CHARACTERISTICS OF GEORGE HENRY LEWES.
GEORGE HENRY LEWES was intellectually the bravest man I have known. It was
not that he was without the wisdom which looks around to see what the
consequences of any act would be; but where a thing seemed right in itself
he ignored the consequences of doing it. He did not dare the consequences;
he did not recognize them. They were to him as though they were not. When
he accepted a principle, he accepted all that belonged to it. Courage
means facing a danger by force of will, facing danger which you know to be
such. Men of natural intrepidity never take danger into account, or, if
they are conscious of it, it only influences them as an inspiration of
action. Mr. Lewes had intellectual intrepidity of this kind. This was my
experience and impression of his character which I gave George Eliot at
the time of his death.
George Henry Lewes
Most persons regard toleration as a reluctant necessity; others regard it
as an unpleasant duty which they nevertheless have to discharge, and they
apologise for their concession by diminishing the credibility of those
they condescend to recognize, by pointing out—as even W. J. Fox did in
one instance—that anti-Theistic belief is due to some mental deficiency. Lewes did nothing of the kind. He regarded toleration as a right of
others. It was he who proposed that my name should appear on the published
list of contributors to the Leader newspaper, which was attended with
polemical consequences that the reader has seen recounted.
Mr. Lewes, like Mr. Herbert Spencer, wrote a charming book, and did not
appear to know it, and afterwards superseded it by a work which never
interested the same readers. Mr. Spencer published "Social Statics,"
which interested readers wherever the English language was intelligible;
and this he superseded by "Principles of Sociology," which was only
intelligible to a limited class of advanced thinkers. About the same
time, Mr. Lewes wrote a "Biography of Philosophy," in four shilling volumes,
for Charles Knight, and presented me with the set, in which he inscribed
his name. The book fascinated all students who were beginning to turn
their attention to philosophy. To this day, all who possess the original
volumes value them highly. Mr. Lewes afterwards reproduced the work, with
all the erudite illustrations and authorities with which he was so
familiar. It is valued by scholars, but is beyond the appreciation of the
far larger class whom he had first interested, instructed, and inspired.
Lewes had few rivals as a conversationalist. But he told me he found one
once. He was invited by W. J. Fox to meet, at his house, Margaret Fuller,
afterwards Countess Ossoli. Carlyle was another guest that night. Fox,
Carlyle, and Lewes were famous talkers; but when Margaret Fuller took her
turn they were all silenced, and—their turn came no more. When in
America I met with an interesting instance of the regard in which Mr. Lewes's writings were held by backwoodsmen, who told me they had read
them by camp fires at night—books which were then far from popular in
PERTURBATION IN WHITEHAVEN.
THE writer does not forget that the reader can take little interest in
episodes of controversial turbulence (these not being uncommon) except as
illustrating the manners of the period. Milton says that "Peace hath her
victories no less renowned than War." But they are less renowned, and in
most cases not renowned at all. The battles for opinion, however, have
some popular interest when they take a fighting form. Robert Owen, the
most mild, abstract-speaking, gracious-mannered unaggressive propagandist
who ever appeared, was often met by outrage in his time. He, nevertheless,
by having declared "all the religions of the world" to be wrong, did not
reserve for himself a friend in any church. He excited all against him;
and, nothing loath, they went as far in rebuking their philosophical
adversary as the popular idea of Christian charity—not much restraining
in those days—would warrant.
Shortly before I went to Worcester as a lecturer on Owen's views, he was
encountered at a public meeting by the then Dr. Retford, who before a
large audience made a gesture of outrage at Mr. Owen undescribable here.
Mr. Owen, being a philanthropist who had spent life and fortune in the
service of the people, did not mitigate anger at his intellectual errors
which were attempted to be confuted in this unpleasant way. Dr. Retford's
energetic behaviour was the talk of every citizen in Worcester when I was
there, many of whom had witnessed the act. The doctor had a son who
became art critic of the Daily News, and was a man of tolerant and gentlemanly
manners. The preceding incident is merely mentioned as an illustration of
the theological ways of a cathedral city when I entered the field of
controversy. It is in a cathedral city, with its divine advantages, that
you expect the perfect thing in Christianity—but civility is not always
one of them.
When mischief was intended to me personally it never came to much. My
protection was often my voice. Had I been capable of speaking in strident
and imperious tones, my opinions would have been counted highly
objectionable. Believing with Leigh Hunt that "the errors of men
proceeded more from defect of knowledge than defect of goodness," it
seemed the best course to explain the reasons for any new opinion. Thus
some listened from curiosity, and those who were not interested were not
In 1851, in consequence of a magisterial decision in Whitehaven, I
volunteered to go down there and speak upon it. Mr. James Hughan, a
Unitarian street-lecturer, speaking at the Bulwark on the harmless subject
of "Progression," was knocked down by one Charles Flinn, who had been
twice before convicted of assaults; but on this occasion, the Rev. F. W. Wicks being on the bench, Flinn
was dismissed and Mr. Hughan censured as
having "incited" the man by his address. The reputation of others who
had been before me, rather than my own, caused me to be regarded with
hostility. A Social Missionary who believed in sensationalism had issued a
placard, giving the inhabitants the unwelcome intimation that
"The Devil and Socialism were in the town." It was not necessary to do
this, as the clergy had suggested to the people that the two creatures
went about together. All the lecturer had in view was to dispute the
existence of that disagreeable personage, and to explain that, if indeed
he was about, the Social System of Robert Owen was disconnected from him. The lecturer's irritating announcement had a meritorious motive. Since the
attack of the Bishop of Exeter, which caused even in Birmingham the
resignation of the Registrar, the clergy had been an intimidating force in
every town, and many alarmed and prudent persons had denied their opinions
or explained them away in self-protection. Therefore, open, even
ostentatious, defiance had merit, and some justification from the point of
view of self-respect. It had, however, rendered the town angry and
resentful. Unfortunately Mr. Lennon—a courageous sea-rover, an abstainer
from alcohol (rare in seaport men then), and well respected for
intelligence and character—who had made arrangements for my visit—broke
a blood vessel a week before my arrival. The animosity shown to him living
was not mitigated by his death, and the burial service was refused over
his remains. The religious riots which my predecessors had occasioned were
censured by Sir James Graham, who always had the fairness and boldness to
It had not, however, subsided when I entered the town and my friends
showed, in their countenances and speech dismal apprehensions. That there
was some unusual dread in the air was evident from the fact that the women
shared it. Hitherto I had found them, under circumstances of danger, to be
the last to utter words of discouragement, but here they helped to diffuse
the panic. This led me to avoid the houses of friends whom I should
otherwise have visited lest I compromised them. The Irish population were
dreaded, and their prejudices were known to be above the reach of reason,
and the population of Lord Lonsdale's collieries were no less causes of
alarm. It was in vain that I urged that the charges of admission should be
raised, which would keep out the more dangerous disturbers. The answer was
they would force the door. "If they do," I said, "they cannot reach the
stage to interrupt the lecture." "They say they will come armed with
stones, and throw at the speaker, and chairman, and whoever is on the
stage," was the unpleasant assurance given me. Thinking that so much
ingenuity ought not to lack appropriate exercise, I arranged to be my own
chairman, and to exclude the committee from the stage, so that, the
objects to be thrown at being reduced to one, it might be more to the
credit of the mob if they hit it. The proprietor of the theatre sent word
that there would be a disturbance, and he demanded payment for both nights
before we occupied the place. Some religious Whitehaven men, who were
friendly to me personally, had told me in Newcastle-on-Tyne that I should
not be heard in their town, and it would be no use going there. When
there, appearances looked very much like it.
On the day of the lecture a man went into the shop of a respectable
tradesman in Whitehaven, and said, "the theatre would be pulled down that
night." The serjeant of police had been heard saying that "there would be
blood and slaughter in the theatre, and he should order his men to keep
out of the way, as they were not going to get their heads broken." A
friend of mine, whom I asked to call at the Police Office with a request
that two policemen should be at the door, received a more assuring answer. The superintendent said he would be on that beat and would pass the
theatre every five minutes, and look in as often as his duty allowed.
As my engagement was to lecture, I was precluded from feeling apprehension
until afterwards. I had long seen that there never could be a quarrel
unless there were two parties to it—not even on the platform—and I was
not going to be one. Experience showed me that men of the rudest nature
seldom break out into outrage at once; they act on, indeed often wait
for, some pretext or provocation, and if this is not afforded they are
confused and do nothing. Anyhow it was most foolish to go about telling
every one that an attack was expected; since, if it did not occur, we
should be in a manner bound to get up one ourselves, to prevent public
One incident occurred which seems ludicrous now, but was lawful then. At
that time white hats were in fashion, and a friend in Newcastle had given
me one of white silk. The newest gloss of unworn brightness was upon it,
and my itinerant wardrobe fortunately included a new coat. In this attire
I walked out to inspect the foe. In practice we know divinity doth hedge a
gentleman as well as a king, and there was reason to think that
appearances might find a response where principle would find none. So it
transpired. The local mob made way for me, and those who would have
knocked me down had I worn a "seedy" aspect, stepped involuntarily out of
the way. Many did not suspect me of being the invading lecturer, and those
who did, finding me respectable, surmised I might have friends, and it
might not be so safe as they thought to assault me.
When the hour of the lecture came, I was at the theatre, saw to the
lights, and that the door was manned by groups of able-bodied friends,
placed as much out of sight as possible,
that no provocation might occur. Others diffused themselves over the
theatre where Christians were thickest, holding themselves ready either to
listen to the lecture or restrain an attack, if a party issued from near
them. Wherever two or three militant Christians were gathered together,
there was a sentinel in the midst of them. The precautions we took would
have been superfluous in orthodox persons, who, having mansions in the
skies, see in death but an agreeable change of residence; but to others,
no less hopeful, but not so certain as to a celestial manor house,
manslaughter amounts to apprehensive disinheritance, and therefore they
decline that casualty when obtruded upon them prematurely. Certainly I did
not want to fight the people of Whitehaven. I went to reason with them. It
was not part of my taste to die in Whitehaven. Besides, if a man is to be
killed in an irregular way, he ought to be indulged in his choice of the
place and the selection of his own executioner.
The first lecture was well received. The audience included ladies; the
gallery was filled, the pit moderately, and the boxes were just inhabited.
The Whitehaven Herald gave a very fair report of my address, which
disarmed the prejudice of the intelligent part of the town. My subject
was, "The Moral Innocency of Speculative Opinion, even the most extreme,
when conscientiously entertained, setting forth how far a man might
dissent from the Religious Opinions of his Neighbours, and yet hope to
live in Truth and die in Peace." The latter part had reference to the
death of Lennon. My expectations were verified as to the audience. They
were astonished at not being outraged, and they saw that a speaker might
promote conviction without putting the "Devil" on his placard. My
argument was one they could not fight and did not answer. All the
discussion amounted to was a few feeble speeches, and
a few reluctant admissions. The trick was tried of asking me whether "I
believed the Bible to be the revealed will of God!" "Whether I believed in
the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ." I answered that they should
know my opinions on those subjects quickly enough, should I have an
opportunity of speaking upon them in Whitehaven. For the present, while I
was obliged by the expression of their curiosity, I must confine myself to
the subject on the placard, or the public would complain that under the
pretext of speaking on one subject I had introduced others. It might
gratify me and them to talk about anything else, but there was something
higher than gratification, and that was good faith; and, as nothing more
had to be said on the proper topic of the night, I, thanking them for
their attention, closed the meeting, when the speeches of debate had
occupied us perhaps three-quarters, of an hour.
On the second night our fortifications were the same. It had, however,
become known that the police were not likely to interfere. Some persons
appeared at the door inciting the people to riot, and, as there were three
clergymen on the magistrates' bench, the police could calculate on their
sanction of the violation of duty. The new audience were turbulent.
Mr. Stuart Potter, a Wesleyan local preacher, was very noisy until some one
stopped his mouth by laying a heavy hand upon it. A grey-headed adversary
in front of the gallery threw his arms about as though his intention was
to throw stones. Like a steam arm, his appeared to move independently of
the will of the owner, and had a suspicious activity. Two persons walked
on to the stage to enjoy the advantage of closer intercourse with me, but,
suspecting the enjoyment might not be mutual, I refused to answer any
questions until they resumed their places below. Another man clambered on
the stage who seemed to meditate some personal attention to me. I assured
him I was sensible of the consideration he showed me by the trouble he was
taking to come to me, but I preferred to conduct the meeting without
Thus ended the adventure in Whitehaven. I left the town next day under the
impression that the "beasts of Ephesus" had propagated their species.
THE VICAR OF FLEET STREET.
WHEN a publisher in Fleet Street, a demand was made upon me for tithes. When the demand was first made, it astounded me. I, who once proposed to
walk ninety miles to see the Rev. George Harris, because of his great
sermon against the Rathcormac massacre—I, who, then dreading the
Unitarian faith, yet honoured the Unitarian minister whose eloquent
denunciations made tithes hateful for ever—I pay tithes? Well, the tithes
on "147" were £2 8s. or £2 10s. a year, or more. The first quarter was
12s. 8d. As I entered at the half-quarter, half was the affair of
Mr. Carvalho, my predecessor. He, though a Jew, paid tithes. I
was bound to fulfil my agreement as to taxes with Mr. Carvalho, and I paid the 12s. 8d., which I regarded as so much blood-money after what I had read of the
manner of their collection in Ireland. In due time I was served with a
tithe notice on my own account. I said, "What I might do when I was forced
to do something I could not tell, but no tithe should I pay until forced,
and not then if I could help it."
