An Autobiography/Chapter IX

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An Autobiography by Annie Wood Besant
Chapter IX: THE KNOWLTON PAMPHLET.


The year 1877 dawned, and in its early days began a struggle which, ending in victory all along the line, brought with it pain and anguish that I scarcely care to recall. An American physician, Dr. Charles Knowlton, convinced of the truth of the teaching of the Rev. Mr. Malthus, and seeing that that teaching had either no practical value or tended to the great increase of prostitution, unless married people were taught to limit their families within their means of livelihood—wrote a pamphlet on the voluntary limitation of the family. It was published somewhere in the Thirties—about 1835, I think—and was sold unchallenged in England as well as in America for some forty years. Philosophers of the Bentham school, like John Stuart Mill, endorsed its teachings, and the bearing of population on poverty was an axiom in economic literature. Dr. Knowlton's work was a physiological treatise, advocating conjugal prudence and parental responsibility; it argued in favour of early marriage, with a view to the purity of social life; but as early marriage between persons of small means generally implies a large family, leading either to pauperism or to lack of necessary food, clothing, education, and fair start in life for the children, Dr. Knowlton advocated the restriction of the number of the family within the means of subsistence, and stated the methods by which this restriction could be carried out. The book was never challenged till a disreputable Bristol bookseller put some copies on sale to which he added some improper pictures, and he was prosecuted and convicted. The publisher of the National Reformer and of Mr. Bradlaugh's and my books and pamphlets had taken over a stock of Knowlton's pamphlets among other literature he bought, and he was prosecuted and, to our great dismay, pleaded guilty. We at once removed our publishing from his hands, and after careful deliberation we decided to publish the incriminated pamphlet in order to test the right of discussion on the population question, when, with the advice to limit the family, information was given as to how that advice could be followed. We took a little shop, printed the pamphlet, and sent notice to the police that we would commence the sale at a certain day and hour, and ourselves sell the pamphlet, so that no one else might be endangered by our action. We resigned our offices in the National Secular Society that we might not injure the society, but the executive first, and then the Annual Conference, refused to accept the resignations. Our position as regarded the pamphlet was simple and definite; had it been brought to us for publication, we stated, we should not have published it, for it was not a treatise of high merit; but, prosecuted as immoral because it advised the limitation of the family, it at once embodied the right of publication. In a preface to the republished edition, we wrote:—

"We republish this pamphlet, honestly believing that on all questions affecting the happiness of the people, whether they be theological, political, or social, fullest right of free discussion ought to be maintained at all hazards. We do not personally endorse all that Dr. Knowlton says: his 'Philosophical Proem' seems to us full of philosophical mistakes, and—as we are neither of us doctors—we are not prepared to endorse his medical views; but since progress can only be made through discussion, and no discussion is possible where differing opinions are suppressed, we claim the right to publish all opinions, so that the public, enabled to see all sides of a question, may have the materials for forming a sound judgment."

We were not blind to the danger to which this defiance of the authorities exposed us, but it was not the danger of failure, with the prison as penalty, that gave us pause. It was the horrible misconceptions that we saw might arise; the odious imputations on honour and purity that would follow. Could we, the teachers of a lofty morality, venture to face a prosecution for publishing what would be technically described as an obscene book, and risk the ruin of our future, dependent as that was on our fair fame? To Mr. Bradlaugh it meant, as he felt, the almost certain destruction of his Parliamentary position, the forging by his own hands of a weapon that in the hands of his foes would be well-nigh fatal. To me it meant the loss of the pure reputation I prized, the good name I had guarded—scandal the most terrible a woman could face. But I had seen the misery of the poor, of my sister-women with children crying for bread; the wages of the workmen were often sufficient for four, but eight or ten they could not maintain. Should I set my own safety, my own good name, against the helping of these? Did it matter that my reputation should be ruined, if its ruin helped to bring remedy to this otherwise hopeless wretchedness of thousands? What was worth all my talk about self-sacrifice and self-surrender, if, brought to the test, I failed? So, with heart aching but steady, I came to my resolution; and though I know now that I was wrong intellectually, and blundered in the remedy, I was right morally in the will to sacrifice all to help the poor, and I can rejoice that I faced a storm of obloquy fiercer and harder to bear than any other which can ever touch me again. I learned a lesson of stern indifference to all judgments from without that were not endorsed by condemnation from within. The long suffering that followed was a splendid school for the teaching of endurance.

The day before the pamphlet was put on sale we ourselves delivered copies to the Chief Clerk of the Magistrates at Guildhall, to the officer in charge at the City Police Office in Old Jewry, and to the Solicitor for the City of London. With each pamphlet was a notice that we would attend and sell the book from 4 to 5 p.m. on the following day, Saturday, March 24th. This we accordingly did, and in order to save trouble we offered to attend daily at the shop from 10 to 11 a.m. to facilitate our arrest, should the authorities determine to prosecute. The offer was readily accepted, and after some little delay—during which a deputation from the Christian Evidence Society waited upon Mr. Cross to urge the Tory Government to prosecute us—warrants were issued against us and we were arrested on April 6th. Letters of approval and encouragement came from the most diverse quarters, including among their writers General Garibaldi, the well-known economist, Yves Guyot, the great French constitutional lawyer, Emile Acollas, together with letters literally by the hundred from poor men and women thanking and blessing us for the stand taken. Noticeable were the numbers of letters from clergymen's wives, and wives of ministers of all denominations.

After our arrest we were taken to the police-station in Bridewell Place, and thence to the Guildhall, where Alderman Figgins was sitting, before whom we duly appeared, while in the back of the court waited what an official described as "a regular waggon-load of bail." We were quickly released, the preliminary investigation being fixed for ten days later—April 17th. At the close of the day the magistrate released us on our own recognisances, without bail; and it was so fully seen on all sides that we were fighting for a principle that no bail was asked for during the various stages of the trial. Two days later we were committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court, but Mr. Bradlaugh moved for a writ of certiorari to remove the trial to the Court of Queen's Bench; Lord Chief Justice Cockburn said he would grant the writ if "upon looking at it (the book), we think its object is the legitimate one of promoting knowledge on a matter of human interest," but not if the science were only a cover for impurity, and he directed that copies of the book should be handed in for perusal by himself and Mr. Justice Mellor. Having read the book they granted the writ.

