A ROLL-CALL OF IMPRISONED FRIENDS.
IF the reader knew how many of my friends have been
imprisoned, or have come to a worse end, suspicion would arise as to the
prudence of proceeding further in my narrative. If no proof of such
assertion is given, it may seem pretentiousness to make it; if it be
substantiated, it may be said that I present a sort of Newgate Calendar of
my friends, whereas the list of their names is mainly a roll-call of
honourable penalties incurred in the service of society. To some I
may recur in separate chapters.
The most illustrious were Garibaldi and Mazzini. Garibaldi had known
imprisonment and torture. From youth to mature age he lived in an
atmosphere of peril; his days passed in battle, in flight, in exile, in
want, in adventure, and in the face of death by flood and field.
Mazzini, greater than Garibaldi, as his sword had been blind had not the
pen of Mazzini given it eyes, underwent vicissitudes of which imprisonment
was the least forlorn and perilous. Mazzini was not merely the great
devisor of action on behalf of liberty, but the inspirer of public passion
which made Italian Unity possible. His life was sought in three
nations. Only an Italian could have kept his head on his shoulders
under such a fierce, organized, imperial, protracted competition for it.
Alberto Mario, the husband of Jessie Meriton White, was several times in
Italian prisons, an intrepid soldier and Republican leader. He was
the confidant of Garibaldi, by whose side he fought in his most
adventurous campaigns, and was a brilliant disciple of Mazzini. He
was an orator as well as a soldier. Handsome, enthusiastic, and
incorruptible, he exercised immense influence.
Orsini, who, like Garibaldi, had a passion for fatal
enterprises, was beheaded. Pierri, without having any such passion,
perished in the same way. Rudio only escaped the headsman's axe, it
was said, by betraying his colleagues. Bottesini was one day called
upon to play at the Tuileries, when Count Bacciocchi, Master of Ceremonies
to Napoleon III., examined his double bass to see whether it contained
Orsini bombs. Orsini headless was a terror to despots.
Aurelio Saffi, second Triumvir with Mazzini, shared the
perils of the defence of Rome, and exile in England. He succeeded
his great friend in representing the Republican principle with similar
refinement, force, and fidelity. In his later years he was a
professor in Bologna, and lived amid the winepresses and vineyards of
Forli, honoured, as I found when last his guest there, as foremost of
those whose intrepidity and devotion contributed to the freedom of Italy.
I had friendly and personal relations with several eminent
Frenchmen who were in peril oft for freedom. Dr. Simon
Bernard, known, like Blanqui, as a stormy petrel of revolution on the
Continent, was involved in the Orsini affair, and his name became noised
over the world. Dr. Bernard, as the reader will see, was in
trouble before he took refuge in England. Eight prosecutions had
been instituted against him; twice he had been condemned to imprisonment,
and here he narrowly escaped the hangman. Some who were personally
in contact with him came to share his danger.
Ledru Rollin was an exile here to escape the same fate.
We always held him in honour, as Mazzini said he was the only Frenchman
who sacrificed his political position for a country not his own—namely,
for justice to Italy. I had the honour to defend him when in
England. Mazzini never ceased to inspire friendships for him.
Rollin was too little in England to understand us. Mr. Horace
Mayhew's famous letters in the Morning Chronicle on the condition of the
industrious classes in London, misled Rollin into the belief that England
was played out. He was confirmed in this belief by the speeches of
Tory orators in Parliament, who were always saying, when any measure of
reform was proposed, that the British Constitution was exploded, and that
the sun of England was going down for ever. He did not know that the
Tories are the professional defamers of the land. During more than
half a century, to my knowledge, the sun of England has set for ever every
year, and has always turned up again in the next spring. These
whimsical predictions so bewildered Ledru Rollin that he published a book
on the "Decadence of England," which caused him loss of prestige among us.
He never observed that England had still vitality, since it was able to
protect him against the wrath of the emperor of his own land, who would
have pursued him here had he dared.
Louis Blanc I knew during all the years of his exile, and was
invited by his family to his burial in Père la Chaise. Next to
Mazzini, he was master, not only of the English tongue, but of English
ways of thought, and understood the land. He made no mistake like
Ledru Rollin. Louis Blanc showed me original records of the great
French Revolution, amid which were letters stained with the blood of those
who had written them. Louis Blanc was a small man, but he was so
entirely a man—you never thought of his stature. He had an
impressive face, a firm mouth, and was without any of that assumption of
manner which small men often wear lest you should not recognize their
importance. Louis Blanc had conscious power which needed no
assertion. Though he acquired English staidness of deportment, his
French fire broke out in platform speech. He was the greatest
expositor of Republicanism, democratic and social, of his day. When
Louis Blanc was first an exile here, he was not credited with the fine
qualities he possessed, which became apparent in the protracted years of
exile. Seventeen years after the Presidential treachery of 1852, the
electors of the Seine, Marseilles, and other places besought him to
reappear in Parliament, but he would take no oath of allegiance to the
Usurper. He answered, "The distinction of Republicanism is
inflexibility of principles—its love of the straight line—its solicitude
for human dignity, and its passion for equality." In reply to the
suggestion that he should take the oath, he remarked, "The oath, it is
said, is an idle formality. Let us not repeat this word too often,
if we desire to raise the standard of public morality. There is one
man, the Emperor, who has considered it a 'mere formality,' and France
knows what has come of that." Louis Blanc added, "A noble example is
an act." St. Just said, "Those who do nothing are strong"—when
action is dishonour. Louis Blanc remained an exile until the fall of
Louis Blanc had a brother, Charles, who was a member of the French
Academy. M. Pailleron, who succeeded him, thus described both:
"Charles was exuberant, passionate, even violent; but easily
resigned, amiable at bottom, and above everything good—a reed, painted
like iron. Louis, on the contrary, was gentle, humble, timid,
polite, almost obsequious; yet beneath this mild exterior tenacious,
resolute, rebellious—iron, painted so as to resemble a reed."
Of Carlo de Rudio and his troubles I have written in another
chapter. He set himself forth as "Count" de Rudio, but if he were a
count, his education had been neglected.
Victor Schœlcher, a stormy exile upon whom the French Emperor
tried to lay hands, was a frequent visitor to the Reasoner office, and a
frequent subscriber to our insurgent funds. He was a man of high
character and strange experience, and in his day had rendered the State
important service. After the fall of Louis Napoleon at Sedan,
Schœlcher returned to France, and was accorded the dignity of a Senator.
There are pretentious friends of the advance of society who, when they
cannot do what they would, do nothing. Schœlcher, when he could not
do all he wished, did what he could.
Ulric de Fonvielle, my friend and sometime host, accompanied
Victor Noir on a visit to Prince Pierre Napoleon, who shot Victor Noir
dead, and fired twice at Ulric de Fonvielle. A very uncivil
gentleman was Prince Pierre Napoleon. Wilfrid de Fonvielle, an elder
brother of Ulric, and I have been friends for nearly forty years. He
was another stormy petrel of the Revolution, both on land and in the air,
being an adventurous balloonist at the siege of Paris—distinguished for
intrepidity and volcanic ardour, and as a barricadist, a journalist, a man
of science, and author of notable books.
The brothers Reclus have both been in peril and prison as
philosophical anarchists. To Elie Reclus, because it had valued
memories for him, I gave a fine copy of the only portrait of Robert Owen
in which that famous social philosopher appeared as a gentleman—an aspect
belonging to him which all other engravings of him missed. Reclus,
in his last letter to me, said:—
went to the Congresses of Lausanne and Geneva, where I saw your name in
the hotel Gibbon des Bergues, but not your person. Afterwards I
stayed in Auvergne, and now I must, in three or four days hence, be in
Normandy. If you were here on the 15th, I might still have the joy
of seeing you. My brother Elisée, whom I expect daily from a tour in
the Pyrenees, will be here, and, I daresay, you will soon become friends
together. I write to MM. Bewsdeley and Henry Schmahl, who are
earnest co-operators, announcing to them your visit, and I trust they will
be of some service to you. At the Credit au Travail, rue Baillet 3
(behind St. Germain l'Auxerrois, near to the Rue de Rivoli), the
accountant, Mr. Joseph Gaud, will be apprised of your arrival."
Felix Pyat I never saw, though I was his publisher. He could never
have kept his head upon his shoulders in France, and I incurred the risk
of imprisonment in defending his right to use his head in England by
publishing, in the face of prosecution, his "Letter on Parliament and the
Martin Nadaud was a Parisian workman who came to England for
security. His intelligence, integrity, and manliness won for him the
esteem of Mazzini. He worked at his trade in England, still giving
his spare time to promoting freedom both in France and Italy. I
found him in 1880 holding a permanent office in the French Parliament
House, of which he was a member, always true to his order—the honest Order
Alexander Herzen, the accomplished Russian who sent the
Kolokol (the Bell) through the dominions of the Czar, had left
Russia for good reasons. We met first at Southampton, where he was
seeking information, which I gave him, where the meeting would take place
in the Isle of Wight between Garibaldi and Mazzini. A greater than
Herzen was Karl Blind, whom I have still the pleasure to count among my
friends. Before he did us the honour to reside in England, now
nearly forty years ago, he had had terrible trials, experiencing casemate
incarceration. Since then his name is known in every nation and in
every literature where the lovers of freedom breathe.
Then there was Dr. Arnold Ruge, of the Frankfort
Parliament, who escaped to us to avoid the fate of Blum, the bookseller,
who was shot. He resided many years in Brighton, and I had the
honour to publish a work which he wrote for me.
The giant Bakounine, who had fled from Russian prisons, was
an oft visitor at Fleet Street.
Heinzen was another Russian propagandist, familiar with the
interior of a fortress, who was a welcome visitor at the Reasoner
office. He afterwards went to America, and was the author of many
determined pamphlets on insurgency, displaying power and originality.
One published in Chicago bore the unpleasant title of "Murder and
Prince Krapotkin is the most accomplished anarchist, save the
Recluses, whom I have known. No one who does not know the prince can
imagine how bright, ardent, wise, and human he is. But the
impression his writings give you is that his many attainments are tempered
by dynamite. Prince Krapotin is familiar with prisons: still he
neither swerves nor fears.
Wilhelm Weitling was a German Communist. His "Gospel of
Poor Sinners" was a book of force and original thought. He said he
learned English from two works of mine ("Practical Grammar" and "Public
Speaking") when first an exile in England. At some expense, I had
his speeches translated and printed in the Movement when he first
spoke in London, and thinking to serve him by enabling him to send copies
to America, where he was going, I presented him with some. He,
however, violently resented the act as a great affront, thinking I assumed
that he had the vanity to diffuse his own speeches. He first taught
me that foreigners were apt to be alien in mind as well as race, until
naturalized by intercourse and knowledge. He came to England with
the reputation of a "dangerous Communist." His liking of prison life
in Germany did not grow by what it fed upon; so he, in 1848, tried London
for a change, being expelled from Switzerland at the instigation of the
German Government. In one of his speeches in our John Street
Institution in London (held by disciples of Robert Owen) he said what was
new then, and is not yet old—that "there will neither be equality nor
justice so long as those who labour are poorer than those who govern."
Wilhelm Weitling was born at Magdeburg in 1808, and died in America in
1871. He was the first after Babœuf who gave to Socialism a fighting
policy, and his proceedings and apostolic advocacy were anxiously watched
by various European Governments. In 1834 he formed the "League of
the Proscribed." This was followed by a "League of the Just," a less
happy and more pretentious
title in the eyes of outsiders. Weitling was the leader of this
League when he came to England. With all his public ardency, he
followed his own industry for subsistence. He came one day to make
my wife a dress, and I remember how surprised she was to be asked to take
off her gown that he might more accurately make the measurement. Men
dressmakers and their German customs were unknown to us. Weitling
edited a journal in 1841 in which he advocated the formation of a
cooperative society. Politics was with him a means to a social end.
Louis Kossuth, the Hungarian leader, acquired more rapidly than Blanc a
wonderful mastery of English, but he never understood, any more than
Garibaldi, our illogical freedom, or the mysteries of our political
constitution. I published a bust of the Magyar orator, made for me
by Signor Bezzi, and cheap editions of Kossuth's speeches. Kossuth
would have been shot on sight had the Austrians got sight of him.
Kossuth's wife, like Garibaldi's Anita, suffered the vicissitudes of war
and flight. Though less inflexible than Mazzini or Blanc, and though
he entered into political relations with the French Usurper, who was not
to be trusted on his word any more than his oath, yet Kossuth gave proof
of integrity when peril menaced him. His generals, Bern and Kemetty,
adopted the Mahomedan faith for the sake of Ottoman protection.
Kossuth bravely refused. Bern, when an exile in England, lived near
me, a little off the Euston Road, and I used to meet him as he walked
where Bolivar had walked before him, on the broad pavement that runs
through Euston Square. Kossuth had studied English in the fortress
of Buda. No orator ever spoke in a foreign tongue with the effect
with which he spoke in England. His ideas were as remarkable as his
manner, and were an addition to our knowledge, as Toulmin Smith and
Professor F. W. Newman testified.
Francis Pulzsky, the Hungarian Prime Minister under the
Kossuth Government, narrowly escaped being shot by the Austrians.
His youngest son, who wore a picturesque Hungarian dress at evening
parties, which well became his handsome face, was a frequent visitor at my
house while a student at the London University. Once or twice I
dined with his father, who showed me six or seven iron-clasped chests,
containing the Royal jewels and the Hungarian crown, which he had with him
in an upper room of his house at Highgate (the second or third house at
the bottom of Swain's Lane). Madame Pulzsky was a remarkably small,
gentle lady, and you wondered that her sons should be men of fine stature.
We conversed at table upon the noble moderation of the French in the
Revolution of 1848, in not executing those who would have executed them
had they been victors. The Usurper who, by the leniency of
Republicans came into power, made short work with the Republicans, and
shot and transported them by thousands. Madame Pulzsky had seen so
many of her friends destroyed that she distrusted the policy of leniency,
and said to me, "Mr. Holyoake, if we come into power again, we will cut
all the throats we spared before!" The energy with which this was said by
so gentle a lady was very impressive. I contented myself by
answering that leniency did fail sometimes, and so did relentlessness, but
I believed that in the long run the cause of liberty gains more by pardon
than by death.
Among leaders of opinion whom I knew who incurred peril in
America, the chief was Lloyd Garrison, who was dragged through Boston
streets with a rope round his neck, and was imprisoned by the mayor to
save him being lynched. In 1879 I had pride in speaking in Stacey
Hall on the platform from which he was pulled down. Mr. Quincy, the
son of the mayor who saved Garrison, was in the chair. Mr. Garrison
lived to find himself honoured in two worlds—in America, and on this
"aged" side of the Atlantic. Lord John Russell spoke at a public
breakfast given to Garrison, and Mr. Bright made the most eloquent of all
the brief speeches I ever heard from him, and read a passage from the New
Testament as I have never heard it read before or since—comparing the
persecutions of Garrison with those of the Apostles. About 1850-2,
he published in the Liberator a letter from Mr.