A gentleman was sent to me to explain that the parish of St. Bride,
or the City, had sold the tithe to Sir Edward Somebody's ancestors two
centuries ago, and that certain civil advantage accrued to Fleet Street in
consequence, and I was merely paying for that. I answered that "neither
City nor parish had sold my conscience; and if they had sold the tithe,
why did he come collecting it? "
Clergymen in debate upon the French Revolution had frequently shown how
Atheists attempted spoliation of church property. If that were so,
was it less discreditable, I asked,
than the Church in the plenitude of its power, in the affluence of its
wealth, in days of peace, unprovoked by any antagonism, unincited by any
want, descending upon a house in Fleet Street and carrying away the
property of an "atheist."
Whether my representations were faithfully reported to the Vicar of Fleet
Street, I had no means of knowing. He made me no visit, and I was too busy
to call upon him. No instance was known to me in which any demand for
tithes was ever mitigated by argument or remonstrance. A notice was sent
me that unless the tithe claim was paid on demand there would be a distraint. The demand was not paid, and a seizure of goods took place. The
officers had some difficulty in making a selection of what to seize. The
books in my shop were heretical, or philosophical with an heretical
tendency, and the Church had some misgiving as to the seemliness of
becoming salesmen at an auction of works of a very unclerical character. Their agents, therefore, went roaming about the house in search of
something better to their taste. One year they took my clock. In the
printing office they found another time some reams of blank paper, which
they thought they could sell with a clear conscience. They had a
conscience, such as it was, about the propriety of selling heterodox
publications, but no conscience as to the propriety of taking my property
as a penalty on my convictions. Whether the proceeds of the sale exceeded,
as it ought to have done, the demands made against me, no surplus was
returned to me. Some years three or four times the value of the rate was
Satisfied with the result of their raids, they continued to come again. As
the paper seized the year before was found in the printing office—my
brother Austin's department—he said reasonably he would not have them
there again, as they had no right to seize things in his office for a
claim against me. Nor did I feel like wishing to pay again for what they
might seize another year. I therefore resolved to meet this ecclesiastical
demand in a proper ecclesiastical manner, which I hoped would be agreeable
to the vicar. When notice of another distraint came, I told the officer "I should pay this year, and send the amount to the vicar." The vicar, on
hearing this, no doubt regarded it as a sign of wholesome repentance on
the part of his refractory parishioner.
In due course I wrote to the vicar stating that, as it was proper to
tender tithes "in kind," as editor and publisher of the Reasoner I
forwarded him three volumes of that work—they being the "kind" of
property produced on my farm. Three volumes likely to interest his
reverence were chosen. The "trade price" of them was more than the
demand. The vicar was therefore asked for a receipt "in full" for that
year's tithes. The vicar did not find it lawful or seemly to refuse this
mode of payment; whether he was gratified by it I never heard. He sent me
no receipt and no demand for the payment of tithes any more. I consoled
myself for the virtual act of payment by the hope that I might have
accomplished an act of salutary propagandism, as, for all I knew, the
vicar might present the books to the vestry library.
THE COWPER STREET DEBATE—FIGURES ON THE PLATFORM.
NO truth can be fully trusted until it has been fully discussed in fair
and equal contention. Milton thought truth was never worsted in a "free
and open encounter." But debate may be
"free" and not fair. It may be "open," and yet one-sided if the disputants
have unequal advantages. For want of all-round watchfulness in these
respects truth has often been put down within my experience. In the Cowper
Street debate the conditions were equal, excepting, perhaps, that my
adversary was provided with an income, and I had to earn one otherwise,
during the six weeks the discussion lasted.
As the report of what took place appeared in a half-crown volume, of which
forty-five thousand were sold; as purchasers still survive, and copies
exist in public libraries, a description of the affair will be relevant
here. The debate took place in 1853, which will soon be forty years since; thus the subject may have novelty if not interest to this generation.
The Rev. John Angell James, of Birmingham, was the promoter of this
discussion. In the Reasoner, which I edited, a new form of Freethought
had been originated, to which the
name of "Secularism" was given. Some took this to be a new name for an
old thing, whereas it was a new name for a new conception. Many had shown
that morality resting on theology was not universally accepted. We
maintained that morality resting on material and social facts was a force
among all people. We were the first who taught that the secular was
sacred. This was the new conception to which the new name was given.
This form of opinion accepted the ethical precepts of Christianity, so far
as they were consonant with the welfare of society. The word secular was
taken as George Combe defined it—as implying "those issues which can be
tested by the experience of this life." This doctrine of conduct is now
widely accepted by Christian preachers as being good—so far as it goes.
It was not approved then, and a Dissenting preacher, one Rev. Brewin
Grant, of fine disputative faculty, was sent out on a "three years'
mission" to arrest the dissemination of the new principles. The rev. gentleman had manifest courage, pertinacity, and ceaseless fertility in
objection, but the scrupulousness which commands respect was not so
conspicuous. In earlier years there was a Socialist Society in
Leicester, and Mr. Grant, then a youth in a hosiery warehouse, used to make smart
speeches after the lectures—as discussion was always encouraged by the
social reformers, who held that truth was best elicited by comparison of
ideas. The vivacity of the youthful disputant brought him into notice, and
the elders of the Congregational Church thought they saw in him the making
of a defender of the faith. He was sent to college by them, and the
alertness in controversy he manifested led to his being sent out on the
The Rev. Dr. Ackworth, of Bradford, had challenged me to a "foot-to-foot
encounter," which I afterwards engaged in. It was determined that a debate
in London should have precedence. It was to the credit of Mr. Grant's
manliness that he was willing to enter the lists in London, where what he
took to be error was mainly promulgated, and that he was willing to meet
the advocate who was held to be the originator of the new heresy in a six
nights' discussion on six successive Thursday evenings, from January 20 to
February 24, 1853.
Mr. Grant could have no misgiving in meeting me. The apprehension ought to
have been all on my side, for he had informed the public that he had "silenced" Cardinal Newman. Conceive Brewin Grant silencing Cardinal
Newman, who crushed Professor Kingsley between two sentences! The Cardinal
was then known as John Henry Newman. When he delivered his famous lectures
to the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri, Mr. Grant announced that he had
compelled him "to take down his flag and reduce his lectures from twelve
to nine." It does not appear that Dr. Newman ever took the slightest
notice of Mr. Grant, but this did not concern him whose contentment with
himself was immeasurable, and who mistook the Cardinal's contempt for
Mr. Grant's discussion with me was held in the Cowper Street School rooms. His committee was the Rev. Dr. Campbell, editor of the British Banner;
Rev. Robert Ashton, Samuel. Morley, S. Priestly, and J. S. Crisp. My
committee was James Watson, Richard Moore, my brother Austin, and the Rev. Ebenezer Syme.
Mr. Samuel Morley acted as chairman for Mr. Grant, the Rev. E. Syme was chairman for me, and the Rev. Howard Hinton was umpire.
The Rev. Howard Hinton, the umpire, was a distinguished Congregational
preacher, who looked upon Christianity with the eye of a philosopher, as
well as that of a believer. He was in Congregational divinity what Sir
Benjamin Brodie was in medicine—dispassionate and many-sided in his
knowledge. His son, James Hinton, became eminent both as an aurist and a
thinker. His work on the "Mystery of Pain" is still in the minds of men.
Some years after the debate I had the pleasure to meet him at dinner, at
the Rev. Stopford A. Brooke's, when I was impressed by his searching power
of thought, as others had been. As I walked with him to his door that
night, he referred to his father's admission made in one of his discourses
upon the discussion—that some of my arguments were entitled to
consideration, naming one where I pointed out that the evangelical
doctrine of motives was a pathless wilderness. It was this: First, a
young inquirer is told to observe moral duties; then he is told he cannot
do that, or anything good, unless God first disposes him; then that
whatever good works he performs will be of no avail unless he also
believes; then that he cannot believe unless God gives him grace to
believe; then that God will not give him this grace of belief unless he
asks Him; and then that he cannot ask Him effectually unless he already
has the grace of faith, which is the very thing he has to ask for.
Mr. Grant's chairman was, as I have said, Mr. Samuel Morley, who became
the great leader of the Nonconformist party. He was a man of truth and
fairness first, and a Christian afterwards. He would have ascribed these
high qualities to his Christianity, but as they were conspicuous in him,
in a degree beyond that of his co-religionists, I judged them to be
inherent. Some years afterwards he sent me £5 through his secretary, the
Rev. Mr. Price, to assist in procuring a law of Secular Affirmation, as
the Christian oath was then obligatory as a condition of legal
justice—which justice was refused to all who had conscientious scruples
as to solemnly professing a faith they did not hold. In
acknowledging the subscription in the Reasoner, I omitted the name of the giver, as I had
reason to know it would subject him to the necessity of explanation and
A valued friend of mine, who was a student in the
Congregational College supported by Mr. Morley, acquired other convictions, and accepted an
appointment in a rural Unitarian Church, which afforded but a slender
salary. Mr. Morley, knowing that he had done this for conscience'
sake, sent him a cheque for £100, although it must have deeply pained Mr. Morley
that a Congregational College student should become a Unitarian preacher.
There were other instances known to me in which Mr. Morley generously
assisted political and social movements, although he knew that those
engaged in them differed widely from himself. He seemed to think that
progress by reason was compatible with Christianity, although its
incentive was purely secular.
As an employer, he had regard to the welfare of his workmen, as they often
told me; and his manufactures, known for their genuineness, exalted the
character of British industry. While other philanthropists whom I
have known, having the honourable ambition of usefulness, would reserve
their wealth to make one splendid gift that would bring them renown, and
let hundreds perish in their day, whose lives they could have cheered and
extended—Mr. Morley, by countless acts of unostentatious kindness,
diffused happiness among the living, less fortunate than himself, who
could never requite him, nor would the world ever know of the service he
rendered them. This form of kindness always seems higher to me than any
monumental benevolence to posterity, which commands larger public
admiration. He who is the friend of his contemporaries may, on entering
another world, expect to meet many who will accord him grateful welcome,
while he who has given thought only for those who may live after him, will
meet no one who knows him. Those who have had no regard for the born nor
the unborn, neither gods nor men will have any interest in knowing; and
those who have lived only for themselves may rightly be left to perish by
The Rev. Dr. Campbell, editor of the British Banner, became friendly to
me until his death, and his son was equally so after him; so that the
discussion has many pleasant memories to me. Mr. J. S. Crisp,
connected with Ward and Co., the publishers, showed impartiality and
judgment in seeing the debate through the press, and each month for nine
months I and Mr. Grant received £5 each on every one thousand of the debate printed. We
each received £45 altogether.
The Rev. Ebenezer Syme, my chairman, was at that time assistant to Dr.
John Chapman and sub-editor of the Wesminster Review. He was the brother
of the Rev. Alexander Syme, of Nottingham, also a Congregational minister,
with whom I had debated with instruction to myself, and for whom I
In the debate Mr. Grant professed that I had commended works from which he
had rather not read passages. I demanded that he should do it. He would
not, but called upon me to do it; whereupon the Rev. E. Syme, my chairman,
rose and promptly undertook to read every passage Mr. Grant wished
provided he would read an equal number of passages from the Old Testament
which Mr. Syme would select. This relevant and decisive offer was not
accepted. It made a lasting impression on the great assembly, and thus
that episode ended. It was an instance of Mr. Grant's ingenuity to urge
that I should read his illustrations, whereby the time of my speech would
be entirely taken up in presenting his case instead of my own.
The general subject was—"What advantages would accrue to mankind
generally, and the working class in particular, by the removal of
Christianity and the substitution of Secularism in its place?" The
pretentious and misleading words "the removal of Christianity" were my
adversary's invention. Five years before, I had elsewhere insisted that
our object was to contest the error, not the truth, which was included in
Christianity; whereas to remove it all would be to remove the good as
well as the evil. But at no time could we induce adversaries (not even one
so amiable as the Rev. H. Townley) to discuss our propositions as we
expressed them; and we had to accept their wording (which was always
against us) or forego the advantage of debate. Mr. Morley, with his usual
frankness, admitted that I had, in committee, objected to the interpolated
words. In the discussion I refused to accept the sweeping responsibility. What I maintained was the secular principle that duties of this life which
we know should take precedence over those of another which we do not know; that in human affairs science is the providence of man, that morality
rests upon foundations purely human; that escape from the penalties of
sin by the death of another is not good in principle nor in example; and
that where Scriptural precepts appear to conflict, guidance can only come
In the debate I spoke of my early pastor, the Rev. John Angell James, with
a respect due to one who was for many years the minister of my mother, and
because of the way in which he had spoken of me, at a time when one less
generous might have used disparaging words. Mr. Grant, conceding nothing
to this sentiment, charged me with inconsistency in the expression of it. He construed courtesy into an offence. On the other hand the Rev. Thomas Binney wrote to me to assure me that he thought my expressions of regard
for my former pastor creditable to me. Mr. Binney, himself a
Newcastle-on-Tyne man, was one of the figures of the platform. He wrote
afterwards a notable little book entitled "How to Make the Best of Both
Worlds." He was the first preacher in my time who admitted and enforced
the secular side of New Testament teaching. He had natural vigour of
expression, boldness, and humour. He had the true genius of the preacher;
he was inspired by his subject and his audience. I once heard him make a
remarkable speech in the Town Hall, Birmingham. Many wanted him to publish
it, but he answered it was impossible. He said he did not foresee what he
should say, and could never recall what he had said. I think he was like
Sojourner Truth, the famous negress preacher of America, who said what she
spoke the Lord put into her mouth at the time, and she did not know before
she began what it would be. She said the audience went to hear her, and
she came to hear herself, that she might know what the Lord had to say to
My reverend opponent conducted his part of the discussion entirely to his
own satisfaction. It was one of the endowments of Mr. Grant to be always
satisfied with himself. He had advantage over me in his rapidity of
speech. He boasted that he should talk three times as fast as I should,
and so have three times more pages in the report, not reflecting that his
velocity rendered it beyond the power of the hearer to follow him. He was
the nimblest opponent I ever met, but he never bit your arguments; he only
nibbled at them. He was rabbit-minded, with a scavenger's eye for the
refuse of old theological controversy. With him epithets were arguments.
