels were
ready to be forwarded to friends who had volunteered to sell in various
towns; if we had gone to jail from the Court these would at once have
been sent; as we won our case, they were sent just the same. On the
following day orders were given to tell any wholesale agents who inquired
that the book was again on sale, and the bills at 28, Stonecutter Street,
announcing the suspension, of the sale, were taken down; from that day
forward all orders received have been punctually attended to, and the
sale has been both rapid and steady. There is, however, one difference
between the sale of Knowlton and that of our other literature: Knowlton
is not sold across the counter at Stonecutter Street. When we were
arrested in April 1877, we stopped the sale across counter, and we do
not, at present, intend to recommence it. Our reason is very simple. The
sale across counter does not, in any fashion, cause us any additional
risk; the danger of it falls entirely on Mr. Ramsey and on Mr. and Mrs.
Norrish; we fail to see that there is any courage in running other people
into danger, and we prefer, therefore, to take the risk on ourselves. We
do not intend to go down again and personally sell behind the counter; we
thought it right to challenge a prosecution once, but, having done so, we
intend now to go quietly on our ordinary way of business, and wait for
any attack that may come.

"Meanwhile, we are not only selling the 'Fruits of Philosophy', but we
also are striving to gain the legal right to do so. In the appeal from
Mr. Vaughan's decision Mr. Bradlaugh again raises all the disputed
questions, and that appeal will be argued as persistently as was the one
just decided in our favor. We are also making efforts to obtain an
alteration of the law of libel, and we hope soon to be able to announce
the exact terms of the proposed Bill.

"My own pamphlet, on 'The Law of Population', is another effort in the
same direction. At our trial the Lord Chief Justice said, that it was the
advocacy of the preventive checks which was the assailable part of
Knowlton; that advocacy is strongly and clearly to be found in the new
pamphlet, together with facts useful to mothers, as to the physical
injury caused by over-rapid child-bearing, which Knowlton did not give.
The pamphlet has the advantage of being written fifty years later than
the 'Fruits of Philosophy', and is more suitable, therefore, for
circulation at the present day. We hope that it may gradually replace
Knowlton as a manual for the poor. While we shall continue to print and
sell Knowlton as long as any attempt is made to suppress it, we hope that
the more modern pamphlet may gradually supersede the old one.

"If another prosecution should be instituted against us, our prosecutors
would have a far harder task before them than they had last time. In the
first place, they would be compelled to state, clearly and definitely,
what it is to which they object; and we should, therefore, be able to
bring our whole strength to bear on the assailed point. In the second
place, they would have to find a jury who would be ready to convict, and
after the full discussion of the question which has taken place the
finding of such a jury would be by no means an easy thing to do. Lastly,
they must be quite sure not to make any legal blunders, for they may be
sure that such sins will find them out. Perhaps, on the whole, they had
better leave us alone.

"I believe that our readers will be glad to have this statement of our
action, and this assurance that we feel as certain of winning the battle
of a Free Press as when we began it a year ago, and that our
determination is as unwavering as when Serjeant Outram arrested us in the
spring of last year.--ANNIE BESANT."

Several purchases were made from us by detectives, and we were more than
once threatened with prosecution. At last evidence for a new prosecution
was laid before the Home Office, and the Government declined to institute
fresh proceedings or to have anything more to do with the matter. The
battle was won. As soon as we were informed of this decision, we decided
to sell only the copies we had in stock, and not to further reprint the
pamphlet. Out-of-date as was much of its physiology, it was defended as a
symbol, not for its intrinsic worth. We issued a circular stating that--

"The Knowlton pamphlet is now entirely out of print, and, 185,000 having
been printed, the Freethought Publishing Company do not intend to
continue the publication, which has never at any time been advertised by
them except on the original issue to test the question. 'The Law of
Population', price 6d., post free 8d., has been specially written by Mrs.
Besant to supersede the Knowlton pamphlet."