W. J. Linton
against me. But Lloyd Garrison was incapable of being mean or
unfair, and published a reply from his valued correspondent, Edward
Search. Harriet Martineau was also a reader of the Liberator,
and as soon as she saw the Linton letter she wrote a most generous
vindication of me—which was her custom towards any friend whom she knew to
be unjustly assailed.
Others who were not hanged came, like Garrison, near to it,
and deserve regard when they knowingly took that risk for the service of
the unfriended slave, as Harriet Martineau did when in America. Men
shrank from the peril she incurred, though men were ready to risk their
lives in her defence. To prevent danger to them, she forewent
journeys she contemplated, as her death was arranged for her on her way.
Had the peril been hers alone, she would never have drawn back.
Not less did George Thompson risk death. Of him I heard
Lord Brougham say "he had the most persuasive voice of any orator he ever
listened to." And his competent testimony was confirmed by all who
heard Thompson. On his two first visits to America, speaking for the
slave, he was hunted to be "hanged on a sour apple-tree." On his
third visit he dwelt with my friend, Mr. Seth Hunt, at his home under
Mount Holyoke. He slept in the "Prophet's Chamber," where others in
peril had slept before; and which in happier days I had the honour to
occupy. But were I to mention all my friends who succoured the
hunted and condemned, I must include here certain Englishmen, Colonel
Hinton, of Washington; Mr. W. H. Ashurst; Mr. R. A. Cooper, of Norwich;
Major Evans Bell, and many others. George Thompson afterwards became
M.P. for the Tower Hamlets. Had his personal fortune enabled
him to remain in the House of Commons, he would have become eminent there.
Mr. F. W. Chesson, who continued through another generation the same noble
exertions on behalf of the oppressed and unfriended in many nations,
married Thompson's daughter.
Since Toussaint L'Ouverture, whose tragic story has been written by
Harriet Martineau in "The Hour and the Man," there has been no nobler
champion of the coloured race than Frederic Douglas. He was born
under sentence—the dread sentence of slavery—a doom of lifelong
imprisonment without hope of ending. When wandering homeless at
night about Peoria, no minister would open his doors to the slave (though
Douglas was himself a preacher), when a passenger told him to knock at
Colonel Robert Ingersoll's gate, and he would find shelter and welcome
under the generous heretic's roof. It was in Ingersoll's house that
I spent my first evening with the noble slave, who was then Provost
Marshal of Washington. The colonel produced his choicest champagne
to celebrate the event. It is told in the annals of slavery, that
when Douglas was assailed and hissed on the platform by slave-owners, he
paused, and then said, "Yes, a hiss is what you always hear when the
waters of truth drop on the fires of hell." This saying is also
ascribed to Clay, another orator for the freedom of the slave; but it
shows the quality of Douglas on the platform that the splendid retort
should be related of him.
ENGLISH AND IRISH AGITATORS WHO GAVE TROUBLE TO JURIES AND JUDGES.
THE reader will observe that some names are
mentioned only incidentally, and others at more length. Some
described here briefly are in other chapters further mentioned.
Another friend whom I knew, bearing a memorable name—Leigh
Hunt—was imprisoned, as all the world knows, for his boldness in reminding
a certain Royal personage that personal morality would be as useful in
those of high as in those of humble station. Leigh Hunt's career was
before my time, but I had the honour to know him in his later years, and
still read with pride a published letter which he addressed to me.
From his earlier years to his closing day, he never swerved from the
perilous principle of saying what he thought right and knew to be useful,
regardless of that cowardly policy of waiting on public opinion until the
right thing can be done safely.
Madame Jessie White Mario was the first distinguished
platform speaker among Englishwomen. When she first spoke on Italian
questions, women had not spoken in public with the view of influencing
State affairs. Madame Mario was more than Miss Nightingale at
Scutari; she went with Garibaldi's expedition and rescued the wounded
under fire. She was imprisoned in Genoa five months in 1857, in
Ferrara where Tasso was incarcerated, and in Rome. As well as aiding
by her intrepid services the cause of Italy, she wrote vindicatory lives
of the distinguished heroes whose names, before all others represent the
unity of that wondrous land. She told me at Lendinara that, should a
war arise between England and Italy, she had become so much Italian that
she could not live and see Italy suffer; yet she was at the same time
English at heart, and could not bear the thought that her native land
should fail. Therefore, should war occur, she should apply at St.
Peter's Gate for some retreat in his dominions. Madame Mario has
published works of authority on the lives of Mazzini, Garibaldi, Dr.
Bertani, and others. It was "To Miss J. Meriton White that Walter
Savage Landor addressed the following letter, which caused great
disquietude in the Tuileries. It first appeared in the Atlas
newspaper under the intrepid editorship of Mr. Henry J. Slack:
"At the present
time I have only One Hundred Pounds of ready money at my disposal, and am
never likely to have so much in future. Of this, I transmit FIVE to
you, towards 'the acquisition of 10,000 Muskets to be given to
the First Italian Province which shall rise.' The remaining £95,
I reserve for the Family of the First Patriot who asserts the dignity and
performs the duty of tyrannicide. Abject men have cried out against
me for my commendation of this Virtue, the highest of which a man is
capable, and now the most imperative. Is it not an absurdity to
remind us that usurpers will rise up afresh? Do not all transgressors? And
must we therefore lay aside the terrors of chastisement, or give a
Ticket of Leave to the most atrocious criminals? Shall the laws be
subverted, and we be told that we act against them, or without their
sanction, when none are left us, and when guided by Eternal justice we
smite down the subvertor? Three or four blows, instantaneous and
simultaneous, may save the world many years of war and degradation.
If it is unsafe to rob a Citizen, shall it be safe to rob a People?"
Before enumerating political advocates in England, insurgent publishers
claim notice who, in a sense, made the advocates what they were, and
created for them their auditors. Foremost among them—greatest, most
determined and impassable of them all—was Richard Carlile, my friend and
adviser at my own trial at Gloucester, and who had himself been imprisoned
nine years and four months. In the "Dictionary of National
Biography," I have written Carlile's life. Acts of defiance of the
evil Governments of his day, in which Carlile persisted, had been visited
by a long term of transportation, as happened to Muir and Palmer. It
was Carlile's intrepid publication of prohibited books which established
the freedom of the press in England.
Next to him, and contemporaneous with him, was Henry
Hetherington. The first time I spoke at a graveside was at Kensal
Green, when Hetherington was buried amid a concourse of 2,000 persons.
The Times said of him that he was one of a band "who were familiar
with the inside of every gaol in the kingdom." Hetherington made no
parade, no defiance, but was immovable. He did for the unstamped
press what Carlile did for Freethought works. A disciple of Robert
Owen, Hetherington was always for reason; but he had the courage of
reason, which he was capable of infusing into others—for 500 persons were
imprisoned for selling his unstamped papers. He defended trades
unions when they were illegal, and had the merit of defining the policy
which co-operative advocates of profit-sharing labour have maintained
James Watson was my first publisher. He was imprisoned
several times for his persistence in publishing prohibited books and
newspapers. Between Watson and Hetherington a remarkable friendship
existed. Both published some earlier works for me, but neither would
publish without understanding that it was consistent with the business
interest of the other that he should do it.
John Cleave incurred imprisonment. He was a rotund,
energetic, Radical publisher, and was the third of the trio of newsvendors
whose names were known in every town and village in the three
kingdoms—"Hetherington, Watson, and Cleave." Henry Vincent married
Cleave's daughter. Cleave did not give others an impression that he
had a passion for risk; but Watson and Hetherington, whenever peril came
to others which they ought to share, placed themselves at once in the
front rank of jeopardy.
Abel Heywood, in earlier years, published a work for me.
The name of Heywood in the provinces was as famous as that of Hetherington
in London. Heywood was imprisoned for the sale of unstamped
publications. He was afterwards Mayor of Manchester, and the Queen
was dissuaded from visiting the city during his mayoralty as she intended,
by those who resented his steadfast and honourable defence of public
liberty: though, had her Majesty known it, it was a reason why she should
have done honour to a mayoralty held by one whose services reflected
distinction on her reign.
One of my earliest friends in Birmingham was John Collins, a
Birmingham local preacher, whose hand I held as a boy when we walked
together to Harborne, a village four miles from Birmingham, where he went
to preach on a Sunday, and I to teach in the Sunday School the little I
knew. He was imprisoned two years in Warwick Gaol for making
speeches on behalf of Chartism.
Another friend of mine, at whose grave I afterwards spoke,
was William Lovett. He was imprisoned also two years at the same
time as Collins, and in the same gaol. They were both what was known
in their days as "Moral Force" Chartists, in contradistinction to
"Physical Force" agitators. In those days there was only a
middle-class suffrage, composed (as W. J. Fox said in the House of
Commons) of the "Worshipful Company of Ten-pound Householders."
Moral force was before its time then. Now the people have a free
vote, a free platform, a free press, and the ballot-box—if they cannot get
what they want without physical force, they do not understand their
business. Lovett and Collins composed in prison, and afterwards
published, a well-thought-out scheme for the political education of
working-class politicians. Collins, like Attwood, Salt, and
O'Connor, died from failure of mental power. It was a justification
of those who sought redress by violence that, avoiding it and advocating
moral force alone, they should be condemned to imprisonment all the same.
"Thomas Cooper, the Chartist," as he proudly wrote on the
title-page of his remarkable poem "The Purgatory of Suicides," was
imprisoned two years in Stafford Gaol. During fifty years over which
our friendship has extended, there has been change of conviction in him,
but never of honest principle. Mr. Cooper preceded and exceeded
Lovett and Collins in the political instruction of the people, and had
himself a passion for self-education which has made his name eminent by
his attainments. His name is in all booksellers' catalogues, and his
praise is in all the churches. Poems, novels, essays, sermons, are
departments of literature in which he has been distinguished.
Henry Vincent appeared among us in John Frost's days. I
have the sword which Frost wore when he commenced his ill-fated
insurrection in Newport. It was taken from him by Colonel Napier.
Vincent was an ardent, inflammatory orator, who said as much against
Christianity as against political oppression. All the while he was a
Christian at heart, and, like Thomas Cooper, a greater advocate than he
was a heretic—being a heretic from indignation rather than from
intellectual conviction. Vincent's imprisonment was in Monmouth
Gaol. He afterwards was an occasional preacher in Liberal Dissenting
churches, but, like all men who have been for a time on the other side, he
never returned again to the dark valley of unseeing faith, but dwelt on
the hills of orthodoxy, where some light of reason falls. He
ultimately acquired a cultivated style of oratory, and became a celebrated
lecturer both in England and America. His orations, for the quality
of his speeches entitled them to that term, were mainly expositions of
political principles. He married, as has been said, the daughter of
Ernest Jones was notable alike for impassioned oratory and poetic
inspiration. By birth, culture, and sacrifice, he lent distinction
to the Chartist cause he espoused. Thomas Carlyle went to see him
through the bars of the prison where he was confined two years. We
never knew whether Jones was Hanoverian or English by birth, but he was
always English in his advocacy and sympathies. Carlyle had no
discernment that he was a man of genius who had resigned affluent
prospects for penury and principles, and who, in great vicissitude, never
turned back. The only time I ever spoke on Nelson's Monument in
Trafalgar Square was in commemoration of his premature death.
Joseph Rayner Stephens, the greatest orator on the Chartist
side, was imprisoned in York Castle. Stephens was a Tory, not of the
baser sort who seek personal power for purposes of political supremacy,
but of the nobler kind who desire to see power in the hands of the wise
(which they take themselves to be) for the improvement of the condition
and the better contentment of the people. Stephens was for the
Crown, but he was for the people, come what might of the Crown. On
the platform he was a master of assemblies. In conversation he
excelled all men I have known. He saw all that was in the words he
used and all round the subject upon which he spoke. His easy
precision resembled that of Lord Westbury. Stephens did vehemently
teach armed resistance, not against public order, but against public
wrong. The Government did not see the distinction—no wonder the
people did not.
I had but limited acquaintanceship with Richard Oastler,
although great admiration for his personal character. In spite of
his Toryism, I had a regard for him, on account of his humanity and real
interest in the welfare of factory children. I first knew him when
visiting George White at Queen's Bench Prison, where Mr. Oastler was also
confined. Like Joseph Rayner Stephens, his great colleague, he cared
for throne and factory children, but for children first and children most.
William Prouting Roberts, whom we called the "Miners'
Attorney-General," was one who incurred six months' imprisonment at
Devizes for his defence of labour. He was the terror of many a local
Bench, and defended many a miner and weaver who otherwise had had no
redress or deliverance.
The most volcanic voice in the Chartist movement was that of
G. J. Mantle. When I was with Mr. J. S. Mill at the Agricultural
Hall, Islington, in the Hyde-Park-railing days, Mill could not be heard
far into the vast valley of people there assembled; the outer concourse
was lost in the deep shadows of the great hall which two fierce lights on
the platform deepened. Then Mantle was chosen to read the
resolutions to be passed. His sentences seemed shot from a culverin.
His throat opened like the mouth of a tunnel. No doubt the jury
heard his defence long before (1839-40), when he was accorded two years'
imprisonment for speeches made to Hyde Park Chartists. The judge
embellished his sentence by a few graceful words (common among judges, who
are never political), saying—"It was you who made seditious speeches, and
were a party to the conspiracy and riot. It is true you were not at
the latter in body, but your spirit was there; you sounded the trumpet,
but you were not in the van, and it is always so with people like you.
You are a young man with a very voluble tongue and an empty head, as most
mob orators are. I advise you to study more and speak less—to know,
if you can be made to know, that a boy of twenty-two is not the person to
alter, the constitution of this country."
George Julian Harney was early in prison. He was in the heart of the
Chartist movement, and always a picturesque figure in it. His
fervour of speech and his ubiquitous activity made him widely known and
popular. It was long hoped he would be the historian of the
movement, of which he knew more than any other leader. His first
wife, who died early, came from Mauchline. She was tall, beautiful,
and of high spirit, a brave counsellor in all risks and a resolute sharer
of any consequences. Harney was worthy of the heroic companionship
it was his good fortune to possess. His last publication in England
was the Red Republican, a title which admitted of no mistake,
and he was the first Chartist who adopted Louis Blanc's motto—"The
Republic, Democratic and Social."
James, afterwards Alderman, Williams, of Sunderland, was a
bookseller, printer, and publicist, and one of the few Chartist agitators
in those ardent days who thought that political passion was the better for
being controlled by good sense. At Durham Assizes he was sentenced
to six months' imprisonment. He defended himself. The jury had
recommended leniency on the ground of his being a young man.
Williams said he claimed no consideration on that ground, as what he had
done was the result of calm deliberation. He only claimed
consideration on the ground of the utility of his public conduct.
Williams was counted too intellectual in his advocacy, and fell below the
level of orators of passion; but at the bar he was in respect of courage
far above most of the men of passion, who, like O'Connor and some others,
denied what they had said.