I was made answerable for whatever could be found in any book I had
reviewed favourably, and for every sentiment expressed by writers and
correspondents in fourteen volumes of the Reasoner I had edited! "There
was nothing meaner than a mask, and nothing viler than the purpose for
which we wore it," was one thing he said in terms of polished force, but
his general epithets were below the level of street-corner coarseness. Regarding personal invective as a digression in argument, I did not
reciprocate this language. Had I imitated my adversary's epithets, it
would have been ascribed to the viciousness of my principles; while his
invective would be counted as "holy wrath" in him. Observation of
conflicts and controversy had taught me that he who strikes the first blow
begins a fight, because a blow oft obliges another in self-defence. It is
the second person in a dispute who begins a quarrel. Not even a lunatic
can keep up a dispute with himself. He who, in discussion, explains his
case and does not retort, makes a quarrel impossible, and his adversary
who seeks it appears a disorderly person. This, in the end, Mr. Grant came
to appear in the eyes of his friends.
I had contended that there were two Christs in the New Testament—Christ
the Gentle and Christ the Austere. Had Mr. Grant given the audience the
right of choice, he would have made converts where he made none. Unless
the spirit of the present is breathed into the letter of the past,
stagnation petrifies the minds of men. As Lord Houghton wrote
"So, while the world rolls on from change to change,
And realms of thought expand,
The letter stands without expanse or range,
Stiff as a dead man's hand."
Yet it ought to be owned that the theologian is honest under the fetter of
infallible Scripture, when he refuses to depart from the letter. To drop
the "letter" is to drop the doctrine. To "expand" the letter is to
change it. New "range" means new thought which, in this insidious way, is
put forward to supersede the old. The frank thing is to say so, and admit
that the "letter" is obsolete—is gone—is disproved and that new views
which are truer constitute the new letter of progress. The best thing to
do with the "dead hand" is to bury it. To try to expand dissolution and
life is tying the dead to the living.
THE DISSENTING CHAMPION WHO DESERTED HIS SUPPORTERS.
SOME readers of the Newcastle Chronicle asked
for the sequel to the Cowper Street debate. The story is brief.
The Congregationalist leaders who promoted Mr. Grant's Three Years'
Mission did not extend the term of his services. Some said and more
thought that his mode of controversy was not calculated to win adherents
to the cause he represented.
Afterwards the Nonconformist body beheld a transformation
scene none could have expected. Their champion deserted them and
their cause, and wrote a book against them entitled "The Dissenting
World," which the Athenæum (October 16, 1869) described as
"overflowing with spite, vanity, insolence, and coarse derision." So
I was not alone in considering him a minister of peculiar ways. His
book made it plain to his friends that unjust epithets imply an unjust
spirit. He afterwards obtained admission into the Church of England.
It was said of the late Dr. Adler, the great Rabbi, that when an
importunate Jew threatened to go and be converted if his wishes were not
complied with, the Rabbi offered to pay for a cab that he might arrive at
the place of conversion speedily, before he changed his mind. Mr.
Grant's colleagues were quite as willing to expedite his transference to
the Church. I will, however, do him the justice to say that he had
one merit, rare in an adversary of that day: he would at times quote fully
and fairly what you said. But when he came to put his interpretation
upon it, you did not know it again. His powers of seeing things
unexpressed and unimplied would have entitled him to a gold medal, if such
honour were provided for such attainments. When the preliminaries of
the Cowper Street debate were being arranged, he asked me to meet him,
which I declined to do. As he had described me as one not to be
trusted on my word, an interview seemed useless. If I was what he
asserted, he could not be interested in my company, and, if he believed
what he had said, I could not be interested in his.
A year or so later I was invited by the Rev. Dr. Rutherford
to breakfast at his house. To my surprise Mr. Grant appeared at
table. In the course of conversation with Mr. Grant, I said, "he had
precluded himself from friendly intercourse, unless he felt justified in
retracting publicly what he had said publicly." I added, "Were I to
apply to you the epithets you apply to me, discussion would be a bear
garden of invective." He at once rejoined, "I wish you would," which
showed his good judgment. Had I, representing infantine and
unfriended opinions against full-grown popular orthodoxy, descended to his
level, I should have been lost.
In 1854 I joined in a further discussion with Mr. Grant for
six nights in the City Hall, Glasgow. Friends of mine in that city
had invited the Rev. Dr. Wm. Anderson, affectionately called "Willie
Anderson" by the people. Vigorous in speech and wilful in opinion,
he had taken the side of Garibaldi, Kossuth, and Mazzini on the platform.
In after years pleasant words from him came to me through Mr. Logan, a
city missionary, whom I first knew at Bradford; but in 1854 Dr. Anderson
had no friendly opinion of me, thought Mr. Grant good enough to meet me,
and advised his being sent for, and thus the Glasgow discussion with him
An attempt was made to get me to discuss Reign of Terror
questions in which atrocity was attributed to me in the terms of the
propositions. This I declined, preferring, as fairer and more
instructive, a form of question which implied the comparative
reasonableness of our opposing opinions. On one night during the
discussion I received a telegram that my wife was attacked by cholera in
London. Had I left Glasgow to visit her, Mr. Grant would have
represented me as running away, and that he had silenced me, as he said he
had Cardinal Newman, who had never exchanged a word with him. One
night for half an hour I showed how my opponent's cause might be made to
appear did I pursue the same course toward him as he pursued towards us.
His friends were very uneasy. That method which they applauded when
applied to me did not seem so interesting when applied to themselves.
Mr. Southwell and other friends of mine loudly applauded this half hour's
retaliation, but I went no further. It was sufficient to show that
it was possible to meet Mr. Grant on his own ground and in his own way.
But when the way is a bad way, it is not profitable to truth to walk
therein. Discussion is brought into distrust and contempt when it is
seen to be a struggle to overthrow an adversary instead of to overthrow
Enough has been said, perhaps more than enough, of the
epithets Mr. Grant employed in the London and Glasgow debates. A
list of them which I had prepared is omitted, as they are not edifying,
and they failed in effect, even in Scotland, where theologians used to
keep a large variety on hand. Mr. John Brown, of the Citizen,
whom I did not then know, pointed out that they did not answer their
purpose, and that strangers to the disputants in the City Hall took me to
be the Christian and Mr. Grant to be the other person. But there is
no profit in dwelling upon controversial imputation except on the Irish
principle—"that the only way to prevent what is past is to stop it before
ADVENTURES WHERE ADVENTURES ARE NOT COUNTED POSSIBLE.
FEW persons think that there are adventures in
controversy as well as on sea or land. To be murderously assailed in
the dark by one who mistakes you for some one else passes for an adventure
by common consent. But, in controversy by pen or speech, a man may
be mistaken as to what he means and be assassinated in open day. An
attack upon character may be more serious than an attack upon life, but is
accounted little noteworthy.
It has been said, with the frequency of a proverb, that the
lives of literary-minded men are distinguished by few adventures.
That is because only one kind of adventures is thought of; yet there are
intellectual adventures as strange, as dramatic, and as full of fatalities
as those of the physical kind.
How many family feuds and party feuds have arisen from a
single saying, perhaps spoken in anger, in most cases never intended to be
understood in the sense it was taken. Yet incurable animosity has
come of it, and a vendetta which has lasted for years through the lives of
a family or the duration of a party. The fortunes of a Cabinet, the
reputation of a minister, the fate of a dynasty have sometimes turned on a
phrase creating inextinguishable resentments. Carlton has suggested
the danger of words in notable lines:—
"Boys flying kites haul in their white winged birds,
You can't do that way when you're flying words—
Careful with fire is good advice we know:
Careful with words is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead,
But God Himself can't kill them when they're said."
I found this out.
As a social missionary, I was often called upon to give names
to infants before the congregation in our lecture halls. Sometimes
foolish names were proposed; sometimes I was responsible for them.
Wanting a name for writing purposes that did not suggest my
own, I selected "Landor Praed." Landor I took because the brief,
vigorous, clear style of Landor were useful to me to bear in mind.
Using Landor as a Christian name would not, I thought, strike any one as
an affectation of his qualities. For a surname Praed seemed
convenient, being brief and obscure. I took it from a Paddington
omnibus which ran to "Praed Street," a street I had never been in and
thought little known. After a while I found there was a banker of
that name in Fleet Street, and, what was worse, there was a Winthrop
Mackworth Praed whom more people knew than knew Praed Street, and some
thought his name intentionally chosen.
Afterwards I observed that Mr. Washington Wilks, some time
editor of the Morning Star, was disparaged, in respect of qualities
he really possessed, because his sphere of activity did not enable him to
sustain the portentous pretension of the name of "Washington." But
graver misadventures befel me.
In 1852 a proposal was made for a shilling subscription in
aid of European freedom, to be placed at the discretionary disposal of
Kossuth and Mazzini on behalf of Hungary and Italy. Viscount
Gooderich, Thornton Hunt, Douglas Jerrold, Professor Newman, and James
Stansfeld were on the committee, on which my name also appeared. I
published in the Reasoner the manifesto relating thereto, and did
all I could to give effect to it. By aid of the personality of
Mazzini it was evident that money could be had. Therefore I asked
him to write me a letter. He did so, and I soon collected one
thousand shillings, then another thousand, and so on until nine thousand
were sent to me. Correspondence, acknowledgment and transmission of
the money was done by me at the cost of a ¼ per cent. to the fund.
My brother Austin, with his usual ardour, took a great share of the labour
this involved. We had the pleasure of remitting to the great
There was one, however (W. J. Linton), as desirous as myself
to see the subscription succeed, who became my enemy because I did not
effect the collection in his name—which was not possible.
The same writer addressed a letter to the Star of Freedom
saying that "our friend 'Ion' who writes in the Leader, has
accepted the office of touter in ordinary to the 'Walmsley Incapables,'
and serves them from time to time with his most careful emssculations,
from the once free-speaking 'Ion,' to the foolishest, tiredest Chartist,
who means only to 'take what he can get,' on 'Ion's' recommendation."
I was the subject also of an epigram from the same pen which
represented me as once deserving the name of Iron from the unyieldingness
of my arguments; but now the r was well dropped out in "Ion" since
I had become flaccid and nerveless.
Among the many who have from time to time done me the service
of being my friends, I must often have created confusion and even distrust
in their regard by acts the effects of which were unforeseen and which I
went on committing when I did see the effect. Among every man's
friends there are some who are less discerning than others, and judge by
impression or prepossession, without looking at the facts of the case.
For instance, when I spoke in favour of Lord Elcho at St. Martin's
Hall meeting, it seemed to many that I was more influenced by the pleasure
of so appearing than by honesty of opinion. Lord Elcho in 1852 had
said things in the House of Commons from which I, as well as my colleagues
of the National Reform League, dissented; but at the same time he
volunteered to attend an indignation meeting convened by us, to listen to
what had to be said against him, and reply face to face. I thought
this manly then, and I think so still. He acknowledged the right of
the working class to judge his conduct, and in meeting them to defend what
he said he paid them a tribute which contradicted his apparent estimate of
them, and atoned in some measure for his wrong judgment of them. At
the same time he had supported in the House a proposal for an Intelligence
Franchise in favour of which I had written public letters to Lord John
At the same meeting Professor Beesley declared—amid the
foolish applause of the meeting that he would not go across Long Acre, in
which street the hall stood, to vote in behalf of any Reform Bill, if it
did not include the social improvement of the working classes. I was
in favour of a Reform Bill without any conditions, because it was better
to have political reform if you could get it, without social reform, than
to postpone political reform until you could have them both together.
Professor Beesley's doctrine would delay political redress until some
scheme of social redress was agreed upon (which at that time was not
formulated), whereas enfranchisement would place in the hands of the
people a powerful and constitutional instrument for forcing social redress
to the front, when the people clearly understood what they wanted.
My being in favour of obtaining what we could get exposed me to the
accusation of being unfriendly to entire enfranchisement, of which I was
more in favour than Professor Beesley, who, being a Comtist, was against
the people having political power.
My willingness to accept an Intelligence Franchise arose from
seeing that it would admit at once the most advanced artizans to the
electorate, where they could help those below them to enfranchisement.
It was not in my mind to accept this limited measure in lieu of the
general right of voting, but as an aid to it. If a million could be
added to the number of electors, it was treachery to them to prevent their
enfranchisement because the larger number could not be included.
Lord Elcho, being in favour of an intelligence Franchise, was so far, in
my opinion, a friend of the working-class politicians; and when he
appealed to me to say what I thought upon his conduct, it would have been
cowardice not to maintain there the principle I had maintained elsewhere.