The trial commenced on June 18th before the Lord Chief Justice of England and a special jury, Sir Hardinge Giffard, the Solicitor-General of the Tory Government, leading against us, and we defending ourselves. The Lord Chief Justice "summed up strongly for an acquittal," as a morning paper said; he declared that "a more ill-advised and more injudicious proceeding in the way of a prosecution was probably never brought into a court of justice," and described us as "two enthusiasts who have been actuated by a desire to do good in a particular department of society." He then went on to a splendid statement of the law of population, and ended by praising our straightforwardness and asserting Knowlton's honesty of intention. Every one in court thought that we had won our case, but they had not taken into account the religious and political hatred against us and the presence on the jury of such men as Mr. Walter, of the Times. After an hour and thirty-five minutes of delay the verdict was a compromise: "We are unanimously of opinion that the book in question is calculated to deprave public morals, but at the same time we entirely exonerate the defendants from any corrupt motive in publishing it." The Lord Chief Justice looked troubled, and said that he should have to translate the verdict into one of guilty, and on that some of the jury turned to leave the box, it having been agreed—we heard later from one of them—that if the verdict were not accepted in that form they should retire again, as six of the jury were against convicting us; but the foreman, who was bitterly hostile, jumped at the chance of snatching a conviction, and none of those in our favour had the courage to contradict him on the spur of the moment, so the foreman's "Guilty" passed, and the judge set us free, on Mr. Bradlaugh's recognisances to come up for judgment that day week.

On that day we moved to quash the indictment and for a new trial, partly on a technical ground and partly on the ground that the verdict, having acquitted us of wrong motive, was in our favour, not against us. On this the Court did not agree with us, holding that the part of the indictment alleging corrupt motive was superfluous. Then came the question of sentence, and on this the Lord Chief Justice did his best to save us; we were acquitted of any intent to violate the law; would we submit to the verdict of the jury and promise not to sell the book? No, we would not; we claimed the right to sell, and meant to vindicate it. The judge pleaded, argued, finally got angry with us, and, at last, compelled to pass sentence, he stated that if we would have yielded he would have let us go free without penalty, but that as we would set ourselves against the law, break it and defy it—a sore offence from the judge's point of view—he could only pass a heavy sentence on each of six months' imprisonment, a fine of £200, and recognisances of £500 for two years, and this, as he again repeated, upon the assumption "that they do intend to set the law at defiance." Even despite this he made us first-class misdemeanants. Then, as Mr. Bradlaugh stated that we should move for a writ of error, he liberated us on Mr. Bradlaugh's recognisance for £100, the queerest comment on his view of the case and of our characters, since we were liable jointly to £1,400 under the sentence, to say nothing of the imprisonment. But prison and money penalties vanished into thin air, for the writ of error was granted, proved successful, and the verdict was quashed.

Then ensued a somewhat anxious time. We were resolute to continue selling; were our opponents equally resolved to prosecute us? We could not tell. I wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Law of Population," giving the arguments which had convinced me of its truth, the terrible distress and degradation entailed on families by overcrowding and the lack of the necessaries of life, pleading for early marriages that prostitution might be destroyed, and limitation of the family that pauperism might be avoided; finally, giving the information which rendered early marriage without these evils possible. This pamphlet was put in circulation as representing our view of the subject, and we again took up the sale of Knowlton's. Mr. Bradlaugh carried the war into the enemy's country, and commenced an action against the police for the recovery of some pamphlets they had seized; he carried the action to a successful issue, recovered the pamphlets, bore them off in triumph, and we sold them all with an inscription across them, "Recovered from the police." We continued the sale of Knowlton's tract for some time, until we received an intimation that no further prosecution would be attempted, and on this we at once dropped its publication, substituting for it my "Law of Population."

But the worst part of the fight, for me, was to come. Prosecution of the "Law of Population" was threatened, but never commenced; a worse weapon against me was in store. An attempt had been made in August, 1875, to deprive me of the custody of my little girl by hiding her away when she went on her annual visit of one month to her father, but I had promptly recovered her by threatening to issue a writ of habeas corpus. Now it was felt that the Knowlton trial might be added to the charges of blasphemy that could be urged against me, and that this double-barrelled gun might be discharged with effect. I received notice in January, 1878, that an application was to be made to the High Court of Chancery to deprive me of the child, but the petition was not filed till the following April. Mabel was dangerously ill with scarlet fever at the time, and though this fact was communicated to her father I received a copy of the petition while sitting at her bedside. The petition alleged that, "The said Annie Besant is, by addresses, lectures, and writings, endeavouring to propagate the principles of Atheism, and has published a book entitled 'The Gospel of Atheism.' She has also associated herself with an infidel lecturer and author named Charles Bradlaugh in giving lectures and in publishing books and pamphlets, whereby the truth of the Christian religion is impeached, and disbelief in all religion inculcated."

It further alleged against me the publication of the Knowlton pamphlet, and the writing of the "Law of Population." Unhappily, the petition came for hearing before the then Master of the Rolls, Sir George Jessel, a man animated by the old spirit of Hebrew bigotry, to which he had added the time-serving morality of a "man of the world," sceptical as to all sincerity, and contemptuous of all devotion to an unpopular cause. The treatment I received at his hands on my first appearance in court told me what I had to expect. I had already had some experience of English judges, the stately kindness and gentleness of the Lord Chief Justice, the perfect impartiality and dignified courtesy of the Lords Justices of Appeal. My astonishment, then, can be imagined when, in answer to a statement by Mr. Ince, Q.C., that I appeared in person, I heard a harsh, loud voice exclaim:

"Appear in person? A lady appear in person? Never heard of such a thing! Does the lady really appear in person?"