Thus ended a prolonged resistance to an unfair attempt to stifle
discussion, and, much as I have suffered in consequence of the part I
took in that fight, I have never once regretted that battle for the
saving of the poor.

In July, 1877, a side-quarrel on the pamphlet begun which lasted until
December 3rd, 1878, and was fought through court after court right out to
a successful issue. We had avoided a seizure warrant by removing all our
stock from 28, Stonecutter Street, but 657 of the pamphlets had been
seized at Mr. Truelove's, in Holborn, and that gentleman was also
proceeded against for selling the work. The summons for selling was
withdrawn, and Mr. Bradlaugh succeeded in having his name and mine
inserted as owners of the books in the summons for their destruction. The
books remained in the custody of the magistrate until after the decision
of the Court of Queen's Bench, and on February 12th, 1878, Mr. Bradlaugh
appeared before Mr. Vaughan at Bow Street, and claimed that the books
should be restored to him. Mr. Collette, of the Vice Society, argued on
the other hand that the books were obscene, and ought therefore to be
destroyed. Mr. Vaughan reserved his decision, and asked for the Lord
Chief Justice's summing-up in the Queen _v._ Bradlaugh and Besant. On
February 19th he made an order for the destruction of the pamphlets,
against which Mr. Bradlaugh appealed to the General Sessions on the
following grounds:

"1st. That the said book is not an obscene book within the meaning of the
20th and 21st Victoria, cap. 83. 2nd. That the said book is a scientific
treatise on the law of population and its connexion with poverty, and
that there is nothing in the book which is not necessary and legitimate
in the description of the question. 3rd. That the advocacy of
non-life-destroying checks to population is not an offence either at
common law or by statute, and that the manner in which that advocacy is
raised in the said book, 'The Fruits of Philosophy', is not such as makes
it an indictable offence. 4th. That the discussion and recommendation of
checks to over-population after marriage is perfectly lawful, and that
there is in the advocacy and recommendations contained in the book
'Fruits of Philosophy' nothing that is prurient or calculated to inflame
the passions. 5th. That the physiological information in the said book is
such as is absolutely necessary for understanding the subjects treated,
and such information is more fully given in Carpenter's treatises on
Physiology, and Kirke's 'Handbook of Physiology', which later works are
used for the instruction of the young under Government sanction. 6th.
That the whole of the physiological information contained in the said
book, 'The Fruits of Philosophy', has been published uninterruptedly for
fifty years, and still is published in dear books, and that the
publication of such information in a cheap form cannot constitute an

After a long argument before Mr. Edlin and a number of other Middlesex
magistrates, the Bench affirmed Mr. Vaughan's order, whereupon Mr.
Bradlaugh promptly obtained from the Lord Chief Justice and Mr. Justice
Mellor a writ of _certiorari_, removing their order to the Queen's Bench
Division of the High Court of Justice with a view to quashing it. The
matter was not argued until the following November, on the 9th of which
month it came on before Mr. Justice Mellor and Mr. Justice Field. The
Court decided in Mr. Bradlaugh's favor and granted a rule quashing Mr.
Vaughan's order, and with this fell the order of the Middlesex
magistrates. The next thing was to recover the pamphlets thus rescued
from destruction, and on December 3rd Mr. Bradlaugh appeared before Mr.
Vaughan at Bow Street in support of a summons against Mr. Henry Wood, a
police inspector, for detaining 657 copies of the "Fruits of Philosophy".
After a long argument Mr. Vaughan ordered the pamphlets to be given up to
him, and he carried them off in triumph, there and then, on a cab. We
labelled the rescued pamphlets and sold every one of them, in mocking
defiance of the Vice Society.