At the same time I said it was strange that Lord Elcho, who had founded
the Volunteer force, should give workmen muskets and refuse them votes.
In reply to those at the meeting who represented me as
opposed to manhood suffrage, I said that I went further than they, for I
had always been an advocate of womanhood suffrage. But this did not
help me with my assailants. They regarded me as "throwing in the
apple of discord." Thus the civil rights of women was then regarded
as an "apple of discord" among Radicals.
At the time of Mr. Foote's imprisonment (1883) for some
heterodox proceeding, Dr. Aveling wrote to me to sign a petition "humbly
praying mercy" for Mr. Foote. As this was contrary to English
traditions of Freethought, it was not in my way to sign it, unless the
person for whom "mercy" was asked wanted it. Then my signature was
at his command, as I never made my sense of pride or duty the rule of
another. When I was imprisoned, I should have treated him as my
worst enemy who put upon me the outrage of asking for "mercy" in my name,
without my knowledge or consent. Such a petition implies the
renunciation of doing the same thing again. It was to assume Mr.
Foote to be a coward without our knowing it, and to act upon the
ignominious assumption. In any other way, on ground of injustice,
needlessness, or excessiveness of the sentence, I would sign any petition,
and said so. Yet Mr. M. D. Conway went to a public meeting at St.
James's Hall, and described me, amid outcries, as the only person who
would not sign a petition on Mr. Foote's behalf. Mr. Conway, not
being an Englishman, might know nothing of the traditions of Freethought
among us, and therefore could not be expected to share our sense of
freethinking honour, which might be mistaken, but stood up for what it
took to be truth—never explained itself away, and never supplicated for
Nevertheless I addressed the following letter to Sir William
Vernon Harcourt, then Home Secretary:—
prisoners, Mr. Foote and Mr. Ramsey, are undergoing excessive sentences.
Permit me to give reasons why they should be released. A Freethinker
who believes what he is doing to be right, never ceases to do it, equally
as his adversaries do. I therefore ask for justice, not 'mercy.'
I take Mr. Foote and Mr. Ramseys method of advocacy to be a principle with
them, and therefore I think that their sentences should be terminated as a
matter of justice. Blasphemy is the sin of all sects, but only
punished in the weakest. There is, however, one thing more repulsive
than blasphemy, and that is outrage. I do not pretend that outrage
is either undefinable or unpunishable under impartial law. Outrage,
as they who commit it know full well, is when any one imputes to others a
conscious infamy of belief which they do not hold, and intends to shock,
or irritate, or affront them, regardless whether it pains them or not.
This is outrage, and, in the interests of society and good-feeling, should
be discouraged. Yet this outrage is constantly committed by
Christian preachers and writers against Freethinkers, and the law never
steps in to protect them. Since, therefore, the law does not deem it
its duty to defend the few against the many, it is not needful or seemly
that it should be employed to defend the many against the few.
Outrage may be committed in excitement or under provocation, and is then
an error rather than a crime; while outrage, as a method of argument,
whether employed by the few or the many, is a polecat policy, which
induces every self-regarding person to keep clear of the 'cause' which
adopts it, whether it be Freethought or Christianity. Therefore, in
a civilized community, intellectual outrage may be left to its own
consequences, and needs not that the law should decrease them by sentences
which, by exciting public sympathy, obscure the intrinsic hatefulness of
the offence. Since the country regards you as a Home Secretary who
would not do wrong under intimidation, nor be deterred from doing right by
unreflecting prejudice, I venture to submit these considerations to you."
At a later date, when the Queen's Jubilee occurred, I accepted an
invitation of Major Dickson, M.P., to be present at the Crystal Palace
when the working-class representatives were to send an address to the
Queen. In my speech, as reported in The Times (June 27,
1887), I said Her Majesty's father, the Duke of Kent, was like his father,
George III., before him, a promoter of co-operative self-help. The
Prince Consort was a subscriber of £50 a year to a band to play in an East
End park on Sundays, so that poor workpeople should have music once a
week. The Prince of Wales had, with not less kindness, countenanced
and encouraged social progress among the people. The Queen,
therefore, was entitled to congratulations on her Jubilee, for these
things had not come to pass had she disapproved them.
The Echo thought it strange that "I, of all men in
London, was celebrating (at the Crystal Palace) the virtues of Prince
Albert and the Queen, and thereby magnifying the Crown." My reply to
the Echo was that these Royal personages I had named had shown
interest in the co-operative and social improvement of the people, and
this I acknowledged. I do not see how we can expect these services
from those more fortunately placed than ourselves, if we show no
appreciation of them. If my enemy did me a friendly thing, I should
acknowledge it, though I should combat him, nevertheless, when I thought
his acts pernicious. I expressly said, in the remarks I made at the
Crystal Palace, "that the power of the Crown is greater than is generally
known," and it was because great power had been left to it, and no serious
attempt made to diminish it, that the Crown is able, if it chooses, not
only to retard, but prevent social progress in various ways. Because
it has not done so, but, on the other hand, assisted social freedom, I
think a fair ground of Jubilee congratulations had been established.
Many things have been done tending to increase the enjoyment of the
people, at the instigation of the Prince of Wales, which might not have
been done had the Queen disapproved it.
It is not an advantage to be represented as changed in your
political convictions, when they remain the same, such imputed change
being ascribed to feebleness of intellect or abandonment of principle—to
decay of mind or decay of honour—and all because you are just in
acknowledgment of the services of others, queens or opponents. It is
a maxim in England to "give the devil his due." But England is the
only country in which he gets it, as a rule; but the maxim failed in my
No faculty I have has given me more pleasure than laughing at
the absurdities of things I like. Let him beware who exercises the
faculty. He will have adventures raining upon him. Only he who
looks all round the field of propagandism ever sees over which fence the
bull is coming. But if he gives warning he will have his own friends
rush at him. This has oft befallen me in temperance quarters, but
not where Sir Wilfrid Lawson had rule. Once I said, "One of the most
insipid, unattractive, underivable, meaningless words which ever stood as
the badge of a party is the term "Teetotalism." It neither means
total water nor total Souchong. It is weak, alike in sound and
sense. But, viewed in the light of the men it has rescued from ruin,
it is one of the fairest, brightest, sunniest, sweetest words that ever
gladdened eye or ear; every syllable is illumined and radiant with social
deliverance. But it is often belied, dimmed and distorted by
incapacity and antagonism."
This went for nothing with the Alliance News, which
long treated me as an enemy of temperance. Because I suggested that
a term which endangered the efficiency of an advocacy be changed, it was
interpreted among those who were wedded to a term, and were incapable of
seeing its consequences, that I objected to the advocacy itself. The
term "Teetotal," which never had any meaning, originated in the old Lord
Derby's Cockpit in Lancaster. It became afterwards a favourite place
of meeting. I myself lectured in it. When Joseph Livesey began
to advocate abstinence from intoxicating drinks, an illiterate but honest
man, who was first to agree to abstain, explained that he was a total
abstainer. But, having an incurable stutter in his speech, he said
he was a "t-t-t-total abstainer." Livesey, who did not know what
name to call his new adherents by, at once exclaimed, "That is the name we
will take—tee-tee-totalers!" This was contracted into teetotaler.
So the ludicrous but useful name came to be adopted.
A term which is good in itself becomes after a time like a
coin—battered and defaced by reckless ill-conditioned persons using it—and
ought to be sent to the mint of worn-out phrases, a new one being issued.
My dislike to see a good cause made to look absurd brought me
many enemies when I advised a change would be an improvement. It was
not, as many thought, from egotism or vanity that I did so, but because it
seemed to me of more importance that our friends should be in the right
than that our adversaries should. Any one who looks no further than
into the pamphlet literature of movements with which I was connected from
1840 to 1880, will find abundant evidence that there are adventures
ludicrous and sometimes tragical connected with the use of words.
THE TROUBLE WITH QUEEN ANNE.
THE freedom of the press dates from 1693, when the
Commons struck out by a special vote the list of temporary acts against
the press which were intended to be continued. But restriction upon
its liberty by taxation was the persistent device of the governing
classes, who were terrified at the apparition of the wilful little
The Free Press Terror lasted 142 years. "Twenty years
of resolute government" Lord Salisbury thought sufficient to extinguish
the spirit of freedom in Ireland. The press was subjected to
"resolute restriction" nearly a century and a half, yet it burst its bonds
after all. A free press was never a terror to the people—it was
their hope. It was the governing classes, who were under alarm.
The "terror" began and ended in the reign of two women—Queen Anne (the
only queen whose death is always treated as absolute) and Queen Victoria.
The Anne Tax commenced in 1713; it ceased with Victoria in 1855, The
second lady was better than the first, for Victoria repealed what Anne
imposed. The press is a spy upon authority and sells its
observations to the public. It makes known new ideas before it knows
who will be affected by them, and often after it does know. Princes
and priests soon saw an enemy in the press. Type was in their
opinion the most serious form lead could take. They therefore hit on
the compulsory stamp to restrain the issue of papers, which put money into
the Crown's purse and limited news. It robbed the reader by making
him pay exorbitantly for his paper, and kept the poorer classes ignorant.
Anne put a halfpenny tax on a little sheet and a penny on a larger one.
George II, whom Landor says "was always reckoned vile," added a halfpenny
to the impost. George III., who was no better, added another
halfpenny. A second time he added a halfpenny, and, finding the
larceny of the press profitable, he increased the tax three halfpence,
raising the stamp to fourpence. I speak of monarchs doing this.
By constitutional jugglery it is contrived that no Minister shall be
responsible for injustice. The monarch is exonerated under the
pretence that Parliament made the law. All the while the people had
no control over the House of Commons. When the king set himself
against a good measure, it required the menace of a revolution to pass it.
He who could resist good was answerable for evil which he permitted.
Thus the rich classes—otherwise the conspiring classes—of the State shut
out, as far as they could, all knowledge of their doings, alleging that
their object was to prevent the dissemination of "heresy and immorality,"
thus proclaiming their interest in virtue while concealing their political
and ecclesiastical vices.
Nothing reminded the world so long and so disagreeably of the
existence of Queen Anne as the 10th Act of her malevolent reign.
From 1713 to 1855 she was the pestilent troubler of the press.
George III. mitigated in one respect, but intensified in another,
her pernicious initiative. The Queen Anne Stamp was put not only on
every paper "containing news intended to be made public," but on essays
not political, as any one may see who looks at Sir Richard Steele's
Spectator in the Library of the British Museum. Sir Richard's
harmless paper was killed by the red ban of Queen Anne. The 60th
George III. extended the stamp to "pamphlets containing remarks on
any matter in Church or State published at intervals not exceeding
twenty-six days, and sold at less than 6d." George III.
further ordained that publishers of a newspaper must, under penalty of
£20, enter into a bond of £400 or £300, together with sureties, in case
the paper contained a blasphemous or seditious libel—every editor being
assumed to be a criminally disposed person and naturally inclined to
blasphemy and sedition. Every person possessing a printing-press or
types for printing, and every type-founder was ordered to give notice to
the Clerk of the Peace. Every person selling type was ordered to
give an account of all persons to whom they were sold. Every person
who printed anything for him had to keep a copy of the matter printed, and
write on it the name and abode of the person who employed him to print it.
The printer was treated as an enemy of the State, and compelled to become
The most popular part of the contest against the taxes
centred in the repeal of the newspaper stamp. Until the time of the
Reform Bill of 1832, there was little objection to the stamp by Englishmen
in general; they rather thought it an inevitable arrangement. The
Atlas, edited by Mr. H. J. Slack, which had the suggestive intrepidity of
Leigh Hunt's Examiner, said "the Englishman was a stamped animal:
he was tattooed all over. There was not a single spot of his body
corporate that was not stamped several times. He could not move
without knocking his head against a stamp, and before he could arrive at
any station of respectability he must have paid more money for stamps than
would have set him up for life. The stamp penetrates everywhere; it
seizes upon all things, and fixes its claws wherever there is a tangible
substance. Sometimes, indeed, it flies to the intangible, and
quarters itself upon the air, the imagination of man, his avocations, his
insanity, his hopes and prospects, his pleasures and his pains, and does
not scruple to fasten upon his affections. Even love is stamped.
A man cannot fall in love and marry a lady without an acknowledgment of
the omnipotence of the stamp. An Englishman is born to be stamped:
he lives in a state of stamp, and is stamped while he is dying, and after
he is dead."
When Lord John
Russell introduced the Parliamentary Reform Bill in 1831, the stamp on
English newspapers was fourpence. The ordinary price of a newspaper
was sevenpence. The interest excited by the Reform Bill created a
great demand for newspapers among thousands to whom sevenpence was a
prohibitive price. This demand was supplied by publishing newspapers
without a stamp in defiance of the law. Some persons did this to
make a living by supplying a want. Others were actuated by
indignation at the restriction of political knowledge. These ran
great risks and suffered serious penalties. Among them no one was
more distinguished than Henry Hetherington, who published several
unstamped newspapers with news in every column. But the paper on
which he set his heart was the Poor Man's Guardian, price one
penny. This was exactly the kind of paper the suppression of which
was intended by the 10th of Anne and the 60th of George III. The
Guardian's method of obtaining redress of grievance was to call for
Universal Suffrage. It advocated passive resistance to oppressive
laws, and was against violence. But it constantly discussed "every
matter in Church and State." It gave no bond to the Stamp Office
against "blasphemy and sedition," and it paid no stamp duty. More
than five hundred persons were prosecuted for selling it, and Mr.