Irish leaders of English political agitation were daring,
eloquent, inspiring, impetuous, and dangerous—dangerous because they were
impatient, and impatient here because, despairing in their own land, they
naturally incited insurgency here which might lead to liberty in Ireland.
Feargus O'Connor, a man more powerfully built than O'Connell,
whom he succeeded as a political advocate in England, was imprisoned for
two years in York Castle. O'Connor was the most impetuous and most
patient of all the tribunes who ever led the English Chartists. In
the Northern Star he let every rival speak, and had the grand
strength of indifference to what any one said against him in his own
columns. Logic was not his strong point, and he had colossal
Thomas Ainge Devyr, an energetic and fertile Irish leader of
English Chartism, would have been imprisoned a long time by Lord Abinger
had he not fled to America. His bail was estreated in his absence.
He was the earliest of the advocates of land and landlord reform in
Ireland, and claimed, with some truth, to be the originator of the land
theories that afterwards became famous. The Northern Liberator,
edited by him before his flight from Newcastle-on-Tyne to America, was the
most readable of all the insurgent newspapers of that period.
James Bronterre O'Brien, who excelled all the Chartist
leaders in passion of speech and invective, was sentenced to nine months'
imprisonment at the Liverpool Assizes. He was the only Chartist who
comprehended fully how large a share, social, financial, and commercial,
error contributes to the suffering of the people.
For George White I had as much regard as for any Irish leader
among the Chartists. He was so frank, generous, and brave.
Whenever the early Socialists were in trouble with their theological
adversaries, White would bring up his "Old Guard" and man the hall during
a debate to see fair play. In one case in Birmingham they attended
five nights, at Beardsworth Repository, from seven to eleven o'clock.
Though poor men, they paid for their own admission. He said to me
that whenever I was in any danger of ill-usage on the platform I was to
send him word and he would bring up the "Old Guard." This he never
failed to do. When he was imprisoned in London, my wife used to make
pies for him and take them to him at the Queen's Bench. They were
very welcome to him, as he always had a precarious revenue. He died
ultimately in the Infirmary in Sheffield, I have no doubt dreaming of pies
to come, for he was very desolate. He was the personification of
energy, physical and mental, possessing a vigorous frame and bright eyes,
with a ready, trenchant speech which had the prance of the war-horse in
it, neighing for battle. Like other Chartists, he took money from
the Tories, the better to enable him to destroy the Whigs, whom he
distrusted—because they went tardily on the way of redress. He
opposed the Whigs more than he did the Tories, who never set out that way
at all. The father of Lord Cranbrook (it was said by Bradford
colleagues), partly from kindness to White, and otherwise for his
political services, allowed him many years a small stipend—besides special
aid when Anti-Corn Law League meetings required to be broken up.
A FURTHER CALENDAR OF FRIENDS WHOSE FATE NEEDS EXPLANATION.
AMONG the following inhabitants of the prison-house
are valued friends and colleagues of my own. Others I knew and had
certain relations with, but without approving or condoning what they had
done. One whom I was bound by ties of friendship to save if I could,
sent me a petition to sign, as I was known to the Minister to whom it was
addressed. But I declined, as the plea drawn up by the petitioner
justified his act. I did not agree with the justification, and could
not ask a minister to condone an offence which a jury had recognized as
harmful to the secular interests of the public. At the same time I
drew up another petition asking for mitigation of sentence on other
grounds which could fairly be pleaded.
Mr. Charles Southwell had been out with Sir de Lacy Evans in
the Spanish expedition. He was imprisoned in 1840 for twelve months,
in Bristol Gaol, for an article in the Oracle of Reason, entitled
the "Jew Book." He was sentenced by Sir Charles Wetherell, the "Old
Bags" of Hone. I took the vacant editorship and came to a similar
end. Mr. Southwell was the youngest of thirty-six children, and was
the liveliest of them all. In this he resembled Bishop Bathurst, who
was one of thirty-six children by the same father; but Charles Southwell
resembled the bishop in no other particular. Mr. Southwell was for
some time upon the stage, and was a good actor. He was, like myself,
a social missionary lecturing upon Mr. Owen's system of society. He
had great versatility—infinite animation, chivalry, and daring. When
Bishop Philpotts intimidated two social missionaries into taking the oath
as licensed preachers to avoid certain disabilities, I and Charles
Southwell protested against and refused to swear to the thing which was
not. On one occasion he undertook to deliver a lecture for the
benefit of prisoners in Edinburgh, in the interests of the
Anti-Persecution Union. He did lecture, and for an hour and a half a
large audience was delighted with his wit, vivacity, and discursiveness.
At the conclusion of his address, I said, "Why, Southwell, you never
mentioned the subject of your lecture!" He answered, "Well, I quite
forgot it." So did we all while he was speaking. He died in
Auckland, New Zealand; but though he had ceased to advocate his
principles, he maintained them in his death.
George Adams was imprisoned in Gloucester Gaol for publishing
the Oracle of Reason from friendship for me. Mrs.
Harriet Adams, his wife, was also imprisoned for like cause. She was
handsome, intelligent, and of invincible spirit. Both died at
Watertown, in America.
Miss Matilda Roalfe, at a time when persecution in Edinburgh
prevailed, went from London to conduct a small publishing business, though
the previous owner of the shop was imprisoned. She also was
sentenced to be imprisoned sixty days (1843) for the publication of
prohibited Freethought works. She was confined in an unclean cell,
and her life was imperilled by religious tumult on her release on bail.
On her trial she cross-examined the witness with good judgment. She
was told that if she pleaded she was unaware of the nature of the books
she sold she might escape. This she would not do. She was
instructed by her legal friends that there were serious legal flaws in the
proceedings against her. She declined to seek escape on technical
grounds, but stood on the right of freedom of the press in honest
criticism and speculation. She was as remarkable for quiet courage
as for good sense. She made no complaint and no submission.
She afterwards became the wife of a valued friend of mine, who, next to my
brother Austin, was my most trusted assistant at the Fleet Street house.
Mrs. Emma Martin was another lady distinguished in her
day as a platform speaker on questions of social reform, at whose grave I
spoke. She suffered brief imprisonments. She was a handsome
woman, of brilliant talent and courage.
Thomas Finlay was a man of sixty years of age when I first
knew him. He was of good presence, intelligence, and devotion to
principle. He made a case with a glass frame and placed in it a copy
of the Bible in large type, open at a part which he thought unfit to be
found in a sacred book, and placed it where it could be read by passers-by
in a main street in Edinburgh. For this he was imprisoned and the
Bible also. I have the copy which was sent to me, bearing the
imprimatur of the Procurator-Fiscal certifying its legal detention for
blasphemy. Finlay defended himself in a speech of considerable
length, but was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. He had a
daughter married to Mr. Henry Robinson, of Edinburgh, who was agent for
works I published. He also was imprisoned by the Edinburgh
Thomas Pooley, the Cornish well-sinker, whom I aided in
rescuing from twenty-one months' imprisonment, was an honest, indomitable,
incoherent man, whose career the reader may see described in another
Thomas Paterson was a young Scotchman who also went out with
Sir de Lacy Evans in the Spanish expedition, to which Southwell also
belonged, but they were unknown to each other at that time. They
were afterwards colleagues in the defence of free opinion and underwent
similar imprisonment. Paterson's chief imprisonment was in Scotland,
where he went as a volunteer during the Edinburgh prosecutions, being
imprisoned fifteen months in 1843. While I was a stationed lecturer
in Sheffield he lived in my house nine months, and was known as my
"curate," as I engaged him to assist me in the schools conducted in
connection with my lectureship at the Rockingham Street Hall. No
danger and no imprisonment intimidated Paterson. In any project of
peril in which I was concerned, he was always a volunteer. For this
reason I remained his friend until his death, which brought me trouble, as
Paterson published attacks on friends of mine from which I entirely
dissented. This he did without my knowing it, but as my friendliness
with him was known, I was considered as concurring in his opinion, and
thus I lost friends.
Mr. G. W. Foote was imprisoned for publishing Biblical
caricatures not worse than the caricatures which theological adversaries
deal in without reproach, and, indeed, with popular approval. Mr.
Ramsay, an intelligent and hard-working propagandist, was imprisoned in
like manner for selling them. I did what I could to induce Sir Wm.
Harcourt to release them on the grounds that, were they chargeable with
misplaced ridicule, the consequences fell upon their cause, and it was no
business of the State to protect Freethinkers from the excess of their
own enthusiasm, and that, since Christians were allowed unbridled license
to ridicule their adversaries, and did it, both parties should be
imprisoned, or neither.
The most unjust of all prosecutions of the kind was that of
Edward Truelove, a man not only of blameless, but honourable life, who had
been a bookseller and publisher for nearly half a century. He was
imprisoned four months for selling Robert Dale Owen's little work on
"Physiology in Relation to Morals"—the most ascetic, reasonably-written of
all pamphlets on the limitation of families that have been published for
forty years. The sensuality is all on the side of those who object
to the principle of such works. Mr. Truelove, though of advanced
age, bravely refused to compromise the right of free publication of
opinion, and sustained the traditions of the school of Carlile, Watson,
Mr. J. B. Langley was a publicist with whom I was associated
for more than thirty years. He had the passion of public service,
and, like all who have it, he neglected his own interest to advance it.
He was imprisoned for the violation of an Act never put in force before,
and which, if honestly put in operation, would imprison hundreds of
persons in the city of London who are counted of good commercial fame, and
who would share the same fate. Mr. John Bright and Mr. Samuel Morley
contributed to a fund to enable Mr. Langley to go to the coast for a time
when free, he having many friends who knew how a forlorn hope or
struggling cause could always command his services day or night, near or
far. Indeed, it had been better for him had he given more time to
his own business and less to the public cause. Mr. Langley was one
of the minor poets, as well as a ready public speaker.
Mr. Swindlehurst, a very hard worker for social improvement,
was imprisoned in like manner from a like cause.
Robert Southey, who was hanged at Maidstone, was not one of
my friends, but I was an adviser of his, and endeavoured to assist him.
He killed seven persons, and was very deservedly executed. I have
known many who earned the gallows in their effort to obtain notoriety, but
Southey was the only one who chose it for that purpose.
Gerald Supple, named elsewhere, a journalistic colleague, was
sentenced to be hanged for shooting two persons and killing the wrong one.
He had ability, chivalry, and courage worthy of his country. He came
Rudolph Herzel was a tall, thoughtful-looking secretary to a
Secular Society at Leeds. Ardent, intelligent, enthusiastic,
devoted, always ready to go to the front, he offered himself to me to
serve on any forlorn hope, in conspiracy or battle. I declined to
dispose of any man's life, and did no more on his request than inform him
where conflict was impending, but the choice of entering upon it must be
his own. He afterwards went out during the Italian war, and was no
more heard of by me.
One whom I do not name, but who had many claims on my regard,
got involved in the unwise defence of some persons, unknown to me, in
serious railway robberies. I have no doubt he acted from some
mistaken sense of justice, and wrote a letter intimidatory of the
authorities who were investigating the robberies, with which he could not
possibly have been concerned. One morning I saw in The Times
a lithographed letter with an offer of £300 reward for discovery of the
writer. I knew at a glance who he was and remonstrated with him.
He wrote, with a fearless defiance natural to him, saying, he knew I
needed money, and that I was quite at liberty to give information as to
the authorship of the letter, and he not only should not reproach me, but
be glad if he could be of service to me. My answer was that I never
took blood-money, especially that of one I had treated as a friend.
He was imprisoned several times subsequently, but never on that or any
similar account, and sometimes from causes creditable to him. A
curious thing occurred in connection with the letter referred to.
Having to go to Scotland I took his self-inculpating letter and a copy of
The Times containing the lithograph letter with me, intending to
give both to him. I never removed them from my trunk. Some
days after my arrival at my destination I sought them, but they, alas!
were not there. In what way they could have been abstracted or lost
I never could make out. My anxiety lest they had fallen into
dangerous hands was very great. What became of them I never knew.
Fortunately nothing resulted from their loss.
Now, I have fulfilled my promise to justify my assertion that
I have had so many questionable friends that the reader might feel
reasonable alarm at continuing the perusal of these pages. In this
and the two preceding chapters I have enumerated sixty-eight persons in
whom the State took personal interest. In enumerating those who were
hanged, I have said nothing of others who, in the opinion of confident, if
not competent observers, ought to have ended that way. But every man
who had knowledge of public affairs knows a great number of these also.
I have confined myself, with one or two exceptions, to those who nobly
incurred peril. In my memory are many more whom, perhaps, I ought to
mention; but I have cited enough to prove my intimation that I am a person
of suspicious acquaintances. But it is a good rule in autobiography,
as in debate, to state your case, clear your case, prove your case, and
then cease. To do more is to weary the reader, and that is the prime
crime a writer can commit.
THE FOUNDER OF SOCIAL IDEAS IN ENGLAND.
HAVING been for more than half a century concerned
in the advocacy of Robert Owen's "New Views of Society," which attracted a
band of adherents when first announced, I think it is relevant that I
should give some account of this class of social ideas.
Just as Thomas Paine was the founder of political ideas among
the people of England, Robert Owen was also the founder of social ideas
among them. He who first conceives a new idea has merit and
distinction; but he is the founder of it who puts it into the minds of men
by proving its practicability. Mr. Owen did this at New Lanark, and
convinced numerous persons that the improvement of society was possible by
wise material means. There were social ideas in England before the
days of Owen, as there were political ideas before the days of Paine; but
Owen gave social ideas form and force. His passion was the
organization of labour, and to cover the land with self-supporting cities
of industry, in which well-devised material condition should render
ethical life possible, in which labour should be, as far as possible, done
by machinery, and education, recreation, and competence should be enjoyed
by all. Instead of communities working for the world, they should
work for themselves, and keep in their own hands the fruit of their
labour; and commerce should be an exchange of surplus wealth, and not a
necessity of existence. All this Owen believed to be practicable.
At New Lanark he virtually or indirectly supplied to his workpeople, with
splendid munificence and practical judgment, all the conditions which gave
dignity to labour. Excepting by Godin of Guise, no workmen have ever
been so well treated, instructed, and cared for as at New Lanark.
Co-operation as a form of social amelioration and of profit
existed in an intermittent way before New Lanark; but it was the
advantages of the stores Owen incited that was the beginning of
working-class co-operation. His followers intended the store to be a
means of raising the industrious class, but many think of it now merely as
a means of serving themselves. Still, the nobler portion are true to
the earlier ideal of dividing profits in store and workshop, of rendering
the members self-helping, intelligent, honest, and generous, and abating,
if not superseding competition and meanness.
