Bradlaugh by Elbert Hubbard

Story type: Essay

The Right Honorable Baronet has said there has been no word of recantation. The Right Honorable Baronet speaks truth. There has been no recantation, neither will there be. You have no right to ask me for any recantation. You have no right to ask me for anything. If I am legally disqualified, lay the case before the courts. When you ask me to make a statement, you are guilty of impertinence to me, of treason to the traditions of this House, and of impeachment of the liberties of the people. I beg you now, do not plunge me into a struggle I would shun. The law gives me no remedy if the House decides against me. Do not mock at the constituencies. If you place yourself above the law, you leave me no course save lawless agitation, instead of reasonable pleading. It is easy to begin such a strife, but none knows how it would end. You think I am an obnoxious man, and that I have no one on my side. If that be so, then the more reason that this House, grand in the strength of its centuries of liberty, should have now that generosity in dealing with one who tomorrow may be forced into a struggle for public opinion against it.

—Bradlaugh to the House of Commons

Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll and Charles Bradlaugh form a trinity of names inseparably linked. The memory of Paine was for many years covered beneath the garbage of prevarication. In order to find the man, we had to excavate for him. Happily, with the help of the Reverend Moncure D. Conway, we found him.

Ingersoll’s life lies open to us, and the honest, loving, and gentle nature of the man is beyond dispute. The pious pedants who tried to traduce him were self-indicted. No one now even thinks to answer them. The man who said, “In a world where death is, there is no time to hate,” needs no defense. We smile. With Bradlaugh it is the same. His biography in two volumes, by his daughter, is a very human document. The work is worthy of comparison with that most excellent book, the life of Huxley by his son.

The essence of good biography lies largely in indiscretion. This loving daughter’s tribute to her father tells things which some might say do no honor to anybody. Quite true, but these are the corroborating things which inform us that the book is truth.

Charles Bradlaugh performed for England the same service that Robert Ingersoll did for America. Both presented the minority report. Through their influence the Church was able to renounce the devil and all his works.

These men were both born in the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty-three, about a month apart. In many ways they were very much alike. In physique they were heroic; both were lawyers; both were natural orators.

Bradlaugh, however, began his radical career before he was of age, while Ingersoll was nearly forty before he set aside diplomacy and ceased wooing bronchitis.

Charles Bradlaugh was the first child of a worthy clerk married to a housemaid. His father never earned more than two guineas a week. All these parents ever did for their son was to supply him with physical life, and teach him by antithesis. No trace can be found that he in any mental characteristic resembled either. Parents are evidently people who are used for a purpose by a Something.

Bradlaugh’s parents were wedded to the established order, and never doubted the literal inspiration of the Scriptures. They also believed in the divine origin of the prayer-book, a measure of credulity which, although commendable, is, I believe, not required. These parents were severe, exacting, imperious–not bad nor exactly cruel–simply “consistent.” They believed that man was a worm of the dust, and stood by the traditions. They believed in the dogma of total depravity and lived up to it.

A bundle of old clothes sent yearly from a rich cousin in Kent was an epoch. Sugar in the house was out of the question, and once when the rich cousin in Kent, who was an omnibus-inspector, sent a pound of brown sugar in the pocket of an old coat, the sweets suddenly vanished. Charles was accused and stubbornly denied the theft. He was then punished with the handy strap for both the denial and the larceny. Later, it turned out that a little girl next door stole the sugar, and when Charles refused to inform on her, she informed on herself. Then the boy was again whipped because he had not informed on the girl. Charles got all of the disgrace and none of the sugar.

Charles was sent to a “ragged school,” and became, at the mature age of ten, so exact a penman that he almost rivaled his father, who could write the Lord’s Prayer on the back of a postage-stamp. At this school, beside getting an education, Charles got pedagogic scars on his body which ten years later, when he enlisted in the army, were noted in the physical description.

The daughter of Bradlaugh has in her possession a beautiful motto from Scripture done into antique text by the lad for his mother when the boy was nine years old. All around the motto are flying birds penned in pure Spencerian. The motto is this: “Then said Joab, I may not tarry long with thee. And he took three darts in his hand and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. And ten young men of Joab’s smote Absalom and slew him.” This was before the art of working mottoes with worsted in perforated cardboard had been perfected.