Hetherington suffered two imprisonments of six months each for publishing
it. He was hunted by the police for years, having to conceal
himself, and enter his place of business in successive disguises.
His shop goods were carried off, and blacksmiths were brought in to
destroy his presses and type.
After three years' persecution, on 17th June, 1834, the
Poor Man's Guardian was brought before the Court of Exchequer.
Henry Hetherington was at the same time sued for publishing the
People's Conservative, a paper at a higher price, which contained a
considerable amount of miscellaneous news. Mr. Hetherington defended
himself in person in a speech interesting, argumentative and resolute.
He said the "odious 60th George III. was the work of the notorious
Lord Castlereagh, who afterwards cut his throat at North Cray, Kent."
Under the Castlereagh Act, he said, it was unlawful to print the Bible in
numbers with any comment thereon. The Solicitor-General contended
that the Guardian and Conservative were clearly newspapers,
as the jury would, on inspecting them, see. He said little, as
convictions followed with mechanical celerity, Lord Lyndhurst said less,
but to more purport—namely, that "the Poor Man's Guardian was a
much more meagre publication than the Conservative, but the jury
could inspect them, and they knew as much about a newspaper as he did."
They did, and their verdict was against the Conservative,
with two penalties, £100 for not delivering the affidavit, and £20 for
selling them unstamped, while their verdict upon the Poor Man's
Guardian was in favour of Mr. Hetherington, who at once exclaimed—"I
am glad of that, for it legalizes the publication." Lord Lyndhurst
then said—"Mr. Hetherington is anxious that it should be understood that
the jury do not think the Poor Man's Guardian comes within the
Act." [See report of trial in the acquitted Guardian of June
21st, 1834.] Thus Lord Lyndhurst volunteered to explain to the jury
the purport of Mr. Hetherington's jubilant exclamation. What could
be the intention of the Tory Radical Chief Baron in practically legalising
the Guardian, for publishing which five hundred persons had been
imprisoned, it is difficult to conjecture. He must have intended to
terminate the disreputable prosecutions continued by the Government, for
he knew that the "meagreness" of the publication was its offence.
The 60th George III. was designed by Castlereagh to restrain papers
"published in great numbers, and at very small prices."] "Meagreness" was
an aggravation rather than an alleviation of the crime. Lord
Lyndhurst knew that the 60th of George III. left standing the Act
10th Queen Anne, which Act declared that "every printed paper containing
news to be dispersed and made public must bear a stamp." He treated
this act as though it was "as dead as Queen Anne" herself. All the
while it had an infamous existence on the Statute Book. He, however,
in suggesting to the jury that a "meagre" publication was exempted shows
that a judge can, when he pleases, annul an Act and virtually create a new
The Inland Revenue Board must have been mad, after obtaining
five hundred convictions under the Act, to be baffled and condemned, and,
as Mr. Collet wrote, the Board "indignantly left the Government and the
Constitution of these realms as well as our holy religion to take care of
themselves evermore" as far as "meagre" papers could trouble them.
They had still the power of action, for they had the 10th of Queen Anne to
go upon, and afterwards they did put it in force on outside instigation.
Of course it was the duty of the Revenue Board to protect those publishers
who did pay the duty against the rivalry of those who did not. But
when public sentiment was against the tax, it became odious to enforce it.
Mr. Alderman Abel Heywood of Manchester, who was one of the
imprisoned, recently stated at a City meeting, when the honorary Freedom
was conferred upon him, that all told in town and country the number
imprisoned was 750.
THE TWELVE YEARS' AGITATION AGAINST THE 10TH OF QUEEN ANNE.
IN 1836 the stamp duty was reduced to a penny.
This put an end to the competition of the unstamped newspaper, but it did
not put an end to unstamped publications. Papers not "meagre" began
to appear as rivals to the stamped press. Among the most eminent
violators of the 10th of Anne were afterwards the Athenæum, the
Builder, and the Penny Magazine. The most defiant
violators of the 60th George III. were subsequently the Reasoner
and the National Reformer.
Our free press has two histories. The right of the free
publication of opinion goes back to the days of Milton's splendid advocacy
of "Unlicensed Printing," and Jeremy Taylor's "Liberty of Prophesying,"
and comes down to the days of Richard Carlile, Watson, Hetherington, and
others. We are not concerned here with the penalties of opinion, but
with the taxes which impeded its expression, though a history of the
twelve years' agitation against these taxes would be an interesting
political story of modern times,
By the Reform Bill of 1832, the government of the country was
consigned to what W. J. Fox called the "Worshipful Company of Ten Pound
Householders," who sent representatives to Parliament who had the merit of
thinking it was time that the dead hand of Queen Anne should be taken off
the press. On March 9, 1849, an association was formed "to obtain
the exemption of the press from all taxation and from all control except
that of a court of law." Francis Place was treasurer; James Watson,
sub-treasurer. Richard Moore, who was afterwards chairman, C. D.
Collet, secretary, and others, were members of the committee, which in
1850 was increased by James Stansfeld, George Dawson, and myself. In
1851, Mr. Milner Gibson, M.P., became president, and J. Alfred Novello
sub-treasurer. The committee was increased by the names of Dr.
Black, John Bright, M.P., R. Cobden, M.P., Passmore Edwards, W. E.
Gladstone, M.P., Joseph Hume, M.P., John Cassell, Thornton Hunt, Professor
T. H. Key, Rev. E. R. Larken, George Henry Lewes, William Scholefield, M.P.,
These persons had no interest to serve, and only resentment
to encounter, in the part they took. It was generous and
disinterested indignation at the injustice and insolence of law that
brought them into the field. The first Lord Shaftesbury wrote—"I
know nothing greater or nobler than the undertaking and managing some
important accusation by which some high criminal of State, or some formed
body of conspirators against the public, may be arraigned and brought to
punishment, through the honest zeal and public affection of a private
man." "Public affection"—a happy phrase, well describes the
sentiment that animated the committee.
The Taxes on Knowledge in 1848 consisted of duties of the
following kind, producing in round numbers
At that time (1848) sixty millions of newspapers were transmitted by post.
The cost of this transmission and the manufacture of stamps, taken at
£150,000, would leave a net revenue from taxes on knowledge of upwards of
It was entirely an uphill enterprize to undertake the
abolition of these long established, fiercely defended, profitable imposts
on ideas. Time and artifice had disguised them from the people most
affected by them. Canning accused the people of "an ignorant
impatience of taxation." He might more reasonably have accused them
of ignorant acquiescence in it. Editors of newspapers, fearing
competition, were mostly against the repeal of the stamp. Paper
makers were against the repeal of the duty on paper, which, being paid in
advance, kept small funded competitors out of the field. Even the
advertisement duty had its defenders, as it kept rival tradesmen from
appealing to the general public. Yet, within twelve years of
incessant and intelligent agitation, all these taxes were swept away by a
committee which never had an average income of £300 a year.
Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden were the great supporters of the
question in Parliament. The leader of the repeal there was Mr.
Milner Gibson. Never had a leader more celebrated supporters.
Never had supporters a more intrepid and ingenious leader. Mr.
Gibson was a young Tory squire when he became member for Ipswich, which
seat he lost through becoming convinced of the common sense of Free Trade.
He was elected member for Manchester, and his fine abilities enriched
Liberalism. He was tall, handsome, with a pleasant, winning
expression, and a singular softness and persuasiveness of speech.
There was, as the Daily News said, "a sparkle in his brisk talk and
light comedy manner," and adversaries were oblivious of the rapier in his
argument until they felt the point. The contrast of a country
gentleman of debonnaire manners being the cordial colleague of
manufacturers and Puritan politicians, was a theme of comment. Mr.
Gibson was a dexterous debater, master of the methods of Parliament, and
excelled in drawing up a resolution which the largest number of those
objecting to it would be compelled to vote for.
Next to Mr. Milner Gibson, the success of the movement with
means so limited, was owing to Mr. Collet Dobson Collet, whose energy,
resource and devices were like Cleopatra's charms, of infinite variety.
At every meeting of the committee he had twenty schemes of action to lay
before them, from which Bright and Cobden and Gibson would select the most
practical, and the most mischievous to the enemy. 
A good secretary, who has enterprize together with deference to the
opinion of those responsible, is master of the movement in which he is
engaged. He at once serves and instructs without offending the
self-respect, or alienating the members by action without their knowledge
and consent. The courageous policy of the committee (founded on that
of Henry Hetherington) was to destroy obnoxious laws by compelling the
Government to enforce them impartially. Odious enactments are
maintained by permitting powerful offenders to escape and applying them to
poorer offenders, who have no means of resistance or retaliation.
By the same policy the Sunday Society might have repealed in
less than twelve years the infamous act of Bishop Porteous, against which
they have been for more than thirty years vainly supplicating.
In the chapter on the "Personal Characteristics of Mr.
Bright," mention is made of Mr. Peter Borthwick's meeting at the City of
London Tavern, called to form a separate society for repealing the
advertisement duty. As a Tory, Mr. Borthwick was against the
diffusion of political information amongst the "masses"—a civil substitute
(about that time invented) for the term "mob." The policy of the
Morning Post was to put the question of the advertisement duty into
other hands, which would have diverted public attention and destroyed the
unity of the demand for the complete emancipation of the press. When
the amendment was carried which I proposed, the Borthwick scheme was heard
of no more. The terms in which The Times mentioned my speech
was of advantage to me. The next day Francis Place spoke of it to
me, saying, in the generous way he had of encouraging young men, that I
might become a useful advocate. This I remember, as it was the first
time I had received approval from him, for, though he freely gave counsel,
he seldom gave praise.
As Punch, the Athenæum, the Builder, and
Dickens's Household Narrative of Current Events all contained news
weekly, and were not required to be stamped, the attention of Mr. Timm, of
the Inland Revenue, was called to these cases. When he intimidated
small country publishers by threatening them with prosecution, he was
asked why he assailed publishers whom prosecution would ruin, and left
unmolested rich offenders who could well defend themselves. Mr.
Timm's answers were never satisfactory. Thereupon further letters
would be sent, pointing out the deficiency of his answers, and a member of
Parliament, often Mr. Gibson, would ask for explanation in the House.
This worried the Inland Revenue Board, and Mr. Timm would seek repose by
not replying to letters. Then questions were again put in Parliament
asking why he was silent when the public interest required information
from him, which made Mr. Timm's life not worth living. Mr. John
Wood, the chairman of the Inland Board of Revenue, said this paltry stamp
tax, which only brought in about £500,000 a year, gave them more trouble
than all the rest of the revenue put together, including the income-tax.
The committee exerted themselves to increase that trouble, and John Stuart
Mill afterwards said that "the committee converted a department," which
can only be done by compelling the administrators to apply their Acts to
rich as well as to poor.
Charles Dickens published the Household Narrative of
Current Events without a stamp, unaware that the 10th of Queen Anne
was not, like its mistress, dead, but only sleeping. The committee
promoted a prosecution, which at once suspended that publication—at a loss
to him, it was said, of £4,000 a year. Two of the three judges,
before whom the case came, decided against Queen Anne, and in favour of
Mr. Dickens. Baron Parke dissented. The Attorney-General
(afterwards Lord Chief Justice Cockburn) agreed with Baron Parke that the
decision was against the law; but it helped the agitation greatly.
The Inland Revenue Board had sleepless nights through our
demand that they should define what was "news." It was not in them
to do it. They could give no unassailable answer. Disraeli
came to their assistance, as the reader will see further on, but failed to
give them relief. When the Dickens trial came on, the cry in the
newspaper offices was—"What the Dickens is news?"
THE "HOLY WAR" OF THE UNSTAMPED PRESS.
EVERY reader of Bunyan knows how the town of Mansoul
was taken in the "Holy War." The taking of Somerset House by the
forces of the No-Stamp Agitators was, if less memorable, not less "Holy,"
for it was the war against political and religious ignorance.
The first Parliamentary triumph against these taxes was on April 14, 1853,
when Mr. Milner Gibson carried a resolution for the total repeal of the
advertisement duty, in which he was supported by the vote of Mr. Disraeli.
Four days later Mr. Gladstone brought in his Budget, which proposed to
reduce the duty from 1s. 6d. to 6d. The resolution that
Mr. Gibson carried pledged the House against the tax, but did not repeal
it. When Mr. Gladstone brought in the Bill to fix the duty at 6d.,
Mr. Gibson moved its total repeal, but he was beaten by 116 votes in
favour of the 6d., only 106 voting against it. The Government,
having performed their duty, went to the clubs or the opera, and left the
House to its divisions on the details in committee. It was moved
that there be a duty of 6d., when Mr. E. J. Craufurd, M.P.
for the Ayr Burghs, who was always at hand in late divisions, moved an
amendment that in the Bill the figure 6 should be omitted and 0
substituted. The House divided, when it proved that there were 77
votes in favour of 0, and only 68 in favour of 6: majority for 0—9.
So the House determined that there should be an advertisement duty of no
pounds, no shillings, no pence, no farthings. "Is this correct?"
asked Mr. Gibson. "Perfectly," answered the Speaker, who was then
Mr. Shaw Lefevre, afterwards Lord Eversley. Mr. Craufurd, appearing
at his club the next day, was saluted with the exclamation:—"See the
conquering Zero comes!" The next morning when Mr. Gladstone awoke,
he found his sixpence irrevocably gone. Ministers were surprised,
and Lord John Russell was said to be very wroth.