As the London papers had been full of my appearing in person in the other courts and had contained the high compliments of the Lord Chief Justice on my conduct of my own case, Sir George Jessel's pretended astonishment seemed a little overdone. After a variety of similar remarks delivered in the most grating tones and in the roughest manner, Sir George Jessel tried to obtain his object by browbeating me directly. "Is this the lady?"

"I am the respondent, my lord, Mrs. Besant."

"Then I advise you, Mrs. Besant, to employ counsel to represent you, if you can afford it; and I suppose you can."

"With all submission to your lordship, I am afraid I must claim my right of arguing my case in person."

"You will do so if you please, of course, but I think you had much better appear by counsel. I give you notice that, if you do not, you must not expect to be shown any consideration. You will not be heard by me at any greater length than the case requires, nor allowed to go into irrelevant matter, as persons who argue their own cases usually do."

"I trust I shall not do so, my lord; but in any case I shall be arguing under your lordship's complete control."

This encouraging beginning may be taken as a sample of the case—it was one long fight against clever counsel, aided by a counsel instead of a judge on the bench. Only once did judge and counsel fall out. Mr. Ince and Mr. Bardswell had been arguing that my Atheism and Malthusianism made me an unfit guardian for my child; Mr. Ince declared that Mabel, educated by me, would "be helpless for good in this world," and "hopeless for good hereafter, outcast in this life and damned in the next." Mr. Bardswell implored the judge to consider that my custody of her "would be detrimental to the future prospects of the child in society, to say nothing of her eternal prospects." Had not the matter been to me of such heart-breaking importance, I could have laughed at the mixture of Mrs. Grundy, marriage establishment, and hell, presented as an argument for robbing a mother of her child. But Mr. Bardswell carelessly forgot that Sir George Jessel was a Jew, and lifting eyes to heaven in horrified appeal, he gasped out:

"Your lordship, I think, will scarcely credit it, but Mrs. Besant says, in a later affidavit, that she took away the Testament from the child because it contained coarse passages unfit for a child to read."

The opportunity was too tempting for a Jew to refrain from striking at a book written by apostate Jews, and Sir George Jessel answered sharply:

"It is not true to say there are no passages unfit for a child's reading, because I think there are a great many."

"I do not know of any passages that could fairly be called coarse."

"I cannot quite assent to that."

Barring this little episode judge and counsel showed a charming unanimity. I distinctly said I was an Atheist, that I had withdrawn the child from religious instruction at the day-school she attended, that I had written various anti-Christian books, and so on; but I claimed the child's custody on the ground that the deed of separation distinctly gave it to me, and had been executed by her father after I had left the Christian Church, and that my opinions were not sufficient to invalidate it. It was admitted on the other side that the child was admirably cared for, and there was no attempt at attacking my personal character. The judge stated that I had taken the greatest possible care of the child, but decided that the mere fact of my refusing to give the child religious instruction was sufficient ground for depriving me of her custody. Secular education he regarded as "not only reprehensible, but detestable, and likely to work utter ruin to the child, and I certainly should upon this ground alone decide that this child ought not to remain another day under the care of her mother."

Sir George Jessel denounced also my Malthusian views in a fashion at once so brutal and so untruthful as to facts, that some years later another judge, the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, declared in a judgment delivered in his own court that there was "no language used by Lord Cockburn which justified the Master of the Rolls in assuming that Lord Cockburn regarded the book as obscene," and that "little weight is to be attached to his opinion on a point not submitted for his decision"; he went on to administer a sharp rebuke for the way in which Sir George Jessel travelled outside the case, and remarked that "abuse, however, of an unpopular opinion, whether indulged in by judges or other people, is not argument, nor can the vituperation of opponents in opinion prove them to be immoral." However, Sir George Jessel was all-powerful in his own court, and he deprived me of my child, refusing to stay the order even until the hearing of my appeal against his decision. A messenger from the father came to my house, and the little child was carried away by main force, shrieking and struggling, still weak from the fever, and nearly frantic with fear and passionate resistance. No access to her was given me, and I gave notice that if access were denied me, I would sue for a restitution of conjugal rights, merely that I might see my children. But the strain had been too great, and I nearly went mad, spending hours pacing up and down the empty rooms, striving to weary myself to exhaustion that I might forget. The loneliness and silence of the house, of which my darling had always been the sunshine and the music, weighed on me like an evil dream; I listened for the patter of the dancing feet, and merry, thrilling laughter that rang through the garden, the sweet music of the childish voice; during my sleepless nights I missed in the darkness the soft breathing of the little child; each morning I longed in vain for the clinging arms and soft, sweet kisses. At last health broke down, and fever struck me, and mercifully gave me the rest of pain and delirium instead of the agony of conscious loss. Through that terrible illness, day after day, Mr. Bradlaugh came to me, and sat writing beside me, feeding me with ice and milk, refused from all others, and behaving more like a tender mother than a man friend; he saved my life, though it seemed to me for awhile of little value, till the first months of lonely pain were over. When recovered, I took steps to set aside an order obtained by Mr. Besant during my illness, forbidding me to bring any suit against him, and even the Master of the Rolls, on hearing that all access had been denied to me, and the money due to me stopped, uttered words of strong condemnation of the way in which I had been treated. Finally the deed of separation executed in 1873 was held to be good as protecting Mr. Besant from any suit brought by me, whether for divorce or for restitution of conjugal rights, while the clauses giving me the custody of the child were set aside. The Court of Appeal in April, 1879, upheld the decision, the absolute right of the father as against a married mother being upheld. This ignoring of all right to her children on the part of the married mother is a scandal and a wrong that has since been redressed by Parliament, and the husband has no longer in his grasp this instrument of torture, whose power to agonise depends on the tenderness and strength of the motherliness of the wife. In the days when the law took my child from me, it virtually said to all women: "Choose which of these two positions, as wife and mother, you will occupy. If you are legally your husband's wife, you can have no legal claim to your children; if legally you are your husband's mistress, your rights as mother are secure." That stigma on marriage is now removed.