When ten years of age Charles was taken from school and hired out as an office-boy at five shillings a week, the money being paid to the father and duly used for the support of the family. It is good to see, though, that at that early day the expense-account was made to serve its legitimate use. When the boy had bundles to deliver and was given money for ‘bus-fare, he walked and kept the fare. The bridge-toll was a half-penny, and by climbing aboard of a wagon this was saved. To be back on time he would run. He became an expert in catching on ‘buses and riding on the axle of cabs, well out of reach of the driver’s whip. With the money so saved he bought penny tracts on politics, history and religion. One day he was sent to deliver a bundle to Mark Marsden, a writer and publisher. Charles did not know the man, but in his hand, all unconsciously, he carried a tract written by Marsden. Nothing interests an author like a copy of his own amusing works. Marsden gave the boy two pats on the head, a bun, a half-crown and three penny pamphlets on political economy.

Charles went away stepping high, but his tongue was so paralyzed with surprise and joy that he forgot to thank the man. Twenty years after he remembered the transaction vividly–it was the first real human kindness that had ever come his way. He told of it, standing on the same platform with Marsden and speaking to two thousand people. Marsden had forgotten the incident–happy Marsden, who gave out love and joy as he journeyed and made no notes. This little story proves two things: That authors are not wholly bad, and that kindness to a boy is a good investment. Boys grow to be men–at least some do, and I trust it will not be denied that all men were once boys. Bradlaugh, to the day of his death, was always kind to boys. He realized that with them he was dealing with soul-stuff, and that Destiny awaited just around the corner.

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When Charles was fourteen years old he had gravitated to the cashier’s desk, and his pay was twelve shillings a week.

He was large for his age, and the life of the streets had sharpened his wits, so he was old for his years. He was studious and very religious, as children struggling with adolescence often are. Sundays were sacred to church, morning and evening, and the spare hours were given over to reading the lives of the martyrs. Only on weekdays did he read history or political tracts. In Sunday School he was a very promising teacher.

Then comes in one, the Reverend J. G. Packer, incumbent of Saint Peter’s, who lives in history only because he entered into a quarrel with this boy.

Young Bradlaugh was preparing for confirmation; he could say the catechism backward and forward, and he also knew Bible history from Genesis to Revelation. But he could not reconcile certain portions of Bible history with our belief in an all-loving, all-wise and ever-just God. So he wrote to his pastor a long and respectful letter in precise and exact Spencerian, asking for light.

Now, the Reverend J. G. Packer regarded interrogation as proof of depravity, and straightway sent the letter to the boy’s father. At the same time he suspended the youth for three months from Sunday School, denouncing him before the school as atheistical, all this in the interests of discipline. These tactics of coercion were the rule a hundred years ago, and the Reverend J. G. Packer had simply lost his reckoning as to longitude and time. There was a violent scene between father and son, and the boy being too big to chastise was simply handed a few pages of Billingsgate.

At this time Bonner’s Fields was a great place for open-air meetings. The custom of public speaking in London parks still continues, and on any pleasant Sunday afternoon one can hear all kinds of orthodox and heretical vagaries defended on the turf. Young Bradlaugh took to the open-air meetings, and lifted up his voice in praise, feeling the usual stimulus and joyous uplift that goes with martyrdom. After his own orthodox service was over, he sought out the opposition and tried to silence the infidels in debate. One of these infidels, in pity for the boy’s innocence and ignorance, loaned him a copy of Paine’s “Age of Reason.” Up to this time he had never heard of Paine. Now he began to study him, and he began by reading his life. From this he gleaned the fact that Paine had suffered for conscience sake and had been driven out of England, just as he, himself, had been driven out of the church.

The three months’ suspension having expired, young Bradlaugh was invited to come back into the fold. But he did not come. He had been learning things. Paine and persecution had sharpened his mind. I do not believe that Packer drove Bradlaugh into atheism, but I do believe that he hastened the process by about twenty years. Bradlaugh did not have the quality of mind that could ever have been encysted by orthodoxy.

Boyhood was being left behind. He had joined a Free-thinkers’ Club, which met at a coffeehouse kept by Mrs. Richard Carlile, who had come up to London, alone, from the country, and published a little magazine devoted to the rights of woman. She had kept up the fight for freedom for a score of years. Poverty and calumny could not subdue her. She was bordering on fifty, and spoke in the parks, to all and any who would listen, scorning to take up a collection. Her private character was beyond reproach. Indeed, her namesake, Tammas the Titan, who spelled his name in a different way, speaks of her as one “insultingly virtuous.” And so the Reverend J.G. Packer discovered that young Bradlaugh was “loitering at the coffeehouse of that Jezebel, the Carlile woman.” Straightway he wrote a letter to young Bradlaugh, giving him three days in which to return to the church, renouncing all infidel beliefs, or his employers would be informed of his habits, in which case his cashiership would be taken from him.