William Ewart Gladstone
had greater intellectual independence than any Scotch member of my time.
His father was Mr. Craufurd of Auchinames and Crosby Castle, formerly
Treasurer-General of the Ionian Islands. His mother was Sophia
Mariana, a daughter of Major-General Horace Churchill, and great grand
daughter of Sir Robert Walpole. One of her daughters married Aurelio
Saffi, the second Triumvir of Rome with Mazzini.
In 1833 the duty on advertisements was 3s. 6d. in Great
Britain, and 2s. 6d. in Ireland; it was reduced to 1s.
6d. in Great Britain and 1s. in Ireland. When, in 1853,
the duty was totally repealed, it yielded £180,000.
The policy of the committee of which I write was to encourage publishers
who issued papers liable to the stamp duty to continue doing it, and
inviting them, in case they were interfered with, to communicate with the
committee, who would do what they could to defend them. The
Potteries Free Press and Working Man's Chronicle was one of these papers.
It was published by George Turner, a spirited newsagent of
Stoke-upon-Trent, who announced that the paper was "under the protection
of the Society for Repealing the Taxes on Knowledge." In some cases
Mr. Collet gave his name as publisher, so that he might be answerable for
To incite Somerset House to action when it showed a politic somnolency, it
was decided, at the time of opening Parliament, to get some newspaper of
repute to publish a single copy of its issue containing the Queen's
Speech, without the newspaper stamp, and call upon the Government to
prosecute it. But who would run the risk? I was asked to ascertain
that. All in vain I tried the most likely offices. Then I
asked the paper whose intrepidity I knew—the Leader. The proprietor
was willing, but, being a man of fortune, he prudently consulted his
solicitor, who advised him that the resources of mischief concealed in the
odious Stamp Act were such that he should ask for a £2,000 bond.
They said it ought to be £10,000. There was no means of giving the
bond required, and it fell to me to publish special news without the
stamp. If any paper had complied with the request, we intended
calling upon Mr. Timm at once to prosecute it. It was therefore fair
that proprietors should ask for some indemnity. I believe I inquired
whether the committee could promise any assistance in case of my becoming
involved in liabilities beyond my means. But I soon saw no guarantee
could be given, as the Government, if they had chosen, could condemn me in
fines which would have absorbed Mr. Milner Gibson's whole fortune.
Mr. Collet was of opinion the Government would not go to such an extreme,
but said, for reasons mentioned in the Lord's, Prayer, it was well not to
"lead them into temptation."
After the Dickens decision of the Court of Exchequer, which declared
monthly publications not liable to the stamp duty, I received letters from
Mr. C. D. Collet, saying:—"I hope to complete my arrangements
for publishing my monthly War Chronicle next Wednesday. Will you
publish it for me? paying me at the rate of £3 12s. 2d. per
thousand; no credit. An answer will oblige." Mr. Richard Moore
and Mr. James Hoppey wrote me letters making the same inquiry. In
each case I assented. The news in these Chronicles was mainly made
up from the columns of the Empire, a paper owned by Mr. Thomas Livesey and
edited by John Hamilton (afterwards editor of the Morning Star).
Thus Moore's War Chronicle, Collet's War Chronicle, and Hoppey's War
Chronicle appeared. The fourth Chronicle purported to be
"published by authority" of the Dickens decision in the Court of
Exchequer. We had trouble through the fears of newsvendors;
therefore I sent notices to the "trade" saying that a "Legal War
Chronicle would be published monthly, as several enterprising persons had
announced their intention to start monthly war papers. In order to
secure the public the advantage of continuous news of the war, Messrs. Holyoake and Co. had made arrangements to supply all newsagents with
one of these papers every week. If difficulty was experienced by
booksellers in the country in obtaining the papers, they should write to
Messrs. Holyoake and Co., who would supply them from their office."
These papers being issued on successive Saturdays in the month, the series
gave the public an unstamped newspaper every week. It struck the
Revenue Board as curious that four separate proprietors of monthly papers
should choose me for their publisher, and, as they were entirely wanting
in confidence in my simplicity, they took action. Writs were issued
to alarm us, but the Attorney-General neglected or refused to file
information against the proprietor and publisher. The Board of
Inland Revenue were excited, and wrote letters to all whom they had served
with writs, threatening to anticipate the judgment of the Court of
Exchequer and the verdict of a jury by a summary process. This was
an unconstitutional and unprecedented procedure. To counteract this
threat I assured the vendors, in a further circular, "that it was not
likely proceedings would be taken against them, until conviction had been
obtained against me; and instructed any one who should be summoned to
apply to me or Mr. Collet." As writs were served upon us, and no
information filed, it was clear that there was trouble at the Inland
Revenue Board. I therefore issued in two colours a large placard as
Against the Unstamped Press.
Holyoake and Co.
Announce that, though
Between Fleet Street and Downing Street have been
Yet they have good reason to believe that the Stamp
Office is commanded by
Whose force is destitute of gunboats, and that there is
NO REAL BLOCKADE
In the City of London. Nothing can therefore prevent
the public from being supplied with the
Connivance or Credulity of
The "War Chronicle," Price 1d., is published every
Wednesday morning by
Holyoake and Co.,
147, Fleet Street, London.
Signed-Holyoake and Co., Printers.
While the unstamped papers, described in the previous chapter, were being
issued, I was under daily liability of arrest. The Crown had the
power to arrest every person in my house, seize all the books, and destroy
all the printing presses, as they had done to Mr. Hetherington. I
kept a poncho under the counter with some refreshments in, and was in
attendance during six weeks, to serve the unstamped papers, as I would
never allow any one else to incur the responsibility which I had myself
invoked. My brother Austin was not less ready than myself, but I
asked him to wait his turn. The poncho, I gave to "Count de" Rudio.
At this time Mr. Edward Lloyd, the founder of Lloyd's News, was
publishing a penny picture paper, in which he gave an account of the
escape of a lion, which, though useful information to the public, was
declared to be news. Whereupon Mr. Lloyd found it was less dangerous
to fall in the way of the lion than into the jaw of the Stamp laws.
He was at once told he must stop or stamp. He stamped, raised his
paper to twopence, and lost his circulation. I neither stopped nor
stamped. It was computed in one of the publications of the committee
for repealing these taxes that I sold some 30,000 copies, which, as the
fine upon each was £20, represented fines of £600,000. Besides
these, I published nineteen numbers of the Fleet Street Advertiser, which
had not a large sale, but every number was liable to the same fine.
The best subscriber to it was the Inland Revenue Board themselves, whose
agent came regularly every Saturday morning and purchased the first half-dozen copies, so that I was in for £120 of fine before breakfast.
In nineteen weeks my liability from official custom alone amounted to
£2,280. Finally, I was summoned to the Court of Exchequer to answer
to my liability, which obliged me to say that the Chancellor of the
Exchequer would oblige me by taking the amount weekly, as I had not the
money by me. Mr. Gladstone was then the Chancellor, and in my
absence from town my brother Austin was one of a deputation to him.
Mr. Gladstone said, in his gracious way, "He knew my object was not to
break the law, but to try the law." Fortunately for me, the Repeal
of the Stamp Duty took place shortly after. Though my solicitors,
Messrs. Ashurst and Son, put in an appearance on my behalf, the case
was never proceeded with, and I have never applied to have it opened.
All the while I was publishing every week forbidden news in the Reasoner.
The attention of the Board of Inland Revenue was called to the fact that
they were neglecting their duty by not indicting me, as the Reasoner had
always published news without a stamp. Eventually they resolved to
do it. Their reluctance arose from not wishing to give State
publicity to a journal which was not so orthodox as could be desired.
As I was a Freeman of the City of London, and my house was within the
precincts of the City, it was necessary to take me before the Lord Mayor
at the Mansion House. Then they found that the City authorities were
opposed to having a press prosecution in the City. The reputation of
those they had had in the days of Hone and Carlile was such that they
coveted no more of it. So the Government left alone the Reasoner,
the oldest defiant paper in London at that time.
This defiancy of issue of War Chronicles was done not only in spite of
interest and ignorance, but in spite of newsvendors. Though they
were selling two hundred illegal papers, they were insensible to their own
danger. They held a meeting in St. Martin's Hall a few nights
before the Repeal, and sent a deputation to Mr. Gladstone with
instructions to dissuade him from going on with his bill. On the
other hand, we sent him word urging him to proceed with it. Being a
newsvendor myself, I attended the St. Martin's Hall meeting, and
moved an amendment in favour of their supporting the Repeal in their own
The newsvendors were present in considerable numbers at some of the public
meetings. Their fear was that the introduction of penny papers would
deprive them of their profits. Mr. Cobden on one occasion said to
them, "He had no doubt. that could he meet them a few years hence
they would acknowledge that their extreme susceptibility to the interests
of their pockets had exceedingly blinded their mental vision."  This
they have long since admitted.
END OF THE FREE PRESS TERROR.
THE Midland Railway, by putting third class
carriages in all its trains, was the first to bring the workman to his
destination at the same time as the gentleman. It was foreseen that
the repeal of the newspaper stamp would do more for the workman, for it
would bring all the news of the world to his door before his employer was
out of bed. Instead of having to wait a week for his master's
second-hand newspaper, he would have one of his own. This was worth
The Inland Revenue Board was drawn into an ethical difficulty. I
sent a memorial asking that the Reasoner, of which I was proprietor, might
be put upon the same footing as several other publications, religious and
literary, which by the use of the stamp were permitted to pass through the
post office free. The privilege was worth the penny, and I was
willing to pay that sum for it. This cost "my Lords" of the
Treasury, the Revenue Office, and the Postmaster, some tribulation.
Messrs. Ashurst, Waller, and Morris revised my memorial, and
conducted a disquieting correspondence with the Board. Mr. Ashurst
had been, as I have said, the adviser of Sir Rowland Hill in the affair of
the penny postage, and was master of the art of giving discomfort to the
official mind, in the most constitutional way.
When they asked for a reply from the Treasury, the Chancellor of the
Exchequer wrote to acquaint my solicitors that "an official communication
will be addressed to Mr. Holyoake from the Lords of the Treasury in reply
to his memorial." At length Mr. J. P. Godby informed me
that "the Postmaster-General had been pleased to authorize the Reasoner to
circulate under the usual newspaper privileges, provided each copy is duly
stamped in accordance with the regulation of the office." Mr. Ashurst replied that "Mr. Holyoake, upon application at the Stamp Office,
was told that the Reasoner could not be stamped, unless he made a
declaration that the Reasoner is a newspaper, which it is not; and that
Mr. Holyoake declined to make any such declaration, as it would be false,
and was advised that it would be a misdemeanour to do so." The
opinion of Mr. Hoggins, Q.C., and Mr. Phinn, Q.C., which Mr. Ashurst had
taken, decided that "it was a misdemeanour besides an act of immorality to
declare the thing which was not. The essence of the definition of
perjury is that it is a false statement made in some judicial proceeding,
but a false declaration that a paper is a newspaper which is not a
newspaper is a statutable misdemeanour."
I sent to "my Lords" a list of seventeen publications with the names and
addresses of the publishers, all of which obtained post-office privileges
by means of a "false declaration." Three of these were the
Missionary Intelligencer, The Clerical Journal, and the Protestant
Magazine. Clearly these journals were no more newspapers than the
Reasoner, yet they made a declaration that they were. Mr. Godby was
reduced to the necessity of advising me to make a "false declaration" as
the only means of obtaining post-office privileges. Thus we worried
the departments, and showed that they connived at public falsehood and
gave a premium of privilege to it.
In 1855 the newspaper stamp was abolished. On June 13, 1861, the
paper duty followed. The agitation for this repeal was fruitful in
devices and in curious incidents, though free from the dangerous penalties
of the earlier agitation. In the Gazette of the society, Mr. Collet
had to write (May, 1861) an article "On the Tax which Nobody Paid."
It was proved logically and conclusively, by officials and politicians,
that the duty was a tax which came out of nobody's pocket—and how the
Chancellor of the Exchequer collected it was the only thing left
We owed the repeal of the paper duty to Mr. Gladstone. The
opposition in Parliament held the loss to the revenue to be £1,252,000.
No other Chancellor of the Exchequer would have taken the risk of this
loss with the income tax at tenpence in the pound. The Bill Mr.
Gladstone drew was far more comprehensive as to the removal of incidental
restrictions than the one passed under Sir George Cornewall Lewis's
manipulation. The philosophical baronet was far excelled by Mr.
Gladstone. Where a thing was right Mr. Gladstone went all the way of
If the reader should look into the People's Review edited by me, and into
volumes of the Reasoner from 1849 to 1862, he will find more authentic
documents and a fuller record of facts concerning this agitation than
elsewhere, save in the Gazette of the association for the repeal of these
taxes, and in official records in Mr. Collet's possession. The
readers of the Reasoner made repeated subscription in aid of the
agitation. For the testimonial to Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. John
Francis, the secretary, said I collected in town and country £200. I
knew everybody who would give anything for agitations of progress, and, as
I went about the country speaking, I could, without expense to the
committee, promote their objects.