One thing I gained in the Court of Appeal. The Court expressed a strong view as to my right of access, and directed me to apply to Sir George Jessel for it, adding that it could not doubt he would grant it. Under cover of this I applied to the Master of the Rolls, and obtained liberal access to the children; but I found that my visits kept Mabel in a continual state of longing and fretting for me, while the ingenious forms of petty insult that were devised against me and used in the children's presence would soon become palpable to them and cause continual pain. So, after a painful struggle with myself, I resolved to give up the right of seeing them, feeling that thus only could I save them from constantly recurring conflict, destructive of all happiness and of all respect for one or the other parent. Resolutely I turned my back on them that I might spare them trouble, and determined that, robbed of my own, I would be a mother to all helpless children I could aid, and cure the pain at my own heart by soothing the pain of others.

As far as regards this whole struggle over the Knowlton pamphlet, victory was finally won all along the line. Not only did we, as related, recover all our seized pamphlets, and continue the sale till all prosecution and threat of prosecution were definitely surrendered; but my own tract had an enormous sale, so that when I withdrew it from sale in June, 1891, I was offered a large sum for the copyright, an offer which I, of course, refused. Since that time not a copy has been sold with my knowledge or permission, but long ere that the pamphlet had received a very complete legal vindication. For while it circulated untouched in England, a prosecution was attempted against it in New South Wales, but was put an end to by an eloquent and luminous judgment by the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Windmeyer, in December, 1888. This judge, the most respected in the great Australian colony, spoke out plainly and strongly on the morality of such teaching. "Take the case," he said, "of a woman married to a drunken husband, steadily ruining his constitution and hastening to the drunkard's doom, loss of employment for himself, semi-starvation for his family, and finally death, without a shilling to leave those whom he has brought into the world, but armed with the authority of the law to treat his wife as his slave, ever brutally insisting on the indulgence of his marital rights. Where is the immorality, if, already broken in health from unresting maternity, having already a larger family than she can support when the miserable breadwinner has drunk himself to death, the woman avails herself of the information given in this book, and so averts the consequences of yielding to her husband's brutal insistence on his marital rights? Already weighted with a family that she is unable to decently bring up, the immorality, it seems to me, would be in the reckless and criminal disregard of precautions which would prevent her bringing into the world daughters whose future outlook as a career would be prostitution, or sons whose inherited taint of alcoholism would soon drag them down with their sisters to herd with the seething mass of degenerate and criminal humanity that constitutes the dangerous classes of great cities. In all these cases the appeal is from thoughtless, unreasoning prejudice to conscience, and, if listened to, its voice will be heard unmistakably indicating where the path of duty lies."

The judge forcibly refused to be any party to the prohibition of such a pamphlet, regarding it as of high service to the community. He said: "So strong is the dread of the world's censure upon this topic that few have the courage openly to express their views upon it; and its nature is such that it is only amongst thinkers who discuss all subjects, or amongst intimate acquaintances, that community of thought upon the question is discovered. But let any one inquire amongst those who have sufficient education and ability to think for themselves, and who do not idly float, slaves to the current of conventional opinion, and he will discover that numbers of men and women of purest lives, of noblest aspirations, pious, cultivated, and refined, see no wrong in teaching the ignorant that it is wrong to bring into the world children to whom they cannot do justice, and who think it folly to stop short in telling them simply and plainly how to prevent it. A more robust view of morals teaches that it is puerile to ignore human passions and human physiology. A clearer perception of truth and the safety of trusting to it teaches that in law, as in religion, it is useless trying to limit the knowledge of mankind by any inquisitorial attempts to place upon a judicial Index Expurgatorius works written with an earnest purpose, and commending themselves to thinkers of well-balanced minds. I will be no party to any such attempt. I do not believe that it was ever meant that the Obscene Publication Act should apply to cases of this kind, but only to the publication of such matter as all good men would regard as lewd and filthy, to lewd and bawdy novels, pictures and exhibitions, evidently published and given for lucre's sake. It could never have been intended to stifle the expression of thought by the earnest-minded on a subject of transcendent national importance like the present, and I will not strain it for that purpose. As pointed out by Lord Cockburn in the case of the Queen v. Bradlaugh and Besant, all prosecutions of this kind should be regarded as mischievous, even by those who disapprove the opinions sought to be stifled, inasmuch as they only tend more widely to diffuse the teaching objected to. To those, on the other hand, who desire its promulgation, it must be a matter of congratulation that this, like all attempted persecutions of thinkers, will defeat its own object, and that truth, like a torch, 'the more it's shook it shines.'"

The argument of Mr. Justice Windmeyer for the Neo-Malthusian position was (as any one may see who reads the full text of the judgment) one of the most luminous and cogent I have ever read. The judgment was spoken of at the time in the English press as a "brilliant triumph for Mrs. Besant," and so I suppose it was; but no legal judgment could undo the harm wrought on the public mind in England by malignant and persistent misrepresentation. What that trial and its results cost me in pain no one but myself will ever know; on the other hand, there was the passionate gratitude evidenced by letters from thousands of poor married women—many from the wives of country clergymen and curates—thanking and blessing me for showing them how to escape from the veritable hell in which they lived. The "upper classes" of society know nothing about the way in which the poor live; how their overcrowding destroys all sense of personal dignity, of modesty, of outward decency, till human life, as Bishop Fraser justly said, is "degraded below the level of the swine." To such, and among such I went, and I could not grudge the price that then seemed to me as the ransom for their redemption. To me, indeed, it meant the losing of all that made life dear, but for them it seemed to be the gaining of all that gave hope of a better future. So how could I hesitate—I whose heart had been fired by devotion to an ideal Humanity, inspired by that Materialism that is of love and not of hate?