During all the discussions upon Mr. Owen's views, I do not
remember notice being taken of Thomas Holcroft, the actor, who might have
been cited as a precursor of Mr. Owen. Holcroft, mostly self-taught,
familiar with hardship, vicissitude, and adventure, became an author,
actor, and playwriter of distinction. He expressed views of
remarkable similarity to those of Owen. Holcroft was a friend of
political and moral improvement, but he wished it to be gradual and
rational, because he believed no other could be effectual. He
deplored all provocation and invective. All that he wished was the
free and dispassionate discussion of the great principles relating to
human happiness, trusting to the power of reason to make itself heard, not
doubting the result. He believed the truth had a natural superiority
over error, if truth could only be stated; that if once discovered it
must, being left to itself, soon spread and triumph. "Men," he said,
"do not become what by nature they are meant to be, but what society makes
Actors, apart from their profession, are mostly idealess; and
the few who are capable of interest in human affairs outside the stage,
are mostly so timid of their popularity that they are acquiescent, often
subservient, to conventional ideas. Not so Holcroft. When it
was dangerous to have independent theological or social opinions, he was
as bold as Owen at a later day. He did not conceal that he was a
Necessarian. He was one of a few moralists who took a chapel in
Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, with a view to found an Ethical Church.
One of his sayings was this: "The only enemy I encounter is error, and
that with no weapon but words. My constant theme has been, 'Let
error be taught, not whipped.'" Owen but put this philosophy into a
system, and based public agitation upon the Holcroft principle.
Owen's habit of mind and principle are there expressed. Lord
Brougham, in his famous address to the Glasgow University in 1825,
declared the same principle when he said no man was any more answerable
for his belief than for the height of his stature or the colour of his
hair. Brougham, being a life-long friend of Owen, had often heard
this from him. Holcroft was born 1745, died 1809.
Robert Owen was a remarkable instance of a man at once Tory
and revolutionary. He held with the government of the few, but,
being a philanthropist, he meant that the government of the few should be
the government of the good. It cannot be said that he, like Burke,
was incapable of conceiving the existence of good social arrangements
apart from kings and courts. It may be said that he never thought
upon the subject. He found power in their hands, and he went to them
to exercise it in the interests of his "system." He was conservative
as respected their power, but conservative of nothing else. He would
revolutionize both religion and society—indeed, clear the world out of the
way—to make room for his "new views." He visited the chief courts of
Europe. Because nothing immediately came of it, it was said he was
not believed in. But there is evidence that he was believed in.
He was listened to because he proposed that crowned heads should introduce
his system into their states, urging that it would ensure contentment and
material comfort among their people, and by giving rulers the control and
patronage of social life, would secure them in their dignity.
Owen's fine temper was owing to his principle. He
always thought of the unseen chain which links every man to his destiny.
His fine manners were owing to natural self-possession and to his
observation. When a youth behind Mr. McGuffog's counter at Stamford,
the chief draper's shop in the town, he "watched the manners and studied
the characters of the nobility when they were under the least restraint."
It ever fell to me to entertain many eminent men, even by accident; but
the first was Robert Owen. His object was to meet a professor and
some young students at the London University. Two of them were Mr.
Percy Greg and Mr. Michael Foster, both of whom afterwards became eminent.
There were some publicists present, and Mr. W. J. Birch, author of the
"Philosophy and Religion of Shakspeare," all good conversationalists.
Mr. Owen was the best talker of the party. Perhaps it was that they
deferred to him, or submitted to him, because of his age and public
career; but he displayed more variety and vivacity than they. He
spoke naturally as one who had authority. But his courtesy was never
suspended by his earnestness. Owen, being a Welshman, had all the
fervour and pertinacity, without the impetuosity of his race. Though
he had made his own fortune by insight and energy, his fine manners came
by instinct. He was successively a draper's counterman, a clerk, a
manager, a trader and manufacturer; but he kept himself free from the
hurry and unrest of manner which the eagerness of gain and the solicitude
of loss, impart to the commercial class, and which mark the difference
between their manners and those of gentlemen. There are both sorts
in the House of Commons. As a rule, you know on sight the members
who have made their own fortunes. If you accost them, they are apt
to start as though they were arrested. An interview is an
encroachment. They do not conceal that they are thinking of their
time as they answer you. They look at their minutes as though they
were loans, and only part with them if they are likely to bear interest.
There are business men in Parliament who are born with the instinct of
progress without hurry. But they are the exception.
A gentleman has no master, and is neither driven nor hurries
as though he had some one to obey. Mr. Owen had this charm of
repose. He had a clear and abiding conception that men had no
substantial interest in being base; and that when they were base, it was
an intrinsic misfortune arising from inherited tendency, or acquired from
contact with untoward circumstances. This belief made him patient
with dishonesty; but dishonesty never blinded him nor imposed upon him.
He could see as far into a rogue as any man. His theory of the
influences of heredity and circumstances gave him a key to character.
Miss Martineau had frequent visits from Mr. Owen, who, she said, "always
interested her by his candour and cheerfulness. His benevolence and
charming manners would make him the most popular man in England if he
could but distinguish between assertion and argument, and refrain from
wearying his friends with his monotonous doctrine." It is a
peculiarity in some Welshmen that, if refuted in argument and they admit
the refutation to be conclusive, their previous conviction returns to
them, and they reassert it as though it had never been answered. I
observed this in Welshmen in America, where there is no market for
abandoned ideas, and no time for returning to errors. Mr. Owen had
this recurrency of anterior ideas, but in him it seemed earnestness rather
than mere iteration. Besides, it was consistency in him, seeing that
he never thought confutation of his views possible, and never met with it.
Because he insisted on these far-reaching principles, which
were sufficient to recast the social policy of the nation, he was
described disparagingly as "a man of one idea." I never shared this
objection to persons of one idea, having known so many who had none.
Many people have but fragments of ideas, and no complete conception of
Mr. Owen's fault was that he repeated his great idea in the
same words. It is variety of statement of the same thing—if there be
truth in it—which conquers conviction.
FURTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PHILOSOPHER OF NEW LANARK.
Mr. OWEN'S sense of fame lay in his ideas.
They formed a world in which he dwelt, and he thought others who saw them
would be as enchanted as he was. But others did not see them, and he
took no adequate means to enable them to see them. James Mill and
Francis Place revised his famous "Essays on the Formation of Character,"
of which he sent a copy to the first Napoleon. Mr. Owen published
nothing else so striking or vigorous. Yet he could speak on the
platform impressively and with a dignity and force which commanded the
admiration of cultivated adversaries.
Like Turner, Owen had an earlier and a later manner.
His memoirs—never completed—were written apparently when Robert Fulton's
death was recent. They have incident, historic surprises, and the
charm of genuine autobiography; but when he wrote of his principles, he
lacked altogether Cobbett's faculty of "talking with the pen," which is
the source of literary engagingness. It was said of Montaigne that
"his sentences were vascular and alive, and if you pricked them they
bled." If you pricked Mr. Owen's, when he wrote on his "System," you
lost your needle in the wool. He had the altruistic fervour as
strongly as Comte, but Owen was without the artistic instinct of style,
which sees an inapt word as a false tint in a picture or as an error in
His "Lectures on Marriage" he permitted to be printed in a
note-taker's unskilful terms, and did not correct them, which subjected
him and his adherents also to misapprehension. Everybody knows that
love must always be free, and, if left to take its own course, is
generally ready to accept the responsibility of its choice. People
will put up with the ills they bring upon themselves, but will resent
happiness proposed by others; just as a nation will be more content with
the bad government of their own contriving than they will be under better
laws imposed upon them by foreigners. Polygamous relations are
inconsistent with delicacy or refinement. Miscellaneousness and love
are incompatible terms. Love is an absolute preference. Mr.
Owen regarded affection as essential to chastity; but his deprecation of
priestly marriages set many against marriage itself. This was owing
more to the newness of his doctrine in those days, which led to
misconception on the part of some, and was wilfully perverted by others.
He claimed for the poor facilities of divorce equal to those accorded to
the rich. To some extent this has been conceded by law, which has
tended to increase marriage by rendering it less a terror. The new
liberty produced license, as all new liberty does; yet the license is not
chargeable upon the liberty, nor upon those who advocated it: but upon the
reaction from unlimited bondage.
Owen's philanthropy was owing to his principles.
Whether wealth is acquired by chance or fraud—as a good deal of wealth
is—or owing to inheritance without merit, or to greater capacity than
other men have, it is alike the gift of destiny, and Mr. Owen held that
those less fortunate should be assisted to improvement in their condition
by the favourites of fate. Seeing that every man would be better
than he is were his condition in life devised for his betterment, Owen's
advice was not to hate men, but to change the system which makes them what
they are or keeps them from moral advancement. For these reasons he
was against all attempts at improvement by violence. Force was not
reformation. In his mind reason and better social arrangements were
the only remedy.
In the autumn of 1845 I sent to Mr. Owen (he being then in
America) a copy of my first book on his social philosophy, and the method
of stating it on the platform. It was entitled "Rationalism,"
treated from an Individualist point of view. Mr. Owen's party were
then known as "Rational Religionists." Solicitous of the opinion of
the master, I asked him, in case he approved of it, to please to tell me
so, and permit me to say so. In 1848, he being again in England, I
sent him a further copy, as possibly the other never reached him. He
kindly answered as follows:
"March 18, 1848.
-Many thanks for your note, papers, and book, which came here last night
only, although your note is dated 3rd inst. I am just now
overwhelmed with most important public business, which will more than
occupy every moment of my time until I return from Paris. As soon as
I shall have leisure for both reading and study, I will attend to your
'Rationalism,' and give my opinion of it.
"Yours, my dear sir,
"Very truly and affectionately,
"P.S.—Keep up the type of the first 500 copies" [alluding
to a work I was printing for him].
Always intent on the diffusion of his views, I conclude he never found
time to give me the opinion I sought.
In another letter he had told me that Mr. Cobden had
presented to Parliament a petition from him. I do not possess any
letter in which he referred to the opinion he promised to give me; but I
inferred from his continued friendship that he did not much dissent from
what I had said in "Rationalism," or he would have made time to do so; for
when, in a proof of an article I had sent him (he contributed several to
the Reasoner I was then editing), his sharp eye detected the words
"misery, producing circumstances," he desired me to tell the printer to
remove the comma and put a hyphen in its place, that it might read
"misery-producing circumstances." On one occasion he held £10 scrip
in the Fleet Street house.
In 1847, Mr. Owen was a candidate for the representation of
Marylebone. The principles he offered to advocate are notable
to-day, as showing how well he understood the political needs of the
nation, and how much he was in advance of his times:—
A graduated property tax equal to the national
The abolition of all other taxes.
No taxation without representation.
Free trade with all the world.
National education for all who desire it.
National beneficial employment for all who require it.
Full and complete freedom of religion under every name by
which men may call themselves.
A national circulating medium, under the supervision and
control of Parliament, that could be increased or diminished as wealth
for circulation increased or diminished; and that should be, by its
ample security, unchangeable in its value.
National military training for all male children in
schools, that the country may be protected against foreign invasion,
without the present heavy permanent military expenditure.
Mr. Owen was afterwards a candidate for the City of London. I, being
a freeman, was one of his nominators, and attended at the Guildhall, at
his request, to propose or second him on the day of election.
For many weeks I published an advertisement of the
commencement of the Millennium in 1855. This I continued at his
request until March 25th. But up to quarter day no sign of it
appeared. I received payment for the advertisement in the
Reasoner, which, had I believed the Millennium was so near, I should
not have taken.
THE OWEN FAMILY.
Mr. OWEN had three sons who had distinction in their
day. One was employed by the United States Government on geological
survey of territories, another fought in the war of the Rebellion, and
died by injudiciously tasting embalming water, brought to him for
analysis. Robert Dale, his eldest son, came to be United States
Minister at Naples, and delighted King Bomba with spiritual seances
until Garibaldi swept the tyrant and the spirits away. The
minister's daughter Rosamond became Mrs. Oliphant—a bright young
lady who wrote a singularly wise pamphlet on the Rights of Women.
Robert Dale Owen
American papers, who best knew the facts concerning Robert Dale Owen,
explained that for a period before his death he suffered from excitement
of the brain, ascribed to overwork in his youth. He was, from his
youth upward, a man of absolute moral courage, and to the end of his days
he maintained the reputation of it. As soon as he was deceived by
the Spiritist, Katie King, he published a card and said so, and warned
people not to believe what he had said about that fascinating impostor.
A man of less courage would have said nothing, in the hope that the public
would the sooner forget it. It is clear now, that spiritism did not
affect his mind; his mind was affected before he presented gold rings to
feminine spirits. Towards the end of his days he fancied himself the
Marquis of Breadalbane, and proposed coming over to Scotland to take
possession of his estates. He had a great scheme for recasting the
art of war by raising armies of gentlemen only, and proposed himself to go
to the then raging East and settle things there on a very superior plan.
He believed himself in possession of extraordinary powers of riding and
fighting, and had a number of amusing illusions. But he was not a
common madman; he was mad like a philosopher—he had a picturesque
insanity. After he had charmed his friends by his odd speculations,
he would spend a few days in analyzing them, and wondering how they arose
in his mind. He very coolly and skilfully dissected his own crazes.
The activity of the brain had become at times incontrollable; still his
was a very superior kind of aberration. In politics, Robert Dale
Owen was not a force so much as an ornament, and never fulfilled the
promise of his youth in being a leader of men. In his Freethought
writings he excelled all his contemporaries in finish of expression.
THE MYSTERIOUS PARCEL LEFT AT THE “MANCHESTER GUARDIAN" OFFICE.
WHEN a book was issued some years ago in London, in
defence of small families, it bore a disagreeable title, and I suggested
to the author that "Elements of Social Science" would be a better one,
which he adopted. Afterwards Prof. Newman pointed out in his
discerning way, in letters to the Reasoner, that the author's
doctrine included a principle which would lead to evil: as it implied that
seduction might be a physiological necessity. The merciful aim of
the work was so far frustrated by its execution. To any similar work
the objection made by me related solely to its expression. This I
made clear in the book "John Stuart Mill, as the Working Classes knew
him." On a question such as family limitation, delicacy of phrase
and purity of taste are everything. They are themselves safeguards
of morality. Foolishness of thought, coarseness of illustration,
deter from acts of the highest prudence and repel instead of attracting
Nations, as well as persons, are on some subjects
comparatively without the sense of taste. Joseph Barker, whom many
readers know, was entirely deficient in it. In his first book,
"Memoirs of a Man," he gave incredible and unquotable instances of it, and
elsewhere also. Americans, as a rule, are far less reticent on
domestic questions than Englishmen. Scotland is notable in the same
way; I have heard at public assemblies there things said before a mixed
audience, by educated persons, which no class in England could anywhere be
found to utter. We have reservation it is not well to disregard,
since it is a sentiment of civilization, and means moral refinement.
It was from Scotland this subject first came into England. In these
days of Board schools and science lectures, physiology can be explained to
girls, whatever they need to know, by lady physicians. Youths should
be taught by a medical professor in the same way; and no course of
education should be considered complete until a series of select class
lectures had been given, so that domestic knowledge should be insured of
all that can affect, for good or evil, the future of the human race.