Mr. John Francis, publisher of the Athenæum, whose remarkable life has
been published by his son, was distinguished in a high degree by public
spirit, practical judgment, and untiring persistence. He contributed
greatly to the abolition of the paper duty by establishing a "Newspaper
and Periodical Press Association" in support of it. Mr. Milner
Gibson and his Parliamentary and public colleagues continued the fight
until the repeal of that obstructive impost was won. In 1861, a
testimonial of several hundred pounds was presented to Mr. Gibson by a
committee of whom Robert Chambers was treasurer.
A secretary of sagacity, energy, and resource is the maker of a movement,
and Mr. Collet, who had been the secretary of the "Association for
Repealing the Taxes on Knowledge" from the beginning to the end (and for
seven years of the time his services were honorary) had well earned a
testimonial. Afterwards (1862) one was presented to him with
grateful unanimity. On the committee were the names of W. H. Ashurst, A. S. Ayrton, M.P., E. H. J. Craufurd, M.P., W. E. Hickson, Dr. J. A. Langford,
M. E. Marsden, S. Morley, J. Stansfeld, M.P., P. A. Taylor, M.P., Washington Wilks, and Professor F. W.
Newman. Each name had honour in it.
In 1859, Mr. Milner Gibson having accepted the office of President of the
Board of Trade, Mr. Ayrton took charge of the Repeal of the Paper Duty.
To Mr. Acton Smee Ayrton also belongs the credit of carrying (Feb. 7, 1861) the abolition of the Security System. He had before carried
the Bill three times through the House of Commons, only to be rejected by
Success was owing to others also, who on the platform gave their great
influence to the society. A greater array of eminent men took part
in this work than in any other agitation of that time. No cause, not
even those of the Anti-Corn Law League, provided for the public of London
a more interesting platform of speakers than the Anti-Knowledge Tax
Society. On the night of its first public meeting (December 1,
1852), Douglas Jerrold was in the chair at St. Martin's Hall.
Cobden, Milner Gibson, Charles Knight, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, M.A.
(the uncle of Herbert Spencer), George Henry Lewes (who was one of the
speakers), Samuel Wilderspin, and others were present. George
Cruikshank was one who, when Jerrold saw him enter the committee room,
exclaimed—"Now, George, remember that water is very very good anywhere
except upon the brain."' Cruikshank had become a vehement teetotaller,
which Jerrold was not.
Bright spoke on other occasions, as did Cobden. Other speakers were
George Dawson, with his easy, luminous, satiric audacity; and Dr. John
Watts, with his measured metallic voice, clear statement, and confident
mastery of facts. Dr. Watts, in earlier years a fellow social
missionary with me in the Robert Owen movement, was always the advocate of
On other occasions we had as speakers G. A. Sala, George
Thompson, John Cassell, Professor Key, Charles Knight, Edward Miall,
Serjeant Parry, and W. J. Fox. One night Horace Greeley,
the founder of the New York Tribune, who, twice visited me at Fleet
Street, displayed a newspaper "of vast dimensions when unfolded," to an
Exeter Hall audience who had never seen anything like it. "That is
what we have for a few cents in America," exclaimed Greeley, "where we
have no taxes on knowledge."
At a soiree given to Mr. Milner Gibson at the
Whittington Club in 1854, at which Sir John Shelley presided, Samuel
Lucas, of the Morning Star (who
married a sister of Mr. Bright), and Mr. Cobden spoke. Mr. Gibson
proposed "The memory of Francis Place, Henry Hetherington and the
agitators of 1836."
It was Leigh Hunt, in the early days of the Examiner,
who first used the phrase, "Taxes upon knowledge"—a phrase which passed to every tongue.
Lord Lytton, then Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer, was the next conspicuous
person who used it, and some erroneously thought he originated it.
Though that was not so, he acquired patent rights in it. On the
famous night when the stamp fell, I was in the House of Commons when the
10th of Queen Anne was put to death. It was on the 26th of March,
1855, and I was present from four o'clock in the afternoon until nearly
one o'clock next morning.
Mr. Bouverie had vacated the chair, the usher raised the mace, the Speaker
took his seat, and announced with a voice reverberant as the Long
Parliament—loud enough to reach into innumerable sessions to come—that the
Chancellor of the Exchequer's (Sir George Cornewall Lewis) Bill would be
While Mr. Deedes moved an amendment (in a dull, insipid, gaseous speech,
of the carbonic acid kind) to defer the second reading of the Bill, a
fashionably-dressed, slenderly-built member appeared on the right of the
gangway taking notes. From the Speaker's Gallery he seemed a young
man. Before the dull Deedes had regained his seat, the
elegantly-looking lounger from the club threw down his hat and caught the
Speaker's eye. Rebuking his "honourable friend" (Deedes) for
assuming that the House had not had time to understand the bill before it,
he announced that twenty years ago he (the lounger) had introduced a
similar Bill into Parliament. Strangers then knew that Sir Edward
Bulwer Lytton was the member addressing the House. It was said that
Sir Edward purchased his baronetcy by compromising the Newspaper Stamp
Bill of 1836. Be this as it may, he nobly vindicated his liberal and
literary fame by his brilliant speech this night. "Do not fancy," he
exclaimed, "that this penny tax is a slight imposition. Do not fancy
that a penny paper is necessarily low and bad. Once there existed a
penny daily paper—it was called the Spectator. Addison and Steele
were its contributors. It did more to refine the manners of the
people than half the books in the British Museum. Suddenly a penny
tax was put on that penny paper, and so one fatal morning, the most
pleasing and graceful instructor that ever brought philosophy to the
vanished from the homes of men. A penny tax sufficed to extinguish
the Spectator and divorce that exquisite alliance which genius had
established between mirth and virtue."
This fine passage was worthy of the occasion.
Nothing comparable to it was said during the debate. What might have
been the condition of society had the interval of more than a century,
between Sir Richard Steele and Charles Knight, been illumined by the
activity of a free press, instead of the weary period between the Spectator and
being one of the parlimentary depression of literature!
Mr. Miall rose several times without catching Mr. Speaker's eye. At
length the House observing him, courteously called, "Miall, Miall."
The honourable member for Rochdale, who had then begun to wear a beard,
and looked all the sturdier a Nonconformist for doing so, then addressed
the House; and his speech was as forcible, as compact, as
sharply-chiselled, as anything spoken that night, not excepting Mr.
Gladstone's, felicitous speech on the Sardinian loan five hours before.
Sir George Cornewall Lewis spoke more fluently than report gave him credit
for; more fluently than Palmerston, who was, gutteral, halting, and
inelegant. Disraeli's voice, commonly silvery, was, on this night,
thick and explosive. His definition of "news" was ludicrous.
"N E W S," he said, was derived from the four points of the compass—North,
East, West, and South. A fact from one point was not news; a fact
from all four was. Whether one fact could come from all four points
at once, he did not inform the House.
Those who say old convictions are never shaken, nor votes, won by debate,
should have stood in the lobby at midnight after this division. A
burly country squire of the Church-and-King species—fat and circular as a
prize pig—a Tory "farmers' friend," born with the belief that a free press
would lead to an American Presidency in St. Stephen's, and that the
penny stamp was the only barrier in the way of a French Convention in this
country, and that Gibson, Cobden, and Bright, were counterparts of Danton,
Robespierre, and Marat in disguise—this obese legislator, nudging a
Liberal who had voted in the majority, said, "I gave a vote on your side
to-night! Lytton convinced me." A triumph of oratory that for Sir
Edward! 215 voted for a free press on this night—161 against; majority 54.
Lord Palmerston, be it said, threw in some determined and valuable words
before the vote.
The next week we placed a new motto on our War Fly-sheet, as
follows:—"Consisting exclusively of intelligence from the Seat of War in
the East, and published in accordance with the recorded and mature
judgment of the Right Hon. Benjamin Disraeli, formerly Chancellor of
the Exchequer, that intelligence from only one point of the compass is not
News." According to this dictum, an American, an African, or
Continental journal was not a newspaper, when its news was indigenous.
The New York Tribune was not a newspaper when its information was
American. The Journal des Debats was not a newspaper if its matter
was exclusively French. Oh, ingenious Benjamin Disraeli! Of the two
men of literary renown in the House, Bulwer spoke up for freedom of
knowledge—Disraeli voted against it.
Every member of Parliament had been supplied by adversaries with a paper
marked "For immediate perusal." It consisted of various extracts
from the Reasoner, supposed to be specially calculated to awaken the
terrors of the House at the prospect of an unstamped press. A
passage was quoted which recorded Mr. Cowen's permission to incorporate
the Northern Tribune in the Reasoner. That was thought to forbode
the immediate dissolution of the Empire. A parody I had written on
the Rev. Brewin Grant's style of controversy was given as also a ground of
alarm. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton took up the circular, and commenting
upon it, said it had increased his disgust at the opponents of the
measure. He called it "trumpery—an eclecticism of twaddled bugbear."
It happened that these "twaddlers in bugbear" had used an unrevised list
of Members of Parliament and sent copies to twelve dead members. The
Postmaster, finding the circulars bore no writer's name and no printer's
name, but guided by the subject, supposed them to be some advertisement I
had issued, ordered them to be sent to the "Publisher of the Reasoner
Newspaper." Thus the secret circular was a dead opposition—sent to
dead members—returned to the Dead Letter Office—proving a dead failure.
The English Churchman said that "the Reasoner was at the bottom of this
agitation." Every member of the House of Commons and House of Lords
was told it; yet in after years, when the blessings of the repeal of the
taxes on knowledge were admitted by all classes, I found Christian organs,
which declared in 1855 that the Reasoner was the cause, claiming the
victory themselves, and declaring we had nothing to do with it.
The Government itself gave an instance of this contradictoriness.
Their Stamp Bills included the precise measures indicated in the memorials
I had sent to the Treasury. The Lords of the Treasury had told me
six months before that "they had no power to grant my request of posting
the Reasoner with an ordinary postage stamp. "They had no power—the
law did not authorise them to grant my request." This was the
stereotyped official answer which had strangled a hundred agitations.
No movement ever went beyond this point before. We sent the reply of
their lordships to eminent counsel, who answered that the lords had the
power. In another memorial we respect fully submitted these opinions
to the Treasury. "My Lords" then replied (but not admitting their
power) saying "they had caused a Bill to be prepared for giving them the
power." Yet on the night of the debate Sir George Cornewall Lewis
assured the House of Commons that no Bill on the matter of postage was
necessary, for his colleagues had the power to make a Treasury warrant
whereby unstamped publications could be admitted to postal privileges at
any rate determined upon. The power which the lords under their own
seal told us (see Reasoner, No. 457, p. 315) they could not
exercise, they told the House of Commons a few weeks later they could.
Thus the association which undertook to free the press from all taxation
did free it. When it concluded its agitation, advertisements were
free. The stamp upon political knowledge was abolished. News
was no longer criminal. The exciseman was banished from paper
manufactories, and editors were no longer a criminal class who had to give
heavy bail for their good behaviour.
OUTSPOKENNESS is not sensationalism, though it may
cause sensation. Outspokenness is the plain, bold, honest, statement
of principle. It is reasoned truth, without dishonouring imputation
on any of a different way of thinking. Sensationalism is attracting
attention by device or language which causes surprise and excitement—appealing to ignorance, passion, or prejudice, regardless whether it pains
or repels permanently, providing it answers profitably for the purpose of
attracting readers or hearers.
One evil of sensational advocacy is that it allures for a time chiefly a
class of people who care only for the gratification "of giving the
adversary as good as he sends." Applauding from the love of
excitement, caring nothing for the principle, the sensationalists can
never be counted upon; when trouble comes they desert those whom they have
cheered into danger. This is not the worst result of the policy of
outrage. The practical adherents of the cause are compromised by
excesses, and stand aloof from a cause discredited by extravagance.
A town is often set against a movement which seems without
self-controlling principle, and the advocacy of the cause is killed there.
The class of citizens of most influence cease to countenance sensational
exhibitions, and, when the halls are once closed against the wilder sort
of advocates, no one able to do it takes any part in getting them
reopened, lest the same thing should occur again. I have known many
towns in which honest and advanced movements have been extinguished in
this way for years.
The public hall in Nottingham could at one time be had for the public
discussion with the clergy. Mr. Charles Southwell encountered the
Rev. Brewin Grant there, giving him in the way of vituperation "as good as
he sent." Those who approved of sceptics being assailed did not
approve of the reprisal, and arranged that the authorities should refuse
the hall. The debate ended in tumult, and long years elapsed before
discussions with ministers occurred there again. Before that time,
there were ministers of the quality of the Rev. Alexander Syme, entirely
dispassionate and fair, and discussions with them were informing to the
public. A calculating advocate of Christianity could succeed in
closing the halls in any town by inciting foolish adversaries to debate in
his own way, when a pretext was furnished for those who distrusted all
discussion to get discussion prohibited.
A hall which had cost a considerable sum to erect could have its value
destroyed almost in a night by one wild lecturer. Some Freethought
speakers consider themselves authorised to be free lances—whereas a free
lance is a free traitor, taking credit for aiding a party which he
destroys, and all the while helping the party to which he pretends to be
opposed. Liberty merely means the power of doing what is
right—whereas the sensationalist takes it to be freedom to do what suits
his purpose. Denunciation being much easier than argument,
denunciation is mostly cultivated.
A generous-minded confectioner in Plymouth, thinking it discreditable that
there should be no place in the town where liberal opinions could be
advocated, sold his business and devoted his savings to the erection of a
hall which he thought might, by letting, yield sufficient for his moderate
needs—he being an abstainer on principle, and distinguished by heroic
self-denial. I warned him that unless he used judgment as to the
speakers, he would find the commercial value of the property destroyed.