And now, in August, 1893, we find the Christian World, the representative organ of orthodox Christian Protestantism, proclaiming the right and the duty of voluntary limitation of the family. In a leading article, after a number of letters had been inserted, it said:—

"The conditions are assuredly wrong which bring one member of the married partnership into a bondage so cruel. It is no less evident that the cause of the bondage in such cases lies in the too rapid multiplication of the family. There was a time when any idea of voluntary limitation was regarded by pious people as interfering with Providence. We are beyond that now, and have become capable of recognising that Providence works through the common sense of individual brains. We limit population just as much by deferring marriage from prudential motives as by any action that may be taken after it.... Apart from certain methods of limitation, the morality of which is gravely questioned by many, there are certain easily-understood physiological laws of the subject, the failure to know and to observe which is inexcusable on the part either of men or women in these circumstances. It is worth noting in this connection that Dr. Billings, in his article in this month's Forum, on the diminishing birth-rate of the United States, gives as one of the reasons the greater diffusion of intelligence, by means of popular and school treatises on physiology, than formerly prevailed."

Thus has opinion changed in sixteen years, and all the obloquy poured on us is seen to have been the outcome of ignorance and bigotry.

As for the children, what was gained by their separation from me? The moment they were old enough to free themselves, they came back to me, my little girl's too brief stay with me being ended by her happy marriage, and I fancy the fears expressed for her eternal future will prove as groundless as the fears for her temporal ruin have proved to be! Not only so, but both are treading in my steps as regards their views of the nature and destiny of man, and have joined in their bright youth the Theosophical Society to which, after so many struggles, I won my way.

The struggle on the right to discuss the prudential restraint of population did not, however, conclude without a martyr. Mr. Edward Truelove, alluded to above, was prosecuted for selling a treatise by Robert Dale Owen on "Moral Physiology," and a pamphlet entitled, "Individual, Family, and National Poverty." He was tried on February 1, 1878, before the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Queen's Bench, and was most ably defended by Professor W.A. Hunter. The jury spent two hours in considering their verdict, and returned into court and stated that they were unable to agree. The majority of the jury were ready to convict, if they felt sure that Mr. Truelove would not be punished, but one of them boldly declared in court: "As to the book, it is written in plain language for plain people, and I think that many more persons ought to know what the contents of the book are." The jury was discharged, in consequence of this one man's courage, but Mr. Truelove's persecutors—the Vice Society—were determined not to let their victim free. They proceeded to trial a second time, and wisely endeavoured to secure a special jury, feeling that as prudential restraint would raise wages by limiting the supply of labour, they would be more likely to obtain a verdict from a jury of "gentlemen" than from one composed of workers. This attempt was circumvented by Mr. Truelove's legal advisers, who let a procedendo go which sent back the trial to the Old Bailey. The second trial was held on May 16th at the Central Criminal Court before Baron Pollock and a common jury, Professor Hunter and Mr. J.M. Davidson appearing for the defence. The jury convicted, and the brave old man, sixty-eight years of age, was condemned to four months' imprisonment and £50 fine for selling a pamphlet which had been sold unchallenged, during a period of forty-five years, by James Watson, George Jacob Holyoake, Austin Holyoake, and Charles Watts. Mr. Grain, the counsel employed by the Vice Society, most unfairly used against Mr. Truelove my "Law of Population," a pamphlet which contained, Baron Pollock said, "the head and front of the offence in the other [the Knowlton] case." I find an indignant protest against this odious unfairness in the National Reformer for May 19th: "My 'Law of Population' was used against Mr. Truelove as an aggravation of his offence, passing over the utter meanness—worthy only of Collette—of using against a prisoner a book whose author has never been attacked for writing it—does Mr. Collette, or do the authorities, imagine that the severity shown to Mr. Truelove will in any fashion deter me from continuing the Malthusian propaganda? Let me here assure them, one and all, that it will do nothing of the kind; I shall continue to sell the 'Law of Population' and to advocate scientific checks to population, just as though Mr. Collette and his Vice Society were all dead and buried. In commonest justice they are bound to prosecute me, and if they get, and keep, a verdict against me, and succeed in sending me to prison, they will only make people more anxious to read my book, and make me more personally powerful as a teacher of the views which they attack."

A persistent attempt was made to obtain a writ of error in Mr. Truelove's case, but the Tory Attorney-General, Sir John Holker, refused it, although the ground on which it was asked was one of the grounds on which a similar writ had been granted to Mr. Bradlaugh and myself. Mr. Truelove was therefore compelled to suffer his sentence, but memorials, signed by 11,000 persons, asking for his release, were sent to the Home Secretary from every part of the country, and a crowded meeting in St. James's Hall, London, demanded his liberation with only six dissentients. The whole agitation did not shorten Mr. Truelove's sentence by a single day, and he was not released from Coldbath Fields Prison until September 5th. On the 12th of the same month the Hall of Science was crowded with enthusiastic friends, who assembled to do him honour, and he was presented with a beautifully-illuminated address and a purse containing £177 (subsequent subscriptions raised the amount to £197 16s. 6d.).

It is scarcely necessary to say that one of the results of the prosecution was a great agitation throughout the country, and a wide popularisation of Malthusian views. Some huge demonstrations were held in favour of free discussion; on one occasion the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, was crowded to the doors; on another the Star Music Hall, Bradford, was crammed in every corner; on another the Town Hall, Birmingham, had not a seat or a bit of standing-room unoccupied. Wherever we went, separately or together, it was the same story, and not only were Malthusian lectures eagerly attended, and Malthusian literature eagerly bought, but curiosity brought many to listen to our Radical and Freethought lectures, and thousands heard for the first time what Secularism really meant. The Press, both London and provincial, agreed in branding the prosecution as foolish, and it was generally remarked that it resulted only in the wider circulation of the indicted book, and the increased popularity of those who had stood for the right of publication. The furious attacks since made upon us have been made chiefly by those who differ from us in theological creed, and who have found a misrepresentation of our prosecution served them as a convenient weapon of attack. During the last few years public opinion has been gradually coming round to our side, in consequence of the pressure of poverty resulting from widespread depression of trade, and during the sensation caused in 1884 by "The Bitter Cry of Outcast London," many writers in the Daily News—notably Mr. G.R. Sims—boldly alleged that the distress was to a great extent due to the large families of the poor, and mentioned that we had been prosecuted for giving the very knowledge which would bring salvation to the sufferers in our great cities.