The circulation of literature advocating prudential checks to population
was not stopped during the temporary suspension of the sale of the
Knowlton pamphlet between June, 1877, and February, 1878. In October,
1877, I commenced in the _National Reformer_ the publication of a
pamphlet entitled: "The Law of Population, its consequences, and its
bearing upon human conduct and morals". This little book included a
statement of the law, evidence of the serious suffering among the poor
caused by over-large families, and a clear statement of the checks
proposed, with arguments in their favor. The medical parts were omitted
in the _National Reformer_ articles, and the pamphlet was published
complete early in November, at the price of sixpence--the same as
Knowlton's--the first edition consisting of 5,000 copies. A second
edition of 5,000 was issued in December, but all the succeeding editions
were of 10,000 copies each. The pamphlet is now in its ninetieth
thousand, and has gone all over the civilised world. It has been
translated into Swedish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, and Italian, and
110,000 copies have been sold of an American reprint. On the whole, the
prosecution of 1877 did not do much in stopping the circulation of
literature on the Population Question.

The "Law" has been several times threatened with prosecution, and the
initial steps have been taken, but the stage of issuing a warrant for its
seizure has never yet been reached. Twice I have had the stock removed to
avoid seizure, but on each occasion the heart of the prosecutors has
failed them, and the little book has carried its message of mercy
unspeeded by the advertisement of prosecution.

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

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

It is scarcely necessary to say that one of the results of the
prosecution was a great agitation throughout the country, and a wide
popularisation of Malthusian views. Some huge demonstrations were held in
favor of free discussion; on one occasion the Free Trade Hall,
Manchester, was crowded to the doors; on another the Star Music Hall,
Bradford, was crammed in every corner; on another the Town Hall,
Birmingham, had not a seat or a bit of standing-room unoccupied. Wherever
we went, separately or together, it was the same story, and not only were
Malthusian lectures eagerly attended, and Malthusian literature eagerly
bought, but curiosity brought many to listen to our Radical and
Freethought lectures, and thousands heard for the first time what
Secularism really meant.

The press, both London and provincial, agreed in branding the prosecution
as foolish, and it was widely remarked that it resulted only in the wider
circulation of the indicted book, and the increased popularity of those
who had stood for the right of publication. The furious attacks since
made upon us have been made chiefly by those who differ from us in
theological creed, and who have found a misrepresentation of our
prosecution served them as a convenient weapon of attack. During the last
few years public opinion has been gradually coming round to our side, in
consequence of the pressure of poverty resulting from widespread
depression of trade, and during the sensation caused in 1884 by "The
Bitter Cry of Outcast London", many writers in the _Daily News_--notably
Mr. G.R. Sims--boldly alleged that the distress was to a great extent due
to the large families of the poor, and mentioned that we had been
prosecuted for giving the very knowledge which would bring salvation to
the sufferers in our great cities.

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

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

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

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

The propaganda of Freethought was not forgotten while this Malthusian
quarrel was raging, and in August 1877 the Freethought Publishing Company
issued the first English edition of lectures by Colonel Robert Ingersoll,
the eminent Freethought advocate of the United States. Since that time
various other publishers have circulated thousands of his lectures, but
it has always been to me a matter of satisfaction that we were the first
to popularise the eloquent American in England. The ruling of the Lord
Chief Justice that a book written with pure intention and meant to convey
useful knowledge might yet be obscene, drew from me a pamphlet entitled,
"Is the Bible Indictable?", in which I showed that the Bible came clearly
within the judge's ruling. This turning of the tables on our persecutors
caused considerable sensation at the time, and the pamphlet had, and
still has, a very wide circulation. It is needless to add that the Sunday
Freethought lectures were carried on despite the legal toils of the week,
and, as said above, the large audiences attracted by the prosecution gave
a splendid field for the inculcation of Freethought views. The National
Secular Society consequently increased largely in membership, and a
general impulse towards Freethought was manifest throughout the land.