In 1874-5, I was engaged in writing the "History of
Co-operation in England," when I became acquainted with a curious episode
in the career of the founder of that system.
Robert Owen, finding the world in manifest disorder,
suggested how it might be put straight. Looking at it with an
intelligent and benevolent eye, he saw that crime was error, and that
misery was crime—in other words, that misery was preventable, and that it
was a crime in rulers to permit it. He was the first publicist
amongst us who looked with royal eyes upon children. He regarded
grown persons as proprietors of the world, bound to extend the rights of
hospitality to all visitors. He considered little children as little
guests, to be welcomed with gentle courtesy and tenderness, to be offered
knowledge and love, and charmed with song and flowers, so that they might
be glad, and proud that they had come into a world which gave them
happiness and only asked from them goodness.
Mr. Owen began his career as a reformer—in what we regard now
as the pre-scientific period—before men measured progress by single steps.
As Duke Bernard of Saxe-Weimar expressed it with admirable
comprehensiveness—"Mr. Owen looked to nothing less than to renovate the
world, to extirpate all evil, to banish all punishment, to create like
views and like wants, to guard against all conflicts and hostilities."
There is grandeur in this wide horizon of social effort, which will always
have inspiration in it. Finding pious benevolence, seeking progress
by prayer-which did not bring it—Mr. Owen boldly proposed to substitute
for it scientific benevolence, which seeks human improvement by material
methods. "Here," he said, if not in terms, in theory, "is the new
path of deliverance, where no thought is lost, no effort vain; where the
victory is always to the wise and the patient, and the poor who are wise
will no longer be betrayed."
We know not now what courage it required to say this.
When Mr. Owen said it, gentlemen expected to provide the poor with their
religion. If they subscribed to any school, this was the chief
object they had in view; for it was very little secular learning they
imparted. In Sunday schools, spelling, reading, writing, and
arithmetic were given in homœopathic doses, and they were generally
subordinated to the Catechism. Mr. Owen gave lessons in the
knowledge of the world in his schools, and justified their being given.
Both the clergy and dissenting ministers regarded with jealousy any
influence arising not under their direction, and they made it difficult
for social improvers to do anything. They gave bad accounts of any
working men who allied themselves to social schemes, so that inquirers
were intimidated. It was a great merit of Mr. Owen that he did more
to resent this, and inspire others to deliver society from it, than any
other man of wealth in his time.
In those alarmed days, when politicians and capitalists were
as terrified as shopkeepers at the progress of co-operation, Mr. Owen, not
content with spreading disquiet among the clergy, threw a new alarm into
the midst of conventional conservatism, which has strangely passed out of
the sight of history. Mr. James Mill had written in the "Encyclopædia
Britannica" that it was both desirable and possible to limit the families
of the poor. He held the opinion that it ought to be done, and that
the poor should see to it. He despised working people who crowded
the labour market with their offspring, and then complained of the lowness
of wages and want in their homes, where there were more hungry mouths than
Certainly man or woman entering the office of a parish
overseer to be questioned with suspicion, relieved with reluctance,
treated as a burden on the parish, and advised to emigrate (as the
shopkeeper naturally begrudges the flesh on their bones which he has to
pay for), is a humiliating business, so shocking and deplorable that those
who come to this state had better never have been born. Any
legitimate remedy which the wit of man could devise would seem purity and
dignity by the side of this degradation. Those who undertook to make
communities soon found that the inmates would come to certain ruin if
overrun with children, and they listened to James Mill's warning, and not
his alone. The Edinburgh Review was quite as emphatic and
more explicit to the same end than the "Encyclopædia." Mr. Owen, who
always gave heed to the philosophers, circulated papers addressed "To the
married of the working people," warning them of their danger. His
courage and thoroughness was wonderful. No man had a better right
than he to invent the maxim he was fond of using, "Truth without mystery,
mixture of error, or fear of man." He was not better able,
peradventure, than other men to obtain truth free from error; but he was
beyond question as free from fear of man in moral things as any publicist
who ever lived. It was stated in the Black Dwarf, by several
correspondents, that this was so. Mr. Richard Carlile wrote a letter
from Dorchester Gaol, which was published, stating that if Mr. Owen was
written to "he would proudly admit to any one" that families should be
manageable. Mr. Jonathan Wooler, the editor, treated the statement
as a fact.
The Black Dwarf stated that "Mr. Owen had become a
convert to Mr. Malthus's views as to the danger of population, and had
been to France to learn in what way French families were limited. He
consulted the most eminent physicians of France upon the subject, as he
was alarmed at the result of large families in communities." He made
known the result of his inquiries in 1822. The following year, a
packet of papers upon this subject was sent to No. 5, Water Lane,
Fleet Street, London, where Mr. Richard Carlile then had a shop, with a
request that he would forward it as directed; after the manner of
booksellers, he did so, and no mean commotion shortly followed, the noise
of which was long heard in the land, and reverberations occurred in The
Times as late as 1873. 
In September, 1823, as Mr. John Edward Taylor, editor of the
Manchester Guardian, was sitting at dinner, with Mr. Jeremiah
Garnett and other gentlemen, a messenger, whom he had sent to his office,
29, Market Street, for letters that might come in by the evening mails,
brought him, besides the letters, a parcel which had come by coach,
directed to him at the Guardian office. The direction was
written on an envelope, and within was an anonymous note, requesting him
respectfully to have the parcel delivered to Mrs. Mary Fildes, No. 3,
Comet Street, Manchester. The writer gave as his reason for
troubling Mr. Taylor that he was not sure of the lady's address. Mr.
Taylor, not knowing the handwriting, asked a London guest at the table "if
it were the handwriting of any of the London Radicals." Mr. Taylor
reading the note, and not opening the parcel, and knowing nothing of its
contents, ordered it to be delivered to Mrs. Fildes, who, astounded
at what she found in it, and being a capable woman, active in things
political, and able to write a good letter, wrote demanding an explanation
of Mr. Taylor. She subsequently sent one of the papers to Sir Robert
Giffard, Knight, the then Attorney General, saying that in her opinion
"the morals of society would be completely destroyed by them." A
year or two later Mrs. Fildes thought differently upon the subject,
and with her customary decision said so. It appears from the
Labourer's Friend and Handicraft's Chronicle, published in London at
that period, that similar papers had been sent among the Spitalfields
weavers. Mr. Owen never denied the statement that the papers
originally "emanated from him." Mr. Place, who preserved the
publications in which the foregoing facts are recorded, left nothing from
Mr. Owen—so far as I can find—decidedly in reference to it. Indeed,
as Owen himself, when editor of the Crisis, announced nine years
later, namely, October 27, 1832, that his son, Robert Dale, had published
a book upon the same subject, and to the same effect, there is no reason
to suppose that he intended to contradict the allegation in question.
Sir R. Giffard is understood to have taken steps to discover the actual
distributors of the papers, and curious traditions have existed as to his
success. In 1849, as I have said, an attempt was made to connect J.
A. Roebuck with the distribution. In 1873, twenty-five years later,
Mr. John Stuart Mill was said to have been one of the parties, probably
because his father held strong opinions on this question. No
conjecture has been too wild to obtain circulation at the clubs, as
distance of time rendered certainty difficult. Mr. Mill, who neither
agreed with Mr. Owen's communism, nor with his son Robert Dale Owen's book
on the subject in question, was specially exempted from persons probable.
Mr. Owen, who was publicly known to be an actor in the matter, has
altogether escaped these charges. It is proof of his wonderful
fearlessness that he meddled with this question at all, and it is no less
wonderful that, amid all the fertility and hostility of the Anti-Socialist
adversaries who attacked Mr. Owen's "systems," this special charge was
John Stuart Mill
The venerable vindictiveness and educated malevolence which pursued Mr.
Mill, spared Mr. Owen, nor does it appear to have influenced the eminent
friends who acted with Mr. Owen, and to whom everything was known.
His theological criticism was remembered against him, and thus Mr. Owen
experienced the reality of the maxim of Thomas, that "the propagation of
new truths affecting clerical dogmas is the last crime that men forgive."
Beyond any gentleman of his time, Mr. Owen cared for the
friendless, regardless of himself. This question concerned none save
the poor, and he boldly counselled them not to be coerced by opprobrium
into supplying offspring to be ground up alive in the mill of capital, or
to be cast aside when the labour market was glutted, to fall into the
hands of the constable or the parish overseer.
No notice of this curious and characteristic episode in Mr.
Owen's life occurs in the biographies of him which have appeared since his
death—not even in the "Life and Times of Robert Owen" by his disciple
Lloyd Jones. Nothing is said of it in Sargant's "Life of Robert
Owen," containing a variety of facts which it must have taken considerable
research and cost to accumulate. Though Mr. Sargant's views were
unsympathetic and antagonistic, he never calumniated, although he often
failed to judge accurately points which an alien historian could hardly be
expected to understand; but as he was never dull, never indecisive, and
often was right in the opinions he formed, he was an instructive writer to
those who incline to the side of the innovators, and must have
considerably increased the curiosity of the public of his generation, who
regarded Mr. Owen, if they knew him at all, as an heresiarch whose
proceedings have been unknown in polite society.
In 1840, I left the employment in which until my twenty-third
year I was engaged. For a while I was an assistant teacher in a
private school in Moor Street, Birmingham. For a year I had charge
of the books and correspondence of Mr. Pemberton, a brother of Charles
Reece Pemberton, a Venetian wire blind maker. Some time I wrote
technical treatises for mechanics who were masters of their craft, but not
used to the pen. A publisher had engaged them to supply handbooks by
reason of their known skill. After they had told their story in
their own way, I retold it for them and they shared their payment with me.
At one time I wrote advertisements for an eminent firm whom I persuaded
that to tell the truth in them would be the greatest novelty out. I
did what I could to combine picturesqueness with veracity, and received
7s. 6d. for each advertisement. The same firm still advertises or I
should give their names. At intervals of years I have seen some of
my old work among announcements of fashionable commodities.
PERSONS favourable to the organization of the social
state, whom Robert Owen had incited to action, came to be called
"Socialists." Mr. Cobden spoke at times in the House of
Commons in condemnation of them without appearing to be aware that there
never were any agitators in England of the kind he had in his mind.
Continental Socialists meditated rearranging society by force. There
never were in England any philanthropists of the musket and the knife.
English Socialists expected to improve society by showing the superior
reasonableness of the changes they sought. A small branch of these
propagandists existed in Worcester. An enthusiastic carpenter had
enlarged and fitted up an oblong workshop as a lecture-room, some
sympathisers—who never appeared in the hall—furnished means of purchasing
materials. These humble lecture-rooms were called "Halls of
Science," not that we had much science—merely a preference for it. A
less pretentious name would have better pleased me, but it proclaimed our
intention of permitting science to be explained on Sundays, when any one
among us had any to explain. I, who held that Science was the
Providence of Life, agreed with this use of Sunday. In those days
science was regarded by theologians as a form of sin. Occasionally
we had little festivals of the families of members. Once laughing
gas—then a new thing—was administered for amusement. The effect upon
the carpenter was quite unexpected; he turned somersaults all down the
hall, and downstairs out into the open. Being a heavy man, this
unforeseen performance produced consternation. One of the auditors
at this hall became a scientific balloonist, and his name was known over
Europe. My first lectureship was at this hall, at a salary of 16s.
a week. Socialist salaries were not of a nature to tempt any one to
act against his conscience; but my conviction laying that way, I accepted
the appointment. One advantage was that my family, though it
consisted of only three persons, found themselves under favourable
circumstances for acquiring the art of economy. I had never heard of
D'Alembert's motto, "Liberty, Truth, Poverty." I soon saw that
they went together in propagandism, but I did not give heed to that.
At first my family resided in Birmingham, which involved a
walk of twenty-six miles to visit them. On days when I returned to
lecture at night, I used to find that on the first stage to Bromgrove
(thirteen miles) I could arrange pretty clearly the order of my intended
discourse, while on the second thirteen miles my grasp of the subject
seemed weaker; but the cause of that did not occur to me. Eventually
we all resided in Worcester, where, by the introduction of a lady friendly
to the "cause" I increased my income by teaching mathematics to a ladies'
school, where I was known as Mr. Jacobs, as my own name would have carried
alarming associations with it.
After six months, I was proposed as an accredited lecturer,
of the "Socialist" movement. The general body was known as the
"Association of all Classes of all Nations," which would have been a very
considerable society if it had ever answered to its name. It took a
second title, that of "Rational Religionists," to which there were many
objections—as few would believe in a rational religion, and more
thought that "rationality" savoured too much of carnal reason. There
was a central board for the government of the party, and every year there
was a congress at which ten or twelve stationed lecturers were appointed
to the chief branches. The term "congress" was an American term
introduced by William Pare, and had not been in popular use in England.
When the question of my appointment came to be considered, objection was
taken to my voice as wanting in strength. The objection would have
been fatal had it not been for Mr. J. L. Murphy, an influential Irish
member of the board, who said my voice was as strong as that of Lalor
Sheil, which could be very well heard by a meeting willing to listen.
Others concluded that, in a party widely credited with subversive and
dangerous purposes, an unaggressive voice like mine might confuse
prejudice, if it did not disarm it. The result was that I was
appointed by the Manchester Congress of 1841, Station Lecturer at
The title given to such persons was "Social Missionary," and
some wrote "S. M." after their names. The Sheffield
branch wanted a lecturer who was willing also to teach a day school, and
for these double duties of speaking three times a week and teaching every
day the salary was 30s. To conduct the school more effectually I
provided an assistant at my own cost, as I approved of branches having
good schools. My assistant was Thomas Paterson, the young Scotchman
Sometimes by small articles for papers, sometimes by a
preface to an author's book, sometimes by revising a technical treatise
for a writer who had knowledge without words, and by now and then giving
private lessons in Euclid, I brought a little increase to the household
funds. Once I was selected to deliver the anniversary lectures in
Huddersfield, for which travelling expenses were given, and by walking the
distance the fare was, so much gain. The journey to Huddersfield was
thirty miles, and nearing the town I found my mind, which had been very
alert on setting out, had become limp. On the Sunday morning when I
had first to speak it had not recovered, and it was night before my voice
was clear and my ordinary animation returned. I had too little
physiological knowledge to know then that great fatigue affected the mind
as well as the body, and that physical exhaustion rendered efforts of
It was in Sheffield that I published my first pamphlet, "The
Advantages and Disadvantages of Trades Unions." I began with
the conviction that it was of little use suggesting improvement in
anything until you had shown that you comprehended the good there is
already in the thing to be supplemented or superseded. This brought
me the acquaintance of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer. I had
adapted two lines from one of his poems
"O pallid want! O labour stark!
Behold! behold! the second Ark—
The Land! The Land!"
Instead of "The
Land" I substituted "Co-operation." Elliott sent me a friendly
protest against changing his terms and destroying his metre, and an
invitation to breakfast.
