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- Prisoner for Blasphemy - 6/34 -


while ready enough to sanction the prosecution of an unpopular journal, which presumably has few friends, is naturally reluctant, as events have shown, to allow proceedings against a powerful journal whose friends may be numerous and influential. Fortunately, however, a Select Committee of the House of Commons has taken a more sensible view of the Public Prosecutor and the duties he has so muddled, and recommended the abolition of his office. Should this step be taken, his duties will probably be performed by the Solicitor-General, and the press will be freed from a danger it had not the sense or the courage to avert. As for Sir John Maule, he will of course retire with a big pension, and live in fat ease for the rest of his sluggish life.

CHAPTER III.

MR. BRADLAUGH INCLUDED.

Mr. Maloney obtained his summons against Mr. Bradlaugh, whose name was included in a new document which was served on all of us. I have lost our first Summons, but I am able to give a copy of the second. It ran thus:

"TO WILLIAM JAMES RAMSEY, of 28 Stonecutter Street, in the City of London, and 20 Brownlow Street, Dalston, in the county of Middlesex; GEORGE WILLIAM FOOTE, of 9 South Crescent, Bedford Square, in the county of Middlesex; EDWARD WILLIAM WHITTLE, of 170 Saint John Street, Clerkenwell, in the county of Middlesex; and CHARLES BRADLAUGH, of 20 Circus Road, Saint John's Wood, in the county of Middlesex, and 28 Stonecutter Street, in the City of London.

"Whereas you have this day been charged before the under-signed, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, being one of Her Majesty's justices of the peace in and for the said City, and the liberties thereof, by Sir Henry Tyler, of Dashwood House, 9 New Broad Street, in the said City, for that you, in the said City, unlawfully did publish, or cause and procure to be published, certain blasphemous libels in a newspaper called the _Freethinker_, dated and published on the days following--that is to say, on the 26th day of March, 1882, on the 9th, 23rd and 30th days of April, 1882, and on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th days of May, 1882, and on the 11th and 18th days of June, 1882, against the peace, etc.:

"These are therefore to command you, in Her Majesty's name, to be and appear before me, on Monday, the 17th day of July, 1882, at eleven of the clock in the forenoon, at the Mansion House Justice-Room, in the said City, or before such other justice or justices of the peace for the same City as may then be there, to answer to the said charge, and to be further dealt with according to law. Herein fail not.

"Given under my hand and seal, this 12th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1882, at the Mansion House Justice-Room, aforesaid. "WHITTAKER ELLIS, Lord Mayor, London."

On the following Monday, July 17, the junior Member for Northampton stood beside us in the Mansion House dock. The court was of course crowded, and a great number of people stood outside waiting for a chance of admission. The Lord Mayor considerately allowed us seats on hearing that the case would occupy a long time, a piece of attention which he might also have displayed on the previous Tuesday. It seems extremely unjust that men who are defending themselves, who need all their strength for the task, and who may after all be innocent, should be obliged to stand for hours in a crowded court in the dog-days, and waste half their energies in the perfectly gratuitous exertion of maintaining their physical equilibrium.

I shall not describe the proceedings before the Lord Mayor on this occasion. Properly speaking, it was Mr. Bradlaugh's day, and some time or other its incidents will be recorded in his biography. Suffice it to say that he showed his usual legal dexterity, sat on poor Mr. Maloney, and sadly puzzled the Lord Mayor. I must, however, refer to one point, as it illustrates the high Christian morality of our prosecutors. Mr. Maloney had obtained an illegal order from the Lord Mayor to inspect Mr. Bradlaugh's bank account, and armed with this order, which, even if it were legal, would not have extended beyond the limits of the City, this enterprising barrister had overhauled the books of the St. John's Wood Branch of the London and South-Western Bank. Lord Coleridge's astonishment at this unheard-of proceeding was only equalled by his trenchant sarcasm on the Lord Mayor as a legal functionary, and his bitter cold sneer at Mr. Maloney, who, it further appeared, had actually played the part of an amateur detective, by setting street policemen to watch Mr. Bradlaugh's entries and exits from his publishing office.

On the following Friday, July 21, the hearing of our case was resumed. We were all committed for trial at the Old Bailey, with the exception of Mr. Whittle, the printer, against whom the prosecution was abandoned on the ground that he had ceased to print the _Freethinker_. This was an unpleasant fact, and alas! it was only one of a good many I shall have to relate presently.

Before our committal I essayed to read a brief protest against the prosecution, which I had carefully prepared. In defiance of the statute, the Lord Mayor refused to hear it. An altercation then ensued, and I should have insisted on my right unless stopped by brute force; but on his lordship promising that a copy should be attached to the depositions, I yielded in order to let Mr. Bradlaugh have a full opportunity of stigmatising Sir Henry Tyler, who had left his questionable business at Dashwood House during a part of the day, to gloat over the spectacle of his enemy in a criminal dock.

Some portions of my half-suppressed protest ought not to be omitted in this history. After dealing in a few lines with the origin of the Blasphemy Laws, censuring the conduct of Sir Henry Tyler, and alluding to Sir. William Harcourt's reply to Mr. Freshfield, I expressed myself as follows:

"What, indeed, do the prosecutors hope or expect to gain? Freethought is no longer a weak, tentative, apologetic thing; it is strong, bold, and aggressive; and no law could now suppress it except one of extermination. Every breach made in its ranks by imprisonment would be instantly filled; and as punishment is not eternal on this side of death, the imprisoned man would some day return to his old place, fiercer than ever for the fight, and inflamed with an unappeasable hatred of the religion whose guardians prefer punishment to persuasion, and supplement the weakness of argument by the force of brutality.

"Blasphemy is a very general offence if we take even the lenient definitions of Sir James Stephen in his 'Digest of the Criminal Law.' All who publicly advocate the disestablishment of the Church are guilty under one clause, and half the leading writers of our age are guilty under another. It is difficult to find a book by any eminent scientist or thinker which does not contain open or covert attacks on Christianity and Scripture, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has pathetically complained that it is dangerous to introduce high-class magazines to the family circle, because they are nearly sure to contain a large quantity of scepticism. Why are these propagators of heresy never molested? Because it would be perilous to touch them. Prosecutions are always reserved for those who are unprotected by wealth and position. Heresy in expensive books for the upper classes is safe, but heresy in cheap publications for the people incurs a terrible danger. The one is flattered and conciliated, while the other is liable at any moment to be put on its defence in a criminal court, and is always at the mercy of any man who may choose to indulge his political animosity, his social enmity, or his private spite.

"Blasphemy is entirely a matter of opinion. What is blasphemy in one country is piety in another. Progress tends to reduce it from a crime to an affair of taste. To deal with it in the bad spirit of the old laws, which are only unrepealed because they have been treated as obsolete, is to outrage the conscience of civilisation, and to violate that liberty of the press which Bentham justly called 'the foundation of all other liberties.' If opinions are not forced on people's attention, if they are expressed in publications which are sold, which can be patronised or neglected, and which must be deliberately sought before they can be read; then, unless they contain incitements to crime, they are entitled to immunity from molestation, and to interfere with them is the height of gratuitous impertinence."

In the ordinary course our Indictment would have been tried at the Old Bailey. The grand jury found a true bill against us, after being charged by the Recorder, Sir Thomas Chambers, who addressed them as fellow Christians, quite forgetful of the fact that Jews and Deists are eligible as jurymen no less than orthodox believers. According to the newspapers this bigot described our blasphemous libels as "shocking," and said that "it was impossible for any Christian man to read them without feeling that they came within that description, and they ought to return a true bill." This same Sir Thomas Chambers is a patron of piety, especially when it takes the form of aggressive polemics. Some time afterwards he joined a committee, with the late Lord Shaftesbury, Lord Mayor Fowler, and other religious worthies, whose object was to raise a testimonial to Samuel Kinns, an obscure author who has written a stupid volume on "Moses and Geology" for the purpose of showing that the book of Genesis, to use Huxley's expression, contains the beginning and the end of sound science. It thus appears that a Christian magistrate may subscribe (or, which is quite as pious and far more economical, induce others to subscribe) for the confutation of heretics, and afterwards send them to gaol for not being confuted. What a glorious commentary on the great truth that England is a free country, and that Christianity relies entirely on the force of persuasion! Fortunately, however, our case was not tried at the Old Bailey. Mr. Bradlaugh obtained a writ of _certiorari_ removing the indictment to the Court of Queen's Bench, where our case was put in the Crown List, and did not come on for hearing until two months after I was imprisoned on another indictment. Mr. Bradlaugh obtained the writ on July 29, 1882. It was during the long vacation, and we had to appear before more than one judge in chambers, Mr. Justice Stephen being the one who granted the writ. I remember roaming the Law Courts with Mr. Bradlaugh that morning. We went from office to office in the most perplexing manner. Everything seemed designed to baffle suitors who conduct their own cases. Obsolete technicalities, only half intelligible even to experts, met one at every turn, and when I left the Law Courts I felt that the thing was indeed done, but that it would almost puzzle omniscience to do it again in exactly the same way. Over seven pounds was spent in stamps, documents, and other items; and I was informed that a solicitor's charges for the morning's work would have exceeded thirty pounds. Securities for costs were required to the extent of six hundred pounds, and of course they had to be given. Yet we were


Prisoner for Blasphemy - 6/34

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