The year 1878, so far as lecturing work was concerned, was largely taken
up with a crusade against the Beaconsfield Government and in favor of
peace. Lord Beaconsfield's hired roughs broke up several peace meetings
during the winter, and on February 24th Mr. Bradlaugh and Mr. Auberon
Herbert, at the request of a meeting of working-class delegates, held in
Hyde Park a "Demonstration in favor of Peace". The war party attacked the
meeting and some sharp fighting took place, but a resolution "That this
meeting declares in favor of peace" was carried despite them. A second
meeting was called by the Working Men's Committee for March 10th, and a
large force of medical students, roughs, militia-men, and "gentlemen",
armed with loaded bludgeons, heavy pieces of iron, sticks with metal
twisted round them, and various sharp-cutting weapons, went to Hyde Park
to make a riot. The meeting was held and the resolution carried, but
after it had dissolved there was some furious fighting. We learned
afterwards that a large money reward had been offered to a band of roughs
if they would disable Mr. Bradlaugh, and a violent organised attack was
made on him. The stewards of the meeting carried short policemen's
truncheons to defend themselves, and a number of these gathered round
their chief and saved his life. He and his friends had to fight their way
out of the park; a man, armed with some sharp instrument, struck at Mr.
Bradlaugh from behind, and cut one side of his hat from top to brim; his
truncheon was dinted with the jagged iron used as weapon; and his left
arm, with which he guarded his head, was one mass of bruises from wrist
to elbow. Lord Beaconsfield's friends very nearly succeeded in their
attempt at murder, after all, for a dangerous attack of erysipelas set
in, in the injured arm, and confined Mr. Bradlaugh to his room for
sixteen days.

The provinces were far more strongly against war than was the capital,
and in them we held many large and enthusiastic meetings in favor of
peace. At Huddersfield the great Drill Hall was crammed for a lecture by
me against war, and throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire scarcely a voice
was ever raised in crowded meetings in defence of the Beaconsfieldian
policy. A leaflet of mine, entitled "Rushing into War", was reprinted in
various parts of the country, and was circulated in tens of thousands,
and each Freethought leader worked with tongue and pen, on platform and
in press, to turn the public feeling against war. The Freethought party
may well take credit to itself for having been first in the field against
the Tory policy, and for having successfully begun the work later carried
on by Mr. Gladstone in his Midlothian campaign. They did more than any
other party in the country to create that force of public opinion which
overthrew the Tory Government in 1880.


The year 1878 was a dark one for me; it saw me deprived of my little
daughter, despite the deed of separation by which the custody of the
child had been assigned to me. The first notice that an application was
to be made to the High Court of Chancery to deprive me of this custody
reached me in January, 1878, while the decision on the Knowlton case was
still pending, but the petition was not filed till April. The time was
ill-chosen; Mabel had caught scarlet fever at a day-school she was
attending, and for some days was dangerously ill. The fact of her illness
was communicated to her father, and while the child was lying ill in bed,
and I had cancelled all engagements so that I might not leave her side, I
received a copy of the petition to deprive me of her custody. This
document alleged as grounds for taking away the child:

"The said Annie Besant is, by addresses, lectures, and writings,
endeavoring to propagate the principles of Atheism, and has published a
book intituled: 'The Gospel of Atheism'. She has also associated herself
with an infidel lecturer and author, named Charles Bradlaugh, in giving
lectures and in publishing books and pamphlets, whereby the truth of the
Christian religion is impeached, and disbelief in all religion is

"The said Annie Besant has also, in conjunction with the said Charles
Bradlaugh, published an indecent and obscene pamphlet called 'The Fruits
of Philosophy'.

"The said pamphlet has recently been the subject of legal proceedings, in
the course of which the said Annie Besant publicly justified its contents
and publication, and stated, or inferred, that in her belief it would be
right to teach young children the physiological facts contained in the
said pamphlet. [This was a deliberate falsehood: I had never stated or
inferred anything of the kind.] The said Annie Besant has also edited and
published a pamphlet intituled 'The Law of Population; its consequences,
and its bearing upon human conduct and morals', to which book or pamphlet
your petitioners crave leave to refer."

The petition was unfortunately heard before the Master of the Rolls, Sir
George Jessel, a man animated by the old spirit of Hebrew bigotry, and
who had superadded to this the coarse time-serving morality of "a man of
the world", sceptical of all sincerity, and contemptuous of all

Book of the day: