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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 intimidation.

“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 subjects.

“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 literature”.

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 notice.’

“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. Headlam.

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 box.

“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 justification.

“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 prisoners”.[1]

[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 determined.

“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 future.

“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 ground.

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 offence.”

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 anxiety.

The amount of money subscribed by the public during the Knowlton and succeeding prosecutions gives some idea of the interest felt in the struggle. The Defence Fund Committee in March, 1878, presented a balance-sheet, showing subscriptions amounting to L1,292 5s. 4d., and total expenditure in the Queen _v._ Bradlaugh and Besant, the Queen _v._ Truelove, and the appeal against Mr. Vaughan’s order (the last two up to date) of L1,274 10s. This account was then closed and the balance of L17 15s. 4d. passed on to a new Fund for the defence of Mr. Truelove, the carrying on of the appeal against the destruction of the Knowlton pamphlet, and the bearing of the costs incident on the petition lodged against myself. In July this new fund had reached L196 16s. 7d., and after paying the remainder of the costs in Mr. Truelove 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 inculcated.

“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

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