Once, at a public meeting in Sheffield at which I spoke,
Elliott rose and said words of me—he being generous and I the advocate of
an unpopular party—which would have ruined me had I believed them.
His modesty towards himself, his affluence of praise to others, was shown
in his saying to Joseph Barker; "I give you brass, you give me gold."
It was the reverse in fact. But when he wrote criticism or praise,
it could always be trusted—he kept close to proportion and truth. My
chief friends in Sheffield, outside the Hall of Science, Rockingham
Street, were Mr. John Fowler, who was chosen by Mr. Fox and Serjeant
Talfourd to write the life of Pemberton; and Mr. Paul Rodgers, a local
poet. One day we all went to the house Ebenezer Elliott had built
for himself. He gave us a country luncheon, and strolled with us
down the path which he had celebrated in his "Wonders of the Lane."
As my hearers in Rockingham Street Hall were Communists, he made merriment
for me by repeating his clever lines—
"What is a Communist? One who hath yearnings
For equal division of unequal earnings.
Idler or bungler, or both, he is willing
To fork out his penny and pocket your shilling."
This was the
newspaper definition. The English Communists were exactly opposite.
They had a passion for industry, and sought only an equitable division of
profits. I valued the society of wits and men of higher cultivation.
Neither missionaries nor preachers acquire robust views who live always in
the confined atmosphere of their congregations.
Nothing save a strong propagandist predilection would have
led me to accept an appointment for which I had little popular
qualification. With a bold voice and good presence a little sense
goes a long way; with some audiences it goes all the way. If a
splendid voice is accompanied by splendid sense, the orator becomes
invincible, as was Gambetta with his voice of storm, thunder, and
energy—the mere report of which still echoes in European ears. A
striking gesture, a new tone, will sometimes make the fortune of a speech.
But without resonance of voice the tone which charms the ear may not
occur. I had nothing to recommend me but the passion of persuasion
and the aim of usefulness. For many years the fault beset me of
crowding too many objects on the canvas of my speeches. The main
subject was then indeterminate. Fortunately, there are always some
bird-minded hearers in every assembly—who think in the air. Their
good time is when a speaker talks over the heads of his audience—as they
are just in the way to catch what he says. Mr. Anthony Young, who
afterwards resided with me, then an actor in Sheffield, made me a
character in a pantomime. I did not know it when I entered the
theatre, and was surprised at the clever personation of myself.
Young, with the discernment of the stage, told me I squandered points by
not stopping to make them. This was a defect in art. I knew
this, and in 1846 purchased a portrait of Talleyrand, which ever after
hung in my writing room. Mazzini described him as the "greatest liar
in Europe"; but he did not lie in a hurry, and acted on the maxim of
"never doing to-day what might by any possibility be put off till
to-morrow." His unhasting face was a charm allaying my futile
impetuosity. Swinbourne the tragedian, Weitling the German
Communist, Wendell Phillips, and one or two great preachers told me they
found incitement in a book on "Public Speaking" I wrote; but it was long
before I was successful with hearers, and then only in assemblies within
the compass of my voice.
Yet I had some instinct of art. I admired
Robespierre—not on account of principles ascribed to him, but because he
used one sized paper, and wrote out himself all his speeches in a large
and careful hand. No one can do that without detecting verbiage,
irrelevance, and limpness of expression. But though I knew the plan
to be good, I have never had time to follow it.
Whatever art I had, or could acquire, my audiences had need
of it. There are various classes of hearers. One have
capacity, and thirst for new ideas, and know what to do with them when
they get them. Another class have only room for one idea at a time
in their heads, and if they by chance get a new one, it puts out the one
they had. Generally the new idea is non-insertable. They are
such persons as Sojourner Truth once met, of whom she said in her
discerning way, "I would have told them something, only I saw they had
nowhere to put it." A third class, very numerous, have sandy brains.
The soil of their minds is loose, and nothing takes root in it. Some
brains require a chemical treatment of the soil to get them into a
fruitful state and keep them so. An inciting weekly address is the
salvation of minds of this order. Those who have room for only one
idea in their heads at a time need cranial enlargement, which if attempted
at once, the receptacle might give way. The only safe course is slow
and continuous expansion. Then there are a large class of petrified
publicists. Year by year they remain the same, becoming no wiser, no
more discreet, no more daring. They have mere Esquimaux minds, all
blubber and bearskin. They are what in new colonies are called the
squatters of progress. They sit down on the first bare place they
find, and never get up again. At the end of years you find them
where they were. They say the same things, they think in the old
way, they retail the old suspicions, and if a new idea comes in their way
they have no appetite for it. They nibble at it like a rabbit.
And if they choose ideas for themselves, they, rabbit like, are allured by
Then there is a further class who conclude they know
everything, and who think neither sermons, nor books, nor newspapers, nor
lectures are of any use or need to them. They fancy themselves
self-acting and all-knowing. These are adherents who are at once the
ornaments and discouragements of a cause, who disseminate apathy and know
it not. Only those of strong and exceptional natures are able to
work for a length of time unaided by the stimulus of daily recurring and
renewed impressions. It is a fortunate law of human nature that no
impression remains long of the same force. Were it not so, the first
great sorrow would bow us low all our lives. Disappointment would
subjugate us, and we should fall into leaden despair. It is the same
with our noblest impressions; they, too, grow weaker with time. No
will is strong enough to maintain its pristine force. No high
purpose, no deep sense of duty can keep us always at the level of a great
resolve. Every man has to deplore how he has failed in carrying out
his greatest resolutions. Business, necessity, daily duties, claims
of others upon him, new events which none can foresee and none evade, al.
come and dissipate, the fiercest resolution.
"For each day brings its petty dust
Our soon choked minds to fill;
And we forget because we must,
And not because we will."
What it fell to me to teach such hearers as appeared in the hall, were
secular grounds of tolerance and unity as might render co-operative
efforts possible. The substance may be briefly stated.
Man is small and does not require a big theory of life.
A plain working plan is enough; each creature has two main
qualities—susceptibility and resistance. The capacities of receiving
noble impressions, and of insensibility to the ignoble ones, are our best
endowments. When thought or circumstances create within us impulse
of choice or action, we call that will. As we know other persons to
be constituted as ourselves, we strive by reason or by surrounding them
with suitable material conditions to create the will we wish to prevail.
The whole question is described by Wordsworth in the lines—
"The eye it cannot choose but see,
We cannot bid the ear be still,
Our bodies feel where'er they be,
Against or with our will.
Nor less I deem that there are powers
Which of themselves our minds impress,
And we can feed this mind of ours
By a wise passiveness."
Wordsworth saying this was counted spirituality—in us it was assailed as
materialism; and the clergy were angry with us. According to their
own account, God had been very bountiful to them in according to them many
graces—but we found discernment was very sparingly vouchsafed to them in
those days. Attacked without reason, we went out on the warpath.
On the banner entrusted to me I put the words—"They who believe they have
the Truth ask no favour, save that of being heard: they dare the judgment
of mankind: refused co-operation, they accept opposition—for opposition is
their opportunity." It was demanded of us that we gave our
opinion on Theism and Futurity. Mine was brief, but as straight as I
knew how to make it.
Outside the world of science and morality lies the great
debateable ground of the existence of Deity and a future state. The
ruler of the debateable ground is named Probability, and his two ministers
are Curiosity and Speculation. Over that mighty plain, which is as
wide as the universe and as old as time, no voice of the gods has ever
been heard, and no footstep of theirs has been traced. Philosophers
have explored the field with telescopes of a longer range than the eyes of
a thousand saints, and have beheld nothing save the silent and distant
horizon; and priests have denounced them for not seeing what was
invisible. Sectaries have clamoured and the most ignorant have
howled—as the most ignorant always do—that there was something there,
because they wished to see it. All the while the white mystery is
still unpenetrated in this life, and we must die to find it out. But
a future being undiscovered is no proof that there is no future.
Those who reason through their desire will believe there is; those
who reason through their understanding may yet hope that there is.
In the meantime all stand before the portals of the untrodden world in
equal unknowingness of what lies beyond. In this world which is
under our feet we may be equal in friendliness, duty, and justice.
The reverence of that which is right is no mean form of worship. As
we read in the family motto of the Maharajahs of Benares, "There is no
Religion higher than Truth," and the only truth which can be trusted is
that which can be tested here. The believer said to the prophet: "I
will set my camel free and trust him to Allah." Mahomet
answered: "Tie thy camel first and then commit him to God."
Such were the teachings of my lectureship. If it did
not go far, it did not mislead. It was for a prudent piety. I
saw the gods had a good deal on their hands if they personally took care
of everybody, and it seemed most reverential to give them as little
trouble as possible. It was the aim of English Socialism to make
good citizens, good neighbours, good parents, and good workmen. Our
principles went no further, and as Karpos said to Prince Tuctan, we hoped
God would take it in good part, and have mercy on our souls.
TROUBLE BY THE WAY.
IT never entered into my mind that I should one day
be a prisoner. It came about in this wise. Robert Owen, the
princely advocate of a new social state, entitled it a "rational
religion." Reason in piety was not then, as has been said,
understood—faith being regarded as above logic. The Conservatives of
that day assailed the religion of usefulness, which taught that the
character of man could be improved by better material conditions than then
existed. This was thought to diminish the power of going wrong,
whereas it merely tended to make virtue inevitable. The Bishop of
Exeter, Dr. Philpotts, took the floor of the House of Lords against us,
and caused dismissal from office of many of the new way of thinking.
My townsman, William Pare, thus lost his registrarship in Birmingham,
though a man of high official character and wide civic repute. The
lecture-halls of these rationalists being under episcopal license, the
lecturers could be called upon to make public oath that they held
Christian tenets, and took the Bible as the guide of their teaching—which
they did not, excepting so far as its moral precepts were conducive to the
nobler human life they advocated. Two of these lecturers—Robert
Buchanan, the father of the poet of that name, and Mr. Lloyd Jones—both
colleagues of mine, took this oath. Mr. Jones, the foremost man on
the social warpath, being an Irishman, was for meeting the enemy with his
own weapons—took the oath at once. Mr. Buchanan, being a Scotchman,
and having the veracity of the Covenanter lingering in his bones, took a
week to consider whether he would swear the thing which was not — but
swore at last. Mr. G. A. Fleming, editor of the New Moral World,
justified seeking safety by the oath. This kind of oath-taking
rather compromised the new moral world. Mr. Charles Southwell
and myself, with Mr. Maltus Questell Ryall, the son of an engraver in
London, and William Chilton, a printer of Bristol, formed a Defiant
Syndicate of Four, and issued the Oracle of Reason. Southwell
was a speaker of dramatic power, familiar with the stage as well as the
platform. Ryall was an accomplished iconoclast, fiery, original,
and, what rarely accompanies those qualities, gentlemanly. Chilton
was a cogent solid writer, ready for any risk, and the only absolute
atheist I have known. His articles in the Oracle on the "Theory of
Regular Gradation" preceded by twelve years the articles on Evolution by
Herbert Spencer in the Leader, when "regular gradation" began to
receive the name of evolution. Of course we soon got into trouble.
For issuing No. 4 of our militant Journal, Southwell was sentenced
at Bristol to twelve months imprisonment. As we had no travelling
funds in those days, 7 walked from Birmingham to Bristol, ninety miles, to
visit him in gaol, and "fell among thieves" on my way. I delivered a
lecture in the Cheltenham Mechanics' Institution upon Self-Supporting Home
Colonies, when a local preacher arose and said "I had spoken of our duty
towards man, but had said nothing of our duty towards God," and asked for
information thereon. It was plainly open to me to reply that
theology was not my subject. At no time did I ever undertake to
speak on one subject and introduce another. I had a theological mind
and I had a secular mind, but I never had a mixed mind, and always kept
distinct, things which are separate. My duty was to refuse to answer
an irrelevant question, and to point out that he who asked a lecturer to
do it invited him to commit a breach of faith towards his audience, who,
assembled to hear one subject, would have another imposed upon them which
they would never have come to hear had they foreknown it. In these
days this representation would be deemed fair, but in those he who made it
was at once accused, amid applause, of "holding opinions which he dared,
not avow." There were, however, local circumstances which would
cause an otherwise reasonable refusal to answer the preacher, to be
regarded as an evasion.
At that time there was a young schoolmaster and poet in
Cheltenham, named Sperry, who had espoused the social opinions I
represented, I, having previously resided in the town as a lecturer upon
them. Sperry had expressed social sentiments in a poem he had
published. He was told that unless he retracted them he would lose
his teachership. He did retract them, which created an impression of
social cowardice in the party of social advocates, as the oath-taking by
Mr. Lloyd Jones in Bristol was known in Cheltenham. When Sperry had
retracted, he was dismissed all the same. He was humiliated, and
then ruined. Had I refused to answer the question put to me, I
should have increased the belief in our want of courage and candour.
So at once I gave a defiant answer to the preacher—but not one that
shocked anyone, for it produced merriment. In our proposed
industrial colonies, I observed, all were free to erect as many churches
as they pleased, but, from my point of view, it was bad political economy
to expend money that way, seeing the distressed condition in which the
people then were. My answer was to this effect, but with terms of
audacity which I deemed the occasion required. (The story in detail
is told in the History of the Trial at Gloucester.) This unforeseen
incident brought consequences which affected all my future life.
All was owing to the habit, from which I have never departed,
of permitting discussion after a lecture. It has always seemed to me
a criminal thing to deliver any address intended to influence belief and
conduct, without giving the hearer opportunity of challenging there and
then the validity of the argument advanced in the presence of those who
heard it, while the impression was vivid in their minds. Every
hearer, according to his belief, has to answer to his conscience or to God
for the opinions he holds. Each man has to answer for himself.
And since no speaker takes the hearer's responsibility, he is deficient in
the sense of self-protection who does not think for himself where he has
to answer for himself. Not less is the speaker the enemy of the
hearer who under any pretext imposes upon him opinions without affording
him the means of self-defence by question and debate. Had I
prohibited discussion, I should have saved myself a world of trouble.
But I should have been dishonest to the hearer, and have known myself to
be so. Free discussion has its penalties as well as its advantages.
Its advantages are that new truth rests on a solid foundation when those
who accept it know both sides of a new question. The penalties are
liability to have free speech abused—meetings thrown into confusion by
ignorant, unscrupulous, irrelevant, and malevolent adversaries, and
possible imprisonment of the lecturer who answers a question with
imprudent candour. But we, who maintained the salutary principle of
free debate, were willing to accept this penalty, if it came.
ARREST IN CHELTENHAM.
WITHOUT intellectual distinction Cheltenham had
extraordinary theological sensitiveness. It was the common talk of
the town, when the incident recorded in the last chapter occurred, that a
Mormon preacher was committed to gaol on a charge of blasphemy, for having
said in one of his sermons that "Euclid was as true as the Bible."