Among the useful results of the prosecution was the establishment of the Malthusian League, "to agitate for the abolition of all penalties on the public discussion of the population question," and "to spread among the people, by all practicable means, a knowledge of the law of population, of its consequences, and of its bearing upon human conduct and morals." The first general meeting of the League was held at the Hall of Science on July 26, 1877, and a council of twenty persons was elected, and this council on August 2nd elected Dr. C.R. Drysdale, M.D., President; Mr. Swaagman, Treasurer; Mrs. Besant, Secretary; Mr. Shearer, Assistant-Secretary; and Mr. Hember, Financial Secretary. Since 1877 the League, under the same indefatigable president, has worked hard to carry out its objects; it has issued a large number of leaflets and tracts; it supports a monthly journal, the Malthusian; numerous lectures have been delivered under its auspices in all parts of the country; and it has now a medical branch, into which none but duly qualified medical men and women are admitted, with members in all European countries.

Another result of the prosecution was the accession of "D." to the staff of the National Reformer. This able and thoughtful writer came forward and joined our ranks as soon as he heard of the attack on us, and he further volunteered to conduct the journal during our expected imprisonment. From that time to this—a period of fifteen years—articles from his pen appeared in its columns week by week, and during all that time not one solitary difficulty arose between editors and contributor. In public a trustworthy colleague, in private a warm and sincere friend, "D." proved an unmixed benefit bestowed upon us by the prosecution.

Nor was "D." the only friend brought to us by our foes. I cannot ever think of that time without remembering that the prosecution brought me first into close intimacy with Mrs. Annie Parris—the wife of Mr. Touzeau Parris, the Secretary of the Defence Committee throughout all the fight—a lady who, during that long struggle, and during the, for me, far worse struggle that succeeded it, over the custody of my daughter, proved to me the most loving and sisterly of friends. One or two other friendships which will, I hope, last my life, date from that same time of strife and anxiety.

The amount of money subscribed by the public during the Knowlton and succeeding prosecutions gives some idea of the interest felt in the struggle. The Defence Fund Committee in March, 1878, presented a balance-sheet, showing subscriptions amounting to £1,292 5s. 4d., and total expenditure in the Queen v. Bradlaugh and Besant, the Queen v. Truelove, and the appeal against Mr. Vaughan's order (the last two up to date) of £1,274 10s. This account was then closed and the balance of £17 15s. 4d. passed on to a new fund for the defence of Mr. Truelove, the carrying on of the appeal against the destruction of the Knowlton pamphlet, and the bearing of the costs incident on the petition lodged against myself. In July this new fund had reached £196 16s. 7d., and after paying the remainder of the costs in Mr. Truelove's case, a balance of £26 15s. 2d. was carried on. This again rose to £247 15s. 2-1/2d., and the fund bore the expenses of Mr. Bradlaugh's successful appeal on the Knowlton pamphlet, the petition and subsequent proceedings in which I was concerned in the Court of Chancery, and an appeal on Mr. Truelove's behalf, unfortunately unsuccessful, against an order for the destruction of the Dale Owen pamphlet. This last decision was given on February 21, 1880, and on this the Defence Fund was closed. On Mr. Truelove's release, as mentioned above, a testimonial to the amount of £197 16s. 6d. was presented to him, and after the close of the struggle some anonymous friend sent to me personally £200 as "thanks for the courage and ability shown." In addition to all this, the Malthusian League received no less than £455 11s. 9d. during the first year of its life, and started on its second year with a balance in hand of £77 5s. 8d.

A somewhat similar prosecution in America, in which the bookseller, Mr. D.M. Bennett, sold a book with which he did not agree, and was imprisoned, led to our giving him a warm welcome when, after his release, he visited England. We entertained him at the Hall of Science at a crowded gathering, and I was deputed as spokesman to present him with a testimonial. This I did in the following speech, quoted here in order to show the spirit then animating me:—

"Friends, Mr. Bradlaugh has spoken of the duty that calls us here to-night. It is pleasant to think that in our work that duty is one to which we are not unaccustomed. In our army there are more true soldiers than traitors, more that are faithful to the trust of keeping the truth than those who shrink when the hour of danger comes. And I would ask Mr. Bennett to-night not to measure English feeling towards him by the mere number of those present. They that are here are representatives of many thousands of our fellow-countrymen. Glance down this middle table, and you will see that it is not without some right that we claim to welcome you in the name of multitudes of the citizens of England. There are those who taunt us with want of loyalty, and with the name of infidels. In what church will they find men and women more loyal to truth and conscience? The name infidel is not for us so long as we are faithful to the truth we know. If I speak, as I have done, of national representation in this hall this evening, tell me, you who know those who sit here, who have watched some of them for years, others of them but for a brief time, do I not speak truth? Take them one by one. Your President but a little while ago in circumstances similar to those wherein our guest himself was placed, with the true lover's keenness that recognises the mistress under all disguise, beholding his mistress Liberty in danger, under circumstances that would have blinded less sure eyes, leapt to her rescue. He risked the ambition of his life rather than be disloyal to liberty. And next is seated a woman, who, student of a noble profession, thought that liberty had greater claim upon her than even her work. When we stood in worse peril than even loss of liberty, she risked her own good name for the truth's sake. One also is here who, eminent in his own profession, came with the weight of his position and his right to speak, and gave a kindred testimony. One step further, and you see one who, soldier to liberty, throughout a long and spotless life, when the task was far harder than it is to-day, when there were no greetings, no welcomes, when to serve was to peril name as well as liberty, never flinched from the first until now. He is crowned with the glory of the jail, that was his for no crime but for claiming the right to publish that wherein the noblest thought is uttered in the bravest words. And next to him is another who speaks for liberty, who has brought culture, university degree, position in men's sight, and many friends, and cast them all at her beloved feet. Sir, not alone the past and the present greet you to-night. The future also greets you with us. We have here also those who are training themselves to walk in the footsteps of the one most dear to them, who shall carry on, when we have passed away, the work which we shall have dropped from our hands. But he whom we delight to honour at this hour in truth honours us, in that he allows us to offer him the welcome that it is our glory and our pleasure to give. He has fought bravely. The Christian creed had in its beginning more traitors and less true hearts than the creed of to-day. We are happy to-day not only in the thought of what manner of men we have for leaders, but in the thought of what manner of men we have as soldiers in our army. Jesus had twelve apostles. One betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver; a second denied Him. They all forsook Him and fled. We can scarcely point to one who has thus deserted our sacred cause. The traditions of our party tell us of many who went to jail because they claimed for all that right of free speech which is the heritage of all. One of the most famous members of our body in England, Richard Carlile, turned bookseller to sell books that were prosecuted. This man became Free-thinker, driven thereto by the bigotry and wickedness of the Churches. He sold the books of Hone not because he agreed with them, but because Hone was prosecuted. He saw that the book in whose prosecution freedom was attacked was the book for the freeman to sell; and the story of our guest shows that in all this England and America are one. Those who gave Milton to the world can yet bring forth men of the same stamp in continents leagues asunder. Because our friend was loyal and true, prison had to him no dread. It was far, far less of dishonour to wear the garb of the convict than to wear that of the hypocrite. The society we represent, like his society in America, pleads for free thought, speaks for free speech, claims for every one, however antagonistic, the right to speak the thought he feels. It is better that this should be, even though the thought be wrong, for thus the sooner will its error be discovered—better if the thought be right, for then the sooner does the gladness of a new truth find place in the heart of man. As the mouthpiece, Sir, of our National Secular Society, and of its thousands of members, I speak to you now:—

