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- Prisoner for Blasphemy - 34/34 -


could take the lead of men. Nor must I forget Mr. Robert Forder, the Secretary of the National Secular Society, who acted as shopman at our publishing office, and sustained the business by his assiduity. I had also to thank Dr. Aveling for his interim editorship of the _Freethinker_, and the admirable manner in which he had conducted _Progress_.

The first number of the _Freethinker_ under my fresh editorship appeared on the following Thursday. In concluding my introductory address I said:

"I promise the readers of the _Freethinker_ that they shall, so far as my powers avail, find no diminution in the vigor and vivacity of its attacks on the shams and superstitions of our age. Not only the writer's pen, but the artist's pencil, shall be busy in this good work; and the absurdities of faith shall, if possible, be slain with laughter. Priests and fools are, as Goldsmith said, the two classes who dread ridicule, and we are pledged to an implacable war with both."

The artist's pencil! Yes, I had resolved to repeat what I was punished for. I left written instructions against the publication of Comic Bible Sketches in the _Freethinker_ during my imprisonment; but although I would not impose the risk on others, I was determined to face it myself. A fortnight after my release the Sketches were resumed, and they have been continued ever since. My reasons for this decision were expressed at a public banquet in the Hall of Science on March 12. I then said:

"Mr. Bradlaugh has said that the Freethought party--which no one will dispute his right to speak for--looks to me, among others, after my imprisonment, to maintain with dignity whatever position I have won. I hope I shall not disappoint the expectation. But I should like it to be clearly understood that I consider the most dignified attitude for a man who has just left gaol after suffering a cruel and unjust sentence, for no crime except that of thinking and speaking freely, is to stand again for the same right he exercised before, to pursue the very policy for which he was attacked, precisely because he _was_ attacked, and to flinch no hair's breadth from the line he pursued before, at least until the opposition resorts to suasion instead of force, and tries to win by criticism what it will never win by the gaol. It is my intention to-morrow morning to drive to the West of London, and to leave the first copy of this week's _Freethinker_ pulled from the press at Judge North's house with my compliments and my card."

Prolonged applause greeted this announcement, and I kept my word. Judge North had the first copy of the re-illustrated _Freethinker_ and I hope he relished. At any rate, it showed him, as John Bright says, that "force is no remedy."

At the banquet I refer to I was presented with a purse of gold, in common with Mr. Ramsey, and an Illuminated Address, which ran as follows:

"To GEORGE WILLIAM FOOTE, Vice-President of the National Secular Society, who suffered for twelve months in Holloway Gaol for the so-called offence of Blasphemy.

"In offering you on your release this illuminated address, and the accompanying purse of gold, we do not seek to give you recompense for the sufferings and insults which have been heaped upon you. We bring them only as a symbol of our thanks to you--thanks, because, on your trial, you spoke nobly for the right of free speech on religious questions; thanks, because you bore, without a sign of flinching, a sentence at once cruel and unjust; thanks, because you have carried on our days the traditions of a Freethought faithful in the prison as on the platform.

"Signed on behalf of the National Secular Society C. BRADLAUGH, President. R. FORDER, Secretary."

Greatly also did I value the greeting I received, with my two fellow prisoners, from the working men of East London. At a crowded meeting in the large hall of the Haggerston Road Club, attended by representatives of other associations, I was presented with the following address:

"The Political Council of the Borough of Hackney Workmen's Club present this testimonial to George William Foote as a token of admiration of the courage displayed by him in the advocacy of free speech, and in sympathy for the sufferings endured during twelve months' imprisonment for the same under barbarous laws unfitted for the spirit of a free people.

"Signed on behalf of the Council ALFRED PIKE, President. CHAS. KNIGHT, Secretary."

The largest audience that ever assembled at the Hall of Science listened to my first lecture, at which Mr. Bradlaugh presided, two days after my release. Seventeen hundred people crowded into a room that seats nine hundred, and as many were unable to gain admission. Similar welcomes awaited me in the provinces; and ever since my audiences, as well as the sale of my journal and writings, have been far larger than before my imprisonment. Hundreds of people, as they have told me, have been converted to Freethought by my sufferings, my lectures, and my pamphlets. I hope Judge North is satisfied.

To prevent a break-down in case of another prosecution, Mr. Ramsey and I clubbed our resources, and purchased printing plant and machinery, so that the production of the _Freethinker_ and other "blasphemous" literature might be done under our own root. The bigots had proved themselves unable to intimidate us, and as we were no longer at the mercy of printers they gave up the idea of molesting us. May Freethinkers ever act in this spirit, and be true to the great traditions of our cause!

F I N I S


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