The Grand Jury at Gloucester were suspected of latitudinarianism when they
threw out the bill. Had the trial taken place, he had surely been
Mr. Capper, one of the magistrates, said that what I did was
for the purpose of notoriety. Had that been my intent, Cheltenham
was the last place in which I should have sought it. As I have
elsewhere said , the day is chilled in my memory when I first set foot in
the town. Snow had been frozen on the ground a fortnight. I
was then a stationed missionary in Worcester sent down to evangelize
Cheltenham in social ideas. With a household income of 16s. a
week, there was little to feed the passion for "notoriety" upon. I
feel now the fierce blast which came in at the train window from "the
fields of Tewkesbury," on our way. The cold wrapped us round like a
cloak of ice.
The shop lights threw their red glare over the snow-bedded
ground as we entered the town of Cheltenham, and nothing but the drift and
ourselves moved through the deserted streets. When at last we found
a fire, we had to wait to thaw before we could begin to speak. When
tea was over, we were escorted to the house where we were to stay for the
night. I was told it was "a friend's house." Cheltenham is a
fashionable town, a watering, visiting place, where everything is genteel
and thin. As the parlours of some prudent housewives are kept for
show, and not to sit in, so in Cheltenham numerous houses are kept "to be
let," and not to live in.
The people who belong to the apartments are like the
supernumeraries on a stage—they are employed in walking over them.
Their clothes are decent, but they cannot properly be said to wear them;
they carry them about on their backs to show that they have such things.
In the same manner eating and drinking is rather pantomime than reality.
Such a house was the "friend's house" to which we were conducted. We
were asked to sit by the kitchen fire on "the bench in the corner," and
there we sat from eight till one o'clock, without being asked to take
anything to eat. My wife, with her child at the breast, fared badly
that night. Waiting upon a party elsewhere kept my "friends" up till
two o'clock—up to which time we saw no prospect of bed or supper.
Soon after we entered the house, my wife, with a woman's prescience, said,
"George, you had better go and buy some food." "Buy food," I
replied, in simplicity, "the people at this fine house will be outraged to
see me bring in food." I repented me of my credulity that night.
When at last I clearly comprehended that we were to have nothing to eat, I
proceeded to take affairs into my own hands, and being too well assured of
the insensibility of my host, I did it in a way that I conceived suited to
his capacity, and began as follows:
"We have talked for some time about social progress, and if you have no
objection we will make some. And if eating," I added, "be not an
irregular thing in your house, we will take some supper."
"I am very sorry to say," he answered, "we have nothing to
"Charge me for bed and board while we are with you," I
rejoined, "but let us have both. You have bread, I suppose?"
"We have some rice bread."
"Perhaps you will toast it."
"Will you have it toasted?"
"I will. Could you not make coffee?"
"We have no coffee." "Tea?"
"We have no tea."
"Any water? "
"No hot water."
"Any butter? "
"Yes, we have salt butter."
"Then put some on the rice bread," I added, for he did not
even propose to do that. I had to dispute every inch of hospitality
with him. My "friend," Mr. V., was an instance of that misplacement
of which Plato speaks in his "Republic." What a capital Conservative
he would have made! No innovation with him—not even into his own loaf!—I
was obliged to take the initiative into the "salt" butter.
After seeing the bread toasted, and buttering it myself, to make sure that
it was buttered, I put on my hat and went into the streets in search of
material out of which to manufacture a cordial, for eight hours had
elapsed since Mrs. Holyoake had had any sustenance, and my good
host's choice reserve of cold water did not seem suitable.
When I reached the dark streets, to which I was so absolute a
stranger, not knowing the neighbourhood, I found the ground slippery, made
so by rain frozen on snow: I had not gone (or rather slipped) far before I
was lost. Like the sense in a Rousseauian love-letter, I neither
knew whence I came nor whither I was going, and when I had succeeded in my
errand it was at the last place at which I should wish to be found.
During my absence, that voluptuous caterer, "mine host," whom
I had left behind—whose counterpart Maginn must have had before him when
he drew the portrait of "Quarantotti"—had proceeded so far as to boil some
water. The evening ended without inconsistency, and the bed
corresponded with the supper.
The next day I took lodgings, where, expecting nothing, I was
no longer disappointed. But on this occasion, profiting by the
experience of the preceding night, I went provided with a small stock of
loaves and chocolate. My stay in Cheltenham was more agreeable than
was to be expected after such an introduction; but I remember that I had
to pay my expenses back again, and though they only amounted to 12s., I
felt the want of them afterwards. Yet Cheltenham was not without
generous partizans, but, as is common in the incipiency of opinion, they
were at that time among that class who had fewest means. The
experience here recounted was a sample of that frequently recurring, not
exactly of the kind to nurture the love of notoriety. The day after
the adventure with the preacher I walked to Bristol, where I received a
Cheltenham Chronicle, the organ of the Rev. Francis Close, afterwards
Dean of Carlisle, in which I read that a warrant was out for my
apprehension. Thus forewarned by my friends, a prudent person would
have kept clear of Cheltenham; but I was not a prudent person. I was
of Cobden's opinion—that there are times when it is rashness to do
nothing. The motive which influenced me in answering the preacher as
I did, disinclined me from running away.
It was a hot and blazing day in June when I walked back
(thirty miles) to Cheltenham. The authorities, persuaded that
persons of my way of thinking would keep clear of peril, never thought of
my reappearing. They kept no look-out for me, and before the sun
went down on June 1st, I was at Mr. Adams' house not far from the police
station. The Chartists had announced a meeting in the Mechanics'
Institution for the night and I being a friend of theirs, they gave up
their room to me. The Chartists were always good at conflict, and
readily assisted me, as I had done their leaders in like circumstances.  It
was, soon noised abroad that I was actually speaking at a public meeting
in the town. After I had spoken an hour in vindication of free
speech in answer to public questions, the superintendent of police
entered, armed with all the available force at hand. They formed a
handsome addition to the audience, and as they ranged themselves against
the walls on either side the door, their shining hats formed a picturesque
background to, the meeting. This determined me to speak an hour
longer—not having foreseen such an opportunity of extending Liberal views
in official quarters. At the conclusion I placed myself at the
disposal of the chief of the police. Asking to see the warrant for
my apprehension, I was told the magistrates did not stand on those
ceremonies in Cheltenham. It appeared that they did not know that a
warrant was necessary. That night the plank bed in the cell was
unpleasant, and more so the tipsy and turbulent inmates there. The
next morning came the interview with the acting magistrate, who, to my
surprise, was the Rev. Dr. Newell. The Rev. S. Jones was
another magistrate. A brewer is not eligible to adjudicate on
affairs of the hostelry, but here was a clergyman exercising penal power
in the affairs of the pulpit. Gentlemanly scruples were in those
days no part of Cheltenham divinity.
The prosecutor was a Mr. Bubb, a particularly gross, furious,
squab-built, vulgar person. On my stating to the magistrates that I
had been brought there without any proper warrant, Mr. Capper, one of
them, stated that any person at the meeting would have been justified in
taking me up without any warrant from a magistrate. This would
produce plentiful disturbance of the peace of "our Lady the Queen," if
every person was entitled, on his own motion, to apprehend every other
person who might express opinions distasteful to him. For years
after "Cheltenham law" was a byword in legal circles in London.
One of the witnesses against me was a dog-fancier and
prize-fighter, pursuits which did not imply theological discrimination or
sensitiveness. The other witness was a printer in the Chronicle
office. Neither had any positive idea of what had been said at the
meeting, and they could only swear "to the best of their belief."
When two friends tendered bail for me, one of them was refused, because he
said that, "to the best of his belief," he was worth the £50 required.
I reminded the Bench that the testimony against me had been accepted on
the "best of the witnesses' belief." The reverend magistrate
resented this as quibbling, and when another friend offered bail, I
desired him not to do so, and let the Bench take its own course.
Shortly after handcuffs were put on me, which, being too small, pinched my
wrists, and, with two policemen, I was taken through the town to walk to
Gloucester Gaol, nine miles. This was a needless outrage, as a
prisoner who had surrendered himself was not likely to attempt to
escape—nor to succeed, if he did, with two policemen with him. Our
road lay by the railway station, which was some distance from the town,
where friends who had accompanied me ascertained that by paying the
policemen's fares and my own, we might ride—which was done.
The station of Gloucester was also some distance from the
city, and as the handcuffs were never removed I had to walk through the
city as I had walked through Cheltenham.
It was a doctrine of mine that anger was but the exhibition
of ignorance taken by surprise: and that hatred was opposed to economy of
time, as it enabled persons whom you knew and detested, to occupy your
thoughts with schemes of retaliation. There is a period in law when debts
are no longer recoverable, and I have suggested to co-operative societies
that associative animosities should be closed with the accounts, and not
carried forward to the next quarter. Certainly the best new year's
resolve is to cancel the hatreds which the past twelve months may have
engendered—to treat them as though they had never been, and begin each new
year free from the unprofitable burden of resentment or malevolence to any
man. Though this rule has brought me a sense of peace like an annual
endowment, I find after fifty years some anti-clerical indignation creep
into my mind when the intentional indignities of my march to Gloucester
Gaol recur to me.
On Mr. Southwell's imprisonment for editing the Oracle of
Reason, I had taken his place. The knowledge of this did not commend
me favourably to the authorities.
My host in Cheltenham was Mr. George Adams. Indignant
at what befell me, he put the Oracle in his window and sold it, which led
to his being apprehended. His wife, a handsome, intelligent, and
spirited woman, indignant at that, continued the sale of the Oracle, and
she was apprehended with her youngest child in her arms. Four other
children were left alone in the house—father and mother both being locked
up. When the neighbours found the poor children the neighbours were
indignant. The next day Mrs. Adams was liberated on bail, but
both she and her husband were committed for trial.
The reverend adversaries into whose hands I had fallen,
committed me for felony. Free speech, however objectionable it might
be, was not felony. If it was not ignorance in them to treat it so,
it was malice. They also said in the warrant that I had spoken
"wickedly." Yet there is no wickedness where there is no evil
They said I had "uttered" the words complained of "before
children," which was untrue, as there was no child in the place. Had
children been present, they could not have understood what was said.
But neither accuracy nor veracity were magisterial attainments in 1842.
At that time I was in the custody of the clergy, and this
language of theirs was so unexpected and untrue, that it created in my
mind a dislike and distrust of them I had never felt before. I have
been assured that they merely used certain terms of the law. But
lying according to law is a worse offence than that of Ananias, since it
adds the authority of law to falsehood. Lying before a God by those
who believe Him to exist is surely worse than speaking the truth by those
who deem His existence to be unknown. I had been accustomed to
regard with reverence the ministers of God as persons who would neither
speak nor write what was untrue, however erroneous the doctrines they
might hold. I had ample time to think of all this as I sat on the
edge of my cell bed during the first night in Gloucester Gaol. The
lice I observed creeping about the blankets prevented me lying down.
THREE WEEKS IN PRISON FOR NOT TAKING THE OATH.
MARTYRDOM was never to my taste. No person
could be more disinclined than myself to acquire that unpleasant
distinction. It has been said, "Blessed are ye when men persecute
you." I already knew the contrary. Persecution is entirely
disagreeable, whether it be incurred for righteousness' sake or any other
sake. It was said I sought it. This is always said when public
trouble overtakes you. It is the popular excuse of those who bring
it upon you. Yet when it comes in consequence of doing what you
think to be your duty, it is to be accepted. But he who seeks it is
a fool who forfeits all claim to commiseration when he gets what he
wanted. Some years later (1847) when I took out a policy in the
Equity Law Life Office I asked for the condition that it should not be
invalidated if death came to me in prison. The company, like others,
held that a policy became void by suicide—the assumption of directors
being that as soon as a man insured his life he would cut his throat.
I did not expect to die in a prison. I did not want to, I did not
mean to, but I did not intend to incur penalties which would affect my
family if imprisonment happened to me.
When imprisonment did come to me, I neither feared it nor
whined about it. The only favour I asked was not to be put among
criminals. The choice offered me was a vacant side of the gaol where
the condemned cells lay, with a large yard to walk in. There I spent
three weeks, the only occupant of that uncheerful solitude. There
was time to prepare my defence, but the material was lacking. The
chaplain vetoed the books which he did not approve. Yet how was a
prisoner to defend himself against a charge of the Church, if the chaplain
selected the works of reference? On Sir James Graham expressing to
the magistrates his disapproval, my books were handed to me. But
this was not until the day before my liberation, and only seven days
before the assizes opened. They had kept them from me three valuable
The reason of my detention in prison was my refusal to take
an oath. I was required to provide two sureties of £50 each and
enter into and swear to my own recognizances in £100. This I
declined to do, the oath implying a belief I did not hold. The
governor—Captain Mason—who was always gentlemanly, thought this unfair to
myself because, the assizes being near, I should, when liberated, have
very little time in which to prepare my defence. He said to me,
"What does it matter, Holyoake, how many gods you swear by, since you do
not appear to believe in any?" I said, "It certainly did not matter to the
gods, but it mattered very much to me to pretend to a belief I do not
hold. Not assenting to Christianity, how could I take the Christian
oath?" At last I was liberated without making an oath, from fear of the
scandal of putting a prisoner on his trial who had been denied the means
This was owing to outside opinion. The Weekly
Despatch, of great influence in that day, extended to me its
protection. "Publicola" (Captain Williams) wrote in condemnation of
the conduct of the magistrates. "Publicola's" letters were read all
over the country, and each week as they appeared in Gloucester, they
occasioned disquietude in the magisterial breast. More than all, Sir
James Graham, then Home Secretary, was my friend, as no Home Secretary
since has befriended any similar prisoner. He said in his place in
Parliament that the magistrates had behaved "with unnecessary harshness"
towards me. There was serious censure upon them, and was felt to be
so in the county.
Mr. Craven Berkeley, M.P., a friend of the Church, was put up
in the House of Commons, in order to obtain the publication of his
correspondence with the magistrates that their defence of themselves might
be before the public. Sir James Graham adhered to the statements he
had made in answer to Mr. Roebuck's inquiry, namely, that "serious
irregularities" had been committed, and said he had ordered an inquiry
into them. Sir James was of opinion that they had no defence which
could serve them.
Mr. J. A. Roebuck, always the friend of intellectual liberty,
presented for me a memorial to Parliament which represented that, as my
commitment was to the Quarter Sessions, my judges would be the same
magistrates who had already treated me vindictively. Sir James
Graham's sense of justice concurred in this view, and when Mr. Roebuck
spoke to him upon it he said "justice should be done," and he kept his
word. A Bill was immediately brought in and passed, appointing all
trials relating to speculative opinion to take place at assizes only,
where an independent judge presided. Thus the magistrates were put
out of court. I was the first person tried under this Act.
On my liberation I went to London, which I had never seen,
walking most of the way. It seemed to me an enchanted city as I
entered it, and seems so still. My first night was spent in a
summer-house, in a garden in Lambeth, with my colleague on the Oracle,
M. Q. Ryall, arranging the order of my defence. Morning had long
broken before we lay down on the benches to sleep. In those days
there was an hostelry near the Mansion House, known as the "City House of
Commons," where successive city politicians from the years of the
preceding century had discussed public affairs. I was invited to
give a narrative of the proceedings at Cheltenham. Afterwards the
company made a subscription towards the expenses of the trial.