"'ADDRESS.

"'We seek for Truth.'

"'To D.M. Bennett.

"'In asking you to accept at the hands of the National Secular Society of England this symbol of cordial sympathy and brotherly welcome, we are but putting into act the motto of our Society. "We seek for Truth" is our badge, and it is as Truthseeker that we do you homage to-night. Without free speech no search for Truth is possible; without free speech no discovery of Truth is useful; without free speech progress is checked, and the nations no longer march forward towards the nobler life which the future holds for man. Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day; the denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hope of the race.

"'In your own country you have pleaded for free speech, and when, under a wicked and an odious law, one of your fellow-citizens was imprisoned for the publication of his opinions, you, not sharing the opinions but faithful to liberty, sprang forward to defend in him the principle of free speech which you claimed for yourself, and sold his book while he lay in prison. For this act you were in turn arrested and sent to jail, and the country which won its freedom by the aid of Paine in the eighteenth century disgraced itself in the nineteenth by the imprisonment of a heretic. The Republic of the United States dishonoured herself, and not you, in Albany penitentiary. Two hundred thousand of your countrymen pleaded for your release, but bigotry was too strong. We sent you greeting in your captivity; we rejoiced when the time came for your release. We offer you to-night our thanks and our hope—thanks for the heroism which never flinched in the hour of battle, hope for a more peaceful future, in which the memory of a past pain may be a sacred heritage and not a regret.

"'Charles Bradlaugh, President.'

"Soldier of liberty, we give you this. Do in the future the same good service that you have done in the past, and your reward shall be in the love that true men shall bear to you."

That, however, which no force could compel me to do, which I refused to threats of fine and prison, to separation from my children, to social ostracism, and to insults and ignominy worse to bear than death, I surrendered freely when all the struggle was over, and a great part of society and of public opinion had adopted the view that cost Mr. Bradlaugh and myself so dear. I may as well complete the story here, so as not to have to refer to it again. I gave up Neo-Malthusianism in April, 1891, its renunciation being part of the outcome of two years' instruction from Mdme. H.P. Blavatsky, who showed me that however justifiable Neo-Malthusianism might be while man was regarded only as the most perfect outcome of physical evolution, it was wholly incompatible with the view of man as a spiritual being, whose material form and environment were the results of his own mental activity. Why and how I embraced Theosophy, and accepted H.P. Blavatsky as teacher, will soon be told in its proper place. Here I am concerned only with the why and how of my renunciation of the Neo-Malthusian teaching, for which I had fought so hard and suffered so much.

When I built my life on the basis of Materialism I judged all actions by their effect on human happiness in this world now and in future generations, regarding man as an organism that lived on earth and there perished, with activities confined to earth and limited by physical laws. The object of life was the ultimate building-up of a physically, mentally, morally perfect man by the cumulative effects of heredity—mental and moral tendencies being regarded as the outcome of material conditions, to be slowly but surely evolved by rational selection and the transmission to offspring of qualities carefully acquired by, and developed in, parents. The most characteristic note of this serious and lofty Materialism had been struck by Professor W. K. Clifford in his noble article on the "Ethics of Belief."

Taking this view of human duty in regard to the rational co-operation with nature in the evolution of the human race, it became of the first importance to rescue the control of the generation of offspring from mere blind brute passion, and to transfer it to the reason and to the intelligence; to impress on parents the sacredness of the parental office, the tremendous responsibility of the exercise of the creative function. And since, further, one of the most pressing problems for solution in the older countries is that of poverty, the horrible slums and dens into which are crowded and in which are festering families of eight and ten children, whose parents are earning an uncertain 10s., 12s., 15s., and 20s. a week; since an immediate palliative is wanted, if popular risings impelled by starvation are to be avoided; since the lives of men and women of the poorer classes, and of the worst paid professional classes, are one long, heart-breaking struggle "to make both ends meet and keep respectable"; since in the middle class marriage is often avoided, or delayed till late in life, from the dread of the large family, and late marriage is followed by its shadow, the prevalence of vice and the moral and social ruin of thousands of women; for these, and many other reasons, the teaching of the duty of limiting the family within the means of subsistence is the logical outcome of Materialism linked with the scientific view of evolution, and with a knowledge of the physical law, by which evolution is accelerated or retarded. Seeking to improve the physical type, scientific Materialism, it seemed to me, must forbid parentage to any but healthy married couples; it must restrict childbearing within the limits consistent with the thorough health and physical well-being of the mother; it must impose it as a duty never to bring children into the world unless the conditions for their fair nurture and development are present. Regarding it as hopeless, as well as mischievous, to preach asceticism, and looking on the conjunction of nominal celibacy with widespread prostitution as inevitable, from the constitution of human nature, scientific Materialism—quite rationally and logically—advises deliberate restriction of the production of offspring, while sanctioning the exercise of the sexual instinct within the limits imposed by temperance, the highest physical and mental efficiency, the good order and dignity of society, and the self-respect of the individual.