This letter was evidently the joint work of the boy’s parents and the busy and unctuous clergyman. The only trouble was that their plan worked too well. The boy, believing that it meant the loss of his position, was desperate. He waited until two days had expired, and then on the morning of the third boldly resigned his position, and taking his scanty effects left home forever. Thus began that lifelong fight for freedom which ended only with his death.

* * * * *

And so we find Charles Bradlaugh absolutely severed from his parents. He used to walk up and down past the home that was once his, but his sisters were forbidden, on pain of being turned into the streets, to speak to him.

That he suffered terribly, there is no doubt; but that a fine, sustaining pride was his, is equally true. Sorrow is never quite all sorrow, and most funerals carry with them a dash of consoling satisfaction for the mourners.

Young Bradlaugh now began to concentrate on his books–he felt sure that he had a mission. He became a waiter at a coffeehouse, then a clerk, next a salesman; but the reputation of being an infidel follow him, and he could not disprove the charge. In fact, I do not think he tried to, for on Sundays he was at Hyde Park lecturing on temperance and saying unsavory things about the clergy on account of their indifference concerning the real needs of the people.

A teetotaler in England then was almost as much of a curiosity as in the days of Franklin. Young Bradlaugh seemed to possess all the heresies. He became a vegetarian, rented a room for three shillings a week, and boarded himself on sixpence a day. Cooking is a matter of approbation and emulation, and he who cooketh unto himself alone is on the road to dyspepsia.

This long, lanky youth, intent on reforming the world in the matter of food, drink and theological diet, was six feet two, and weighed exactly ninety-nine pounds in the shade. He wore a chimney-pot hat, a tight-fitting, long, black coat, and lavender spats. Fasting and study had given him a visage like the ghost in “Hamlet,” and gotten him where no man would hire him.

Then it was that hunger forced him into a recruiting-office, no doubt aided by the specious argument that he wanted to teach temperance to Tommy Atkins. The recruiting-officer gazed at the apparition and sent for a surgeon. This surgeon sent for another, and both went over the skeleton, tapping, listening, prodding and counting. “All he needs is food and work,” said surgeon Number One, giving the subject a final poke with his pudgy forefinger.

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So Private Bradlaugh was sworn in, and that night shipped to Dublin, where uniforms were to be provided. Very naturally, the chimney-pot hat did not survive the voyage, the rim being smashed down around his neck for a ‘kerchief. The clerical coat also soon looked the worse for wear; and a copy of Euclid as well as books by David Hume served for footballs.

It was hard, but all a part of life, and young Bradlaugh took his lesson. We know this because in just six months his regiment was stationed near the storied village of Donnybrook, and Bradlaugh was one of sixteen selected to attend the Fair. This committee did not got to the Fair armed with feather dusters.

Bradlaugh now weighed one hundred sixty, and had proved his prowess with the shillalah. It was the unwritten law at Donnybrook that no soldiers should be allowed to attend the Fair. The managers, however, still continued to sell tickets to soldiers, yet to keep the enterprise from being wiped out of existence, only sixteen soldiers from each regiment were allowed to attend on any single day.

Bradlaugh’s reach and height saved him, and the motto, “Wherever you see a head, hit it,” did not disturb him, since his headpiece was well above high-water mark.

Regular food, regular work and regular sleep did Bradlaugh a world of good. He never much believed in war, but the idea of the Government giving her male citizens a little compulsory physical training always appealed to him.

Three years of soldier life did not supply Bradlaugh any bad habits, and whether he influenced Tommy Atkins in following the straight and narrow path is still a problem.

On pleasant Sundays it was the rule that the regiment should be marched to church. On one occasion a certain clergyman had excused himself from explaining a passage of Scripture on the ground that soldiers could not understand it, anyway. This brought a letter from Private Bradlaugh, wherein he explained that particular passage to the pastor, and also revealed the fact that a soldier might know quite as much as a preacher.

The next Sunday, when the clergyman referred to the letter and in scathing tones rebuked the sender, three hundred soldiers unhooked their sabers and dropped them on the stone floor. The din broke up the service. Very shortly after, as punishment, the regiment was sent to a barracks in a region that lacked religious advantages.

In the absence of a chaplain Private Bradlaugh was allowed each Sunday to address the men “on some moral theme.”

This continued until complaint was made to the home office, when there came a curt order forbidding “any public talk by Private Bradlaugh or others on the subject of politics or religion.”