Another night I spoke in the Rotunda, Blackfriars Road. "Publicola"
was present, and gave an account in the Despatch of what I said, which,
better than anything I might say now, will satisfy the reader as to the
nature of the principles for which we contended, which, admitted now, then
excited implacable hostility and personal defamation.
Captain Williams said:—"Mr. Holyoake delivered a lecture on
the Right of Free Discussion to a crowded audience in the Rotunda.
He commented on his treatment in Cheltenham, of which mention was made in
this journal The Despatch at the time. The magistrates on that
occasion declared that they did not care of what religion he might be so
long as he did not propagate his doctrines. Mr. Holyoake then
expatiated very eloquently upon this selfish principle. 'Thus,' he
said, 'a man may see the errors of certain systems, and yet not point out
emendations.' Our ideas, argued the lecturer, are engendered by the
objects around us, and if we are prosecuted by law for the expression of
these ideas the external objects which created our ideas ought to be
prosecuted. For any class of men to take upon themselves to say to
the people, 'If you think in a manner which militates against our ideas,
you must not express your sentiments,' is degrading. Without liberty
of speech, interchange of ideas, which freedom of discussion can alone
encourage, is impossible; no new systems of utility can be adduced; and
had not opinions been more or less freely circulated at different times,
humanity would be without progressive civilization. Our wealth, our
knowledge, our power, are to be attributed to the Press and to the
diffusion of opinions. The Press has converted the world into one
large conversational party, whose views, wishes, and opinions are thereby
communicated to each other. Speculative opinions beget important
truths, and useful systems are founded most frequently upon ideas that
were at first but wild theories. If the law describes a magic circle
around the radii of men's ideas, it naturally forbids the entertainment of
progressive measures, and enforces a stationary and sedentary position, to
which the activity of the human mind and the nature of human interests are
both averse. New generations have new interests, which are only to
be defined by legislative enactment, after due and unchecked discussion.
All the learning which our greatest men have ever possessed would little
avail posterity, unless their assertions might be duly canvassed. It
is a very singular fact that we may discuss astronomy, chemistry, botany,
geology, and other sciences, but our sentiments must be curbed by the law
when once we touch upon politics or religion. Such was the subject
of Mr. Holyoake's lecture, in the course of which he uttered many striking
truths of an original character, which elicited considerable applause." (Weekly
Despatch, July, 1841.)
It was within those few days of my visit to London that I
made the acquaintance of Mr. W. H. Ashurst, whose friendship then and
afterwards was of the greatest advantage to me. He advised me as to
my defence, and John Humphry Parry, afterwards Serjeant Parry, then a
young barrister, prepared the legal argument which I used at my trial.
One night I went down to the House of Commons. It was
the old house, afterwards destroyed by fire. Before long I heard my
own name pronounced to my surprise. A young prisoner never feels
safe for some time afterwards, and I thought I was going to be apprehended
again. It was merely my friend Mr. Roebuck, who was presenting a
memorial to the House concerning the legal irregularities of the
It was a bright summer afternoon when I set out alone from
the house of my eldest sister, in which my family resided, in Aston,
Birmingham, to proceed to Gloucester Assizes. It was not in my power
to leave any provision for those I left behind, owing to the unforeseen
and unsought apprehension which had befallen me. My little daughter,
Madeline, ran from her mother's knee to the door, when she found I had
gone, and called after me down the street. Her sweet, clear voice
arrested me. I looked back, and saw her dark, black eyes gleaming.
I never met her glance again, nor heard her voice any more.
THE assizes opened on August 2, 1842. Mr.
Knight Hunt, the author of "The Fourth Estate," who succeeded Dickens as
editor of the Daily News, reported the trial for me. Hearing
that I intended to defend myself, the magistrates told me "the Court would
not hear me." The judge, being told of my intention, decided to take my
case last, which caused the assizes to extend into another week. On
Saturday my case might have come on; but no one could conjecture how long
I should speak. The fear of the Court having to sit until Sunday
morning caused the judge to defer the trial till Monday. This made
trouble among the javelin men attending upon the judge, who had to be kept
in the city. The jurymen who had left their farms, their barrels,
their poultry, flour mills, shop tills, and orange baskets, suffered in
mind, body, and estate; and not less the authorities who found with
consternation £200 added to the county expenses through my wilfulness.
The Shire Hall was crowded as early as ten o'clock on Monday morning; some
of the nobility of the county and wives of clergymen were present, and a
fair assortment of surplice wearers.
No one was bound over to prosecute Mrs. Adams. It
was not intended that she should be tried, but she was bound out of mere
vindictiveness to appear at the assizes, and was kept wandering about the
court for ten days, which amounted to a considerable fine, considering the
limited means of her house hold and anxiety for her five children left to
chance care. Had she been a lady, with means of defence, they would
not have attempted it. I saw then that the people are never so
malignant towards the rich as the rich are towards the poor; as the
powerful are towards those of less estate.
Being unable to bring over their bail, she and her husband
were alarmed at being told that their bail would be escheated. I
told Adams to go into court and state to the judge that he was unable to
bring his bail, but he and Mrs. Adams were there ready to surrender
themselves. The judge kindly told them that that was sufficient.
Mr. Adams's case was first taken. As the prosecution of Adams was
owing to his generous resentment of my arrest, I was very solicitous that
he should not incur any consequences I could prevent. It was my duty
to defend the right of free speech, but he was under no responsibility of
that kind, and I therefore requested my friends to provide counsel for
him. We chose Mr. Thompson, because he was the son of General
Perronet Thompson, as we thought him less likely to make a compromising
defence. In those days, and for many years after, there was no
barrister, except Mr. Serjeant Thomas, of London, who would defend a
heretic without apologizing for his opinions. This Mr. Thompson did
at the conclusion of his defence, and expressed "contrition" on the part
of the defendant. I said to Adams, in the hearing of the Court,
"Don't permit him to do that unless you are really contrite." Adams at
once told the judge that he did not concur with what the counsel said, as
he did not feel "contrition" for defending, in his humble way, the right
of free speech. This did not improve his sentence, but made it more
honourable to him. He was awarded one month's imprisonment.
Mr. Adams had witnesses to his character who described him as
of entirely good repute, and, indeed, "a pattern of morality in all the
relations of life." The judge told him that "in a charge of robbery that
might avail him, but unless he had testimony that he was a Christian it
could not avail him in a charge of that kind."
Entering the dock on my name being called, I asked Ogden, the
chief gaoler, a tall, stout, surly, imperious, pock-marked person, who had
had charge of me in prison, to hand me a box which lay near.
Thinking it his duty to show the disrespect he presumed the Court to
entertain, he told me to take my place at the bar. Again my
injunction was, "Hand me my box." Looking indignantly at the corded chest
outside the dock, he said, "You can't have that box here. Go to the
bar and plead." "Nonsense, give it me," was my reply. Beginning to
think it was he who was detaining the Court, he reluctantly did as I told
him, when I applied to the judge for the use of a table. The judge
said, "There is one," pointing to a ledge in the dock which, his lordship
thought, would serve my purpose. Although not convenient, I
proceeded to arrange my books and papers there, which occupied twenty
minutes. By which time it was remarked the dock resembled a small
bookseller's shop. The judge looked on with great patience, and when
ready I went forward and pleaded. Mr. Alexander was the prosecuting
counsel. He was less coarse, but as malignant as Mr. Bubb. He
told the jury, "I had not put my diabolical intent in the announcement of
the lecture, but had concealed it, with a view to attract an audience,"
which was contrary both to fact and evidence. The Cheltenham Bench,
to do them justice, never said this. It was pure invention on the
part of Mr. Alexander to recommend me to the favourable consideration of
The only offence chargeable against me was that of
incidentally, without premeditation or intention, and under the
provocation of an insolent question, for which no occasion had been
given—uttering certain words—yet the Court permitted an indictment to be
read which described me as a "labourer," though I was well known as a
public lecturer, who had resided in Cheltenham in that capacity. It
charged me with devising, intending, and maliciously publishing with a
"loud voice" (which I never possessed) the answer to the question of a
preacher, intending "with force and arms to bring Almighty God into
disbelief." Seven farmers, one grocer, one poulterer, one miller, one
nondescript shopkeeper, and one maltster were then empanelled to ascertain
whether I had, or had not, assaulted Omnipotence with "force of arms." The
utmost offence in my words were infinitesimal compared with the profanity
of this amazing indictment. It said I wickedly "composed the words I
had spoken, although they occurred in debate without chance or possibility
of premeditation. It charged me with having spoken "against the
peace of our Lady the Queen," whereas I had neither spoken against the
peace nor broken the peace, and had neither thought of the Queen nor meant
Historians think they illustrate their pages very
conclusively when they quote legal documents describing the profession and
purposes of some person recorded therein. Why should law courts,
which profess to be the guardians of public morality, lie more than
rumour, in their documents?
The Oracle of Reason, which I undertook to edit during
Mr. Southwell's imprisonment, made the defiant declaration, written by
Ryall:—"We war not with the Church but the Altar—not with the forms of
Christianity but with Christianity itself—not with the attributes but with
the Existence of Deity." After what had taken place I was determined to
maintain the right of inquiry into these things. My acquaintance
with heresy was too short and my knowledge too limited to enable me to do
more intelligently. The conception of Deity entertained by the
clerical adversaries we encountered seemed to me neither true nor
desirable, and I believed that God Himself must dislike persons of that
way of thinking about Him.
My defence if it lacked prudence did not lack explicitness.
I spoke nine hours and fifteen minutes. In the latter part my voice
much improved in strength and tone. When the Court adjourned at
mid-day, some ladies, observing that I was taking nothing, offered me some
tartlets they had brought for their own refreshment: one I was told was
the wife of a clergyman. Not needing to eat, I declined the kindly
When I had spoken six hours, the governor of the gaol came to
me to ask how long I should continue, as the judge was interested in
knowing. I answered, "If the Court was likely to hear me, I should
end in three hours." In all reason the Court "had heard me sufficiently,"
but the magistrates, who had told me repeatedly that "the Court would not
hear me, and I should not be allowed to make my own defence," did me harm
in making me thus persistent. When I had spoken some three hours
longer, it occurred to me that the Court "had heard" me, and I concluded.
Mr. Justice Erskine said, "If I could convince the jury that
my only meaning was that the incomes of the clergy ought to be reduced,
and that I did not intend to insult God, I should tell the jury that you
ought not to be convicted." This was the exact purport of what I said.
To "insult God" was never in my mind; nor in anybody's mind. It is
ever some degrading conception of Deity which is denied. I never
knew a case of an atheistic denial in which there was not more reverence
in the mind of the heretic than the prosecutor. Had I confined
myself to the two points named by the judge, there was a chance my
sentence might have been mitigated. But my mind was set upon two
other things—one was that we would seek neither favour nor mercy by
solicitation or concession; the other was to vindicate the right to say
what I did, whatever it might be taken to mean.
Mr. Justice Erskine suggested to the jury that there was no
evidence that I had connived at some person putting the question to me to
give me an opportunity of uttering these sentiments. This was very
fairly said—had the jury been intelligent—but in effect it was a most
injurious suggestion. The counsel had put the idea of connivance
into their heads, and the stolid and prejudiced jury believed the judge to
confirm it. I expected twelve months' imprisonment, as my defence
contained no apology, but was absolute and defiant for free speech.
The judge admitted that, with my views, I could not honestly answer my
questioner otherwise than I did, and, being a young man, he gave me six
months' imprisonment to encourage me in candour.
That night Captain Mason remarked that he thought the
sentence was not to be much complained of, seeing how many hours I had
occupied the Court. In this I quite concurred with him, and never
did complain of it. Indeed, I more deserved the imprisonment for the
defence than the offence. Never having been a prisoner before, and
unacquainted with the ways of magistrates, their ignorant menace had
harmed me—made me resentful, and exposed me to the charge of being wanting
in good sense, which was more serious in my mind than to be thought
wanting in orthodoxy.
Mr. Justice Erskine was the grandson of the famous Lord
Chancellor of that name, who defended the publication of one of Thomas
Paine's books. The Erskines were descendants of one of the oldest
Scottish families. Mr. Justice Erskine bore small trace of his
Scottish descent, and was a placid, mild-mannered English gentleman when I
made his acquaintance. He displayed patience and good temper during
the unconscionable time I detained him upon the Bench. Some time
after he disappeared from the Bench. How I never inquired—always
retaining respect for his memory for his fairness to me.
It was eleven o'clock at night when I walked from court to
gaol. Captain Mason considerately asked me if I objected to go with
two stray criminals he had in charge. I said I would prefer to walk
with Adams only. It was so arranged, and together we set out.
Before being locked in my cell I asked if I could have a little of
something to eat. I had been thirteen hours in court without food,
and a feeling of extreme hollowness came over me. All that could be
got for me at that hour was a cup of warm water, and the warder found an
old apple in his pocket, which he kindly gave me, and with these I made
the first repast of my new imprisonment.
But for a misadventure of refreshments, I might have fared
better that day. At that time, a Mrs. Chichester resided in
Gloucestershire, who took interest in social improvement, and had enough
experience to know that the theological portraits of heretics were not
executed by pre-Raphaelite artists skilled in adherence to the truth of
nature. She knew that in matters of controversy people who read only
one side of a question and boast of the duty of not knowing the other, did
not come within the pale of competency or trust; she therefore sent down
to Gloucester small presents of wine and birds, as she understood I might
have to wait about court seven or ten days before the trial came on.
The medium for conveying those kindly gifts was Mr. Fry, whom she knew as
professing the lofty moral mysticism of John Pierrepoint Greaves, who had
disciples in Cheltenham. Mr. Fry, however, was not mystical—he was
very practical, for, being a teetotaller, he drank all the wine himself,
and, being a vegetarian, he ate the birds. Mr. Fry was editor of the
Communist Apostle, one of whose mottoes was that "It is the beauty
within that reflects beauteous light on outward objects." It was
presumably on this principle that my wine and pheasants became
irresistible to him.
On the morning of my trial he brought me a small bottle of
raspberry vinegar, which he said Mrs. Chichester had sent, as it
might be of use to me in speaking. It was two years after before I
learned what else she had sent. She must have wondered at my want of
civility in never sending a word in acknowledgment.
One day, attending the courts during the ten days I was
awaiting my own trial, I saw a man sentenced to transportation for life to
Norfolk Island. His offence had arisen in ignorant and depraving
circumstances, yet, when he heard the ferocious sentence, in genuine and
awkward humbleness he made a rustic bow to the Bench, saying, "Thank you,
my lord." Ignorance had never appeared to me before so frightful, slavish,
and blind. Unable to distinguish a deadly sentence passed upon him
from a service done to him, he had been taught to bow to his pastors and
masters, and he bowed alike when cursed as when blessed.