In all this there is nothing which for one moment implies approval of licentiousness, profligacy, unbridled self-indulgence. On the contrary, it is a well-considered and intellectually-defensible scheme of human evolution, regarding all natural instincts as matters for regulation, not for destruction, and seeking to develop the perfectly healthy and well-balanced physical body as the necessary basis for the healthy and well-balanced mind. If the premises of Materialism be true, there is no answer to the Neo-Malthusian conclusions; for even those Socialists who have bitterly opposed the promulgation of Neo-Malthusianism—regarding it as a "red herring intended to draw the attention of the proletariat away from the real cause of poverty, the monopoly of land and capital by a class"—admit that when society is built on the foundation of common property in all that is necessary for the production of wealth, the time will come for the consideration of the population question. Nor do I now see, any more than I saw then, how any Materialist can rationally avoid the Neo-Malthusian position. For if man be the outcome of purely physical causes, it is with these that we must deal in guiding his future evolution. If he be related but to terrestrial existence, he is but the loftiest organism of earth; and, failing to see his past and his future, how should my eyes not have been then blinded to the deep-lying causes of his present woe? I brought a material cure to a disease which appeared to me to be of material origin; but how when the evil came from a subtler source, and its causes lay not on the material plane? How if the remedy only set up new causes for a future evil, and, while immediately a palliative, strengthened the disease itself, and ensured its reappearance in the future? This was the view of the problem set before me by H.P. Blavatsky when she unrolled the story of man, told of his origin and his destiny, showed me the forces that went to the making of man, and the true relation between his past, his present, and his future.

For what is man in the light of Theosophy? He is a spiritual intelligence, eternal and uncreate, treading a vast cycle of human experience, born and reborn on earth millennium after millennium, evolving slowly into the ideal man. He is not the product of matter, but is encased in matter, and the forms of matter with which he clothes himself are of his own making. For the intelligence and will of man are creative forces—not creative ex nihilo, but creative as is the brain of the painter—and these forces are exercised by man in every act of thought. Thus he is ever creating round him thought-forms, moulding subtlest matter into shape by these energies, forms which persist as tangible realities when the body of the thinker has long gone back to earth and air and water. When the time for rebirth into this earth-life comes for the soul these thought-forms, its own progeny, help to form the tenuous model into which the molecules of physical matter are builded for the making of the body, and matter is thus moulded for the new body in which the soul is to dwell, on the lines laid down by the intelligent and volitional life of the previous, or of many previous, incarnations. So does each man create for himself in verity the form wherein he functions, and what he is in his present is the inevitable outcome of his own creative energies in his past. Applying this to the Neo-Malthusian theory, we see in sexual love not only a passion which man has in common with the brute, and which forms, at the present stage of evolution, a necessary part of human nature, but an animal passion that may be trained and purified into a human emotion, which may be used as one of the levers in human progress, one of the factors in human growth. But, instead of this, man in the past has made his intellect the servant of his passions; the abnormal development of the sexual instinct in man—in whom it is far greater and more continuous than in any brute—is due to the mingling with it of the intellectual element, all sexual thoughts, desires, and imaginations having created thought-forms, which have been wrought into the human race, giving rise to a continual demand, far beyond nature, and in marked contrast with the temperance of normal animal life. Hence it has become one of the most fruitful sources of human misery and human degradation, and the satisfaction of its imperious cravings in civilised countries lies at the root of our worst social evils. This excessive development has to be fought against, and the instinct reduced within natural limits, and this will certainly never be done by easy-going self-indulgence within the marital relation any more than by self-indulgence outside it. By none other road than that of self-control and self-denial can men and women now set going the causes which will build for them brains and bodies of a higher type for their future return to earth-life. They have to hold this instinct in complete control, to transmute it from passion into tender and self-denying affection, to develop the intellectual at the expense of the animal, and thus to raise the whole man to the human stage, in which every intellectual and physical capacity shall subserve the purposes of the soul. From all this it follows that Theosophists should sound the note of self-restraint within marriage, and the gradual—for with the mass it cannot be sudden—restriction of the sexual relation to the perpetuation of the race.

Such was the bearing of Theosophical teaching on Neo-Malthusianism, as laid before me by H.P. Blavatsky, and when I urged, out of my bitter knowledge of the miseries endured by the poor, that it surely might, for a time at least, be recommended as a palliative, as a defence in the hands of a woman against intolerable oppression and enforced suffering, she bade me look beyond the moment, and see how the suffering must come back and back with every generation, unless we sought to remove the roots of wrong. "I do not judge a woman," she said, "who has resort to such means of defence in the midst of circumstances so evil, and whose ignorance of the real causes of all this misery is her excuse for snatching at any relief. But it is not for you, an Occultist, to continue to teach a method which you now know must tend to the perpetuation of the sorrow." I felt that she was right, and though I shrank from the decision—for my heart somewhat failed me at withdrawing from the knowledge of the poor, so far as I could, a temporary palliative of evils which too often wreck their lives and bring many to an early grave, worn old before even middle age has touched them—yet the decision was made. I refused to reprint the "Law of Population," or to sell the copyright, giving pain, as I sadly knew, to all the brave and loyal friends who had so generously stood by me in that long and bitter struggle, and who saw the results of victory thrown away on grounds to them inadequate and mistaken! Will it always be, I wonder, in man's climbing upward, that every step must be set on his own heart and on the hearts of those he loves?