Not understanding that secular thought required as much regulation and
control as religious advocacy, he made no conditions, and the result was
that the place acquired the colour of extreme heresy in a few months, and
was entirely unlettable for general purposes, as the townsfolk would not
go there. The result was ruin to him.
Sensationalism, besides the disadvantage it has brought upon a cause, has
often proved perilous through the disadvantage it has brought upon the
individual. Some will go to extremes in encouraging extremes.
Excitement and zeal will lead to sacrifices beyond the means of those who
make them. This led me to discourage gifts which, when the day of
reaction came, would cause regret. A young German gentleman, Max
Kyllman, sent for me one morning to an hotel in Regent Street, and offered
me two bank notes for promoting the law of affirmation. Not knowing
his resources or connections, I gave him one back, saying that "at a
future time, if more money was needed I would let him know." Mr. Le
Blond, in 1855, for several weeks gave me £10 every Sunday morning at
South Place Chapel, as loans for the Fleet Street House. After the
fifth morning I refused to take more. At an early period in secular
advocacy, I proposed that gift or sacrifice, for public principles, should
be based on tithes, not to exceed one-tenth of the giver's means—as he who
gave more was likely one day to discourage others who observed or suffered
from the consequences of his enthusiasm.
Persecution sometimes incites sensationalism, which is then held as
justifying persecution to put it down. If those assailed contented
themselves with simply maintaining what was, unfairly prohibited, just as
though the prohibition was not, persecution would be equally defeated,
right would be equally vindicated, and persecution afforded no pretext for
recommending itself. The harm of ostentatious defiance by a minority
is that power is irritated and becomes more vindictive and intimidating.
Those who show the greatest daring are themselves commonly ruined.
If their courage sustains them, and they do not repine themselves, their
families spread warnings and dismay by telling the story of the
disadvantages brought upon them. Then many who could afford to
resist are alarmed, and do nothing. The hero of extreme defiance
often goes to the other extreme himself, and, after keeping no terms with
the Church, ends in taking a pew in it and being as ostentatious in
supporting as he was in defying it, without the justification of believing
The clergy do not know their own business when they keep what they call
"blasphemy laws" on the statute books, since they repress extremes by
which they can always profit. I am neither for time-serving nor for
cowardice. I am for courage and good sense—I am for a man doing all
he can, and not attempting more than he can carry through. He who
errs in extremes by miscalculation is to be respected—he who errs from not
calculating at all is disentitled to respect. I confine myself to
the detail of effects which I myself have seen.
Many years after my visit to Cheltenham, before described, I had a third
time an opportunity of speaking there. Covetous of publicity in the
papers for what I had to say, I drew up a placard which might excite
curiosity without recalling the memory of the resentful past. I,
however, failed entirely to get the ear of the press—by no act of my own.
Two friends I much valued, who happened to be visitors there, were
desirous of retaliating upon the town for its former treatment of me.
Yielding to them, I accepted the placard which they drew up. It
contained disturbing lines. I was under no illusion as to the
consequences. The public were instantly excited. Some of the
residents, in favour of my views, applauded the project of retaliation,
and many others who cared more for excitement than conviction made
themselves prominent in approval of the proposed attack. In that
town my own pride incited me to defiance, and, with command of the press,
I should have had satisfaction and success. When the hour of action
came, most of the residents who should have stood by me left me to the
consequences. The owner of the hall engaged was intimidated by the
authorities, and the doors were locked. A large room in an inn was
procured with difficulty at the last hour. Not a single resident
would give his name to indict the owner of the hall for breach of contract
after duly letting it. Costs I had incurred beyond my means I was
left to defray. Not a single journal ventured to report the
proceedings. My original object, which was to reunite the friends of
Freethought in the place, was entirely defeated, and never since has any
party of protest or exposition existed in the town. Retaliation is
very pleasant, but it is not often propagandism. This maxim is true
in political, in moral, and in religious agitation.
IN the early days of the Reasoner, a
gentleman called upon me, saying he wished to contribute an argument upon
the existence of Deity. He was a tall, low-speaking man, expensively
dressed, and he sometimes came in a carriage with two horses—leaving them
in a street near to my house. He gave the name of Aliquis, and
desired to be known only by that name. It was ten years later before
I knew his name to be Mr. George Gwynne. As he did not wish his name
to transpire, I made no attempt to know it. He frequently sent
cheques for £5, and occasionally more, to the Reasoner Fund. His
ambition was to reply to a much paraded "Demonstration of the Existence of
Deity" by one who, I believe, was a countryman of his—William Gillespie,
of Bathgate, Scotland. No writer who assailed us was so dry,
abstract, unimaginative as Mr. Gillespie; and Aliquis, in reasoning
against him, acquired like qualities. Though both disputants had
great powers of sequence, it was, as respects popular interest, the most
sawdust controversy we ever had in that journal. Aliquis would never
publish anything until he had discussed every line of his paper with me.
When I thought the argument should be differently expressed, or changed in
character, he would spend days in recasting it. He usually came to
me at night when I was well weary of the day's work, and made me read and
analyse for hours every line of his argument. In this way I earned
far more than the subscriptions he made to the Reasoner. It was
impossible not to acquire the belief that the existence of Deity became
much less apparent during the wearisome years these two clever gentlemen
spent in endeavouring to make it plain. They gave me the impression
that theistical disputants had little material to go upon. Aliquis's
was, like Gillespie's, dry-bone argument—a well-articulated frame of logic
without a bit of flesh upon it.
True, writers without a gleam of imagination or a single striking sentence
on their pen will expect you to publish their articles, which would kill a
hundred readers a week and fill with dismay a thousand others. True,
a proposition of Euclid has no single sentence which has any gleam of
genius in it, but the whole proposition may be as delightful as a poem to
him who eventually understands it. But such articles are for
students and must be sparsely introduced in a paper for general reading.
No popular paper can be conducted by charity. An editor must have
money to pay for articles of such quality and variety as he may suggest or
select. It is insufficient means that generally render propagandist
journals uninteresting save to the converted.
I might here remark that money sent me for public purposes, received only
on that ground, and publicly acknowledged as such, and spent with the
knowledge of the subscribers, I was sometimes called upon to repay.
One, a farmer in the Isle of Arran, whose proneness to extremes in
advocacy I at times restrained, and who had sent £10 for the Fleet Street
House, many years after threatened an action to recover the amount, with
compound interest up to date.
William Honyman Gillespie, of Torbane Hill, Bathgate, had also an office
in Melville Street, Edinburgh. Mr. Arthur Trevelyan had chambers in
the same building, with only a partition wall between them. Neither
knew nor suspected the identity of the other. Yet for many years
they were in epistolary conflict. Coming downstairs one day from his
chambers, Mr. Trevelyan suffered collision with a gentleman coming up.
They mutually apologised and exchanged cards.
"Dear me," said Mr. Gillespie, looking at the card he had received, "are
you Mr. Arthur Trevelyan? I am Mr. William Gillespie."
"Dear me," exclaimed Mr. Trevelyan, "we have been writing against each
other for nine years, with only a partition wall between us without
knowing it. We might have discussed our differences with less
trouble had we been aware how near we were to each other."
Gillespie always dating from Bathgate, and Trevelyan from Pencaitland,
their neighbourhoodship in Edinburgh did not transpire between them.
Mr. Gillespie was the most uninteresting and self-sufficient of all the
adversaries we encountered. The Rev. Brewin Grant had a diverting
offensiveness; but Mr. Gillespie had his boundless egotism without being
diverting at all. When he had come to an end of a series of his
dreary letters, he wrote—"I need not tell you that our debate is finished.
No one can be in any doubt as to how the discussion terminated. My
adversary—to say nothing of his coadjutors—was flagrantly beaten."
Yet all the while Mr. Gillespie was the most abstract, dull, and dry of
all disputants. He had a leaden style, and no particle of
imagination glimmered anywhere about it. The sawdust style is not
uncommon in literature, but these controversialists excelled in it.
Mr. Arthur Trevelyan was the brother of Sir Walter Trevelyan, and uncle of
Sir George Otto Trevelyan. Mr. Arthur had the strong decision of
opinion which characterised the Trevelyan family. He acted on
Archbishop Whately's principle—he not only "believed the opinions he
maintained, but maintained them because he believed them." Whenever
any emergency arose in the advocacy of views in which he was interested,
his support could always be counted upon. If any one applied to me
for aid which I was willing but unable to render, and I communicated the
case to Mr. Trevelyan, he was sure to aid.
When I wrote the pamphlet, "The Social Means of Promoting Temperance,"
apart from a Maine Law, it was inscribed to "Arthur Trevelyan, J.P., of
Pencaitland, the constant helper by his means, his influence and his
example, of Social Progress and Unsectarian Temperance."
Arthur Trevelyan had more life in his writing than either of the others.
His interests were wider. He cared for men and little for a priori
abstractions. He had distinctive thoughts and passages in his
communications which were worth noting. Still, he had a catapult
style, and threw his arguments at the reader. They were unconnected;
you could not tell whence they sprung; but they hit, and often hurt, the
enemy. Arthur Trevelyan, like all his family, had the courage of his
convictions. He sacrificed a valuable estate in his youth for
love—preferring to marry one whom he liked, to a fortune. Like his
brother, Sir Walter, he was an imperious abstainer. He did not
believe in temperance—but in prohibition. One day, as I walked with
him through his estate in Midlothian, where he had suppressed all the
inns, he directed my attention to a girl with her mother's shawl hanging
down over her dress. "That girl," he said, "has a bottle of whiskey
suspended to her neck. She is the walking public-house of this
I answered that "It was a sad sight, and a bad method of enforcing
abstention by demoralizing girls. It would be better to do as Lady
Noel Byron did on her estates—keep the inns in her own hands, employing
persons to manage them at a salary, they having no interest in selling
drink, and whose instruction should be to serve but a limited quantity to
Difference of opinion brought no estrangement. Arthur Trevelyan had
as much tolerance in opinion as he had zeal—a rare thing in one who has
STRANGE PROCEEDINGS OF A MAN WHO WAS AFTERWARDS BEHEADED.
SEVERAL times I had received letters urging me to
visit a friend in the West of England, whose daughter had read many
publications of mine, and much desired to converse with me upon some of
the subjects which had interested her. This led her father to invite
me to spend a few days at his home. It appeared the young lady had
been in ill-health for some time, and when she heard that I was in the
courtyard, and about to enter the house, she expired. Afterwards I
was his guest on two or three occasions. He wished a remaining
daughter to be educated abroad. Her father made many remittances to
the master, but heard very little of the pupil, and for a time nothing.
One day he received a letter requesting an immediate remittance of money
to defray the expenses of her burial, with thoughtful assurances that,
since he could do no good, he need not give himself the pain of coming.
This suspicious solicitude determined him. Being a man of
promptitude, instead of sending the money he went himself, and found his
daughter alive. He did not arrive too soon, for it was feared it was
intended that she should die. She was confined in a room with so
little to eat that other residents in the house, whose sympathy was called
to her condition, sometimes threw her food over the fanlight of her
chamber. Her father brought her back to his house straightway.
Afterwards he took a foreigner into the house for the purpose of having
his daughter privately educated in languages at home. His sympathy
with the struggles of Continental nations at that time blinded him to the
fact that everybody is not good even in a kingdom of patriots, and he was
again unfortunate in his choice. The teacher he selected had a
French wife. My friend's daughter being motherless, the French lady,
who had assuming ways, and was a Lady Macbeth in determination, soon
interfered in the control of the house. The foreign teachers became
distasteful to the pupil, and, very little progress being made, they were
ultimately desired to leave, when they refused to go.
The intruders had good discernment, and found out that the gentleman would
be subject to unpleasant remarks from his neighbours if it transpired that
his sympathy for foreign nationalities, of which they disapproved, had
been ill-placed. The astute teachers concluded that he would be
likely to sacrifice money rather than that the unsatisfactory relations
with them should become known. My friend was anxious on this account to
secure a peaceable departure of his vexatious guests; but there was a
limit to which this apprehension might be pushed, of which they were not
aware. The foreign lady had made herself a terror. Daily and
increasing alarm being created in the house, the daughter one morning ran
into the garden to her father for protection. He was a tall,
powerfully built man, a Saul in stature, and commonly went about with a
long staff, which looked like a young tree from its height and girth.
He strode into the house, determined to put an end to the impudence of a
forced occupancy of his home by strangers. On his appearance thus
armed, the foreigner, who was pacing up and down the parlour, at once saw
that mischief was meant, and drew a stiletto. Upon seeing this the
host threw away the staff and prepared for a fight in the English manner.
Whether the unfamiliar mode of attack dismayed his adversary or the fury
displayed by one whose single blow might have broken the bones of the foe,
the foreigner capitulated in haste.
A cab was called, and the host went in it to the railway. This act
passed for a courteous attention to his guests, but it was really a police
precaution to see that they left the district. Forty sovereigns was
given them for their journey.
This foreigner was Pieri, who was afterwards beheaded with Orsini, at La
Roquette. It was believed that he acted under the inspiration and
terror of the formidable lady he had with him. Conspiracy might be a
relief from such dominion. Anyhow a man who was capable of entering
into a dangerous plot at the imminent risk of sacrificing his life, with a
view to save his country, could not be wholly base; and if he had been,
such perilous devotion as he displayed for the advantage of two nations
was some atonement.
――――End of Volume I.――――