Bradlaugh’s three years of army life held back his mental processes and allowed his body to develop. On the other hand, he had been exiled from society, so he idealized things, seeing them with the eye of imagination rather than beholding them as they actually were.

Sometimes this is well, and sometimes not. When Charles Bradlaugh, aged twenty, married Susannah Hooper, some people said it was a “lovely wedding.” Miss Hooper had social station, while Bradlaugh only had prospects. The bride was handsome, vivacious, witty, pink and twenty-one.

Never was a man more beset by unkind Fate than Bradlaugh. His wife’s intellect was merely a surface indication; she cared nothing for his ideals, and all of his love for truth was for her a mockery. She sought to lead him into conventional lines, to have him renounce his peculiar views and join the church. His fond dreams of educating her slid into disarrangement, and inside of a year he found himself mentally absolutely alone. Five years went by and three children had been born to them.

Bradlaugh was still preaching temperance in the parks; and as if to defy his precepts, his wife took to strong drink, so that when he returned home he often found her cared for by the neighbors, who in pity had come in to protect the children.

That peculiar English custom of women drinking at public bars helped along the work of undoing. It is a sorry tale, save for the devotion of the two girls and their brother for their father and his love for them. The mother was only a mother in name. She became a confirmed and helpless victim of alcoholism, and lingered on for some years, existing in a sanitarium or cared for by a special attendant.

* * * * *

After his marriage Bradlaugh entered a lawyer’s office. He soon became head clerk to the firm. His natural ability for public speaking made him a good trial advocate, and then he had a physical ability that rendered him especially valuable where seizures were to be made or evictions effected.

The practise of law then, it seems, was not at a very high mark. Wise men nowadays try to keep out of court. They know that in a lawsuit both sides lose, also that a bad compromise is better than a good lawsuit. But forty years ago, to “have the law on him” was quite the common way of dealing with your enemy, instead of forgetting the wrong that had been done you, and leaving the man to Nemesis.

We hear of a certain case where one of Bradlaugh’s clients had built a brick house on rented ground, without the legal precaution of taking a ninety-nine-year lease. Naturally, the rapacious landlord–for all landlords are rapacious, I am told–ordered the renter out at the end of the year.

The renter then demanded that the landlord should pay him for his building. This was very foolish on the part of the renter, and revealed a woeful ignorance of common law. Bradlaugh was retained and interviewed the obdurate landlord–for all landlords, I am told, are obdurate as well as rapacious. But all was in vain.

That night Bradlaugh and his client got together a hundred good men and true and carried the house away from chimney to cornerstone, leaving nothing but the cellar.

This legal move was very much like that of Robert Ingersoll, who had a railroad company lay half a mile of track through one of the streets of Peoria, between midnight and sun-up, and then let the opposing party carry the case to the courts.

Ingersoll’s interest in the world of thought cost him the Governorship of the State of Illinois. Bradlaugh’s interest along similar lines cost him the foremost position at the English bar. The man had presence, persistence, courage, and that rapid, ready intellect which commands respect with judge, jury and opposition. Before he was twenty-five he knew history, mythology, poetry, economics and theology in a way that few men do who spend a lifetime in research.

Public speaking opens up the mental pores as no other form of intellectual exercise does. It inspires, stimulates, and calls out the reserves. Perhaps the best result of oratory is in that it reveals a man’s ignorance to himself and shows him how little he knows, thus urging him to reinforce his stores and prepare for a siege.

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All this, of course, does not apply to clergymen whose efforts are purely “ex parte,” and where a reply on the part of the pew is considered an offense.

Wendell Phillips advised the young oratorical aspirant to take “a course of mobs.” Most certainly Bradlaugh did, and then he continued to take post-graduate courses. His Donnybrook experiences were simply prophetic.

The crowds at Hyde Park who came to hear him speak were not actuated wholly by a desire to hear the answer to Pilate’s question.

Bradlaugh had his own corner in the Park where he spoke on Sunday mornings, when the weather was pleasant. At this meeting he invited replies, so the proceeding usually took the form of a debate. And he had a way of enlivening in a similar manner the service of his friends the enemy. Often the audience, for pure love of mischief, would start pushing, and two hundred hoodlums would overrun the meeting. There was no special violence about it–it is very English, you know. Occasionally it happens yet in Hyde Park, and the true London Bobby, who never sees anything he does not want to see, allows the beefeaters to crowd, jostle, and push themselves tired. It was really all very funny unless you were caught in the pushing crowd, then all you could do was to keep on your feet and go with the merry mass. But the attendance at Hyde Park meetings was increasing, and in the rough- house, at times, some one would fall and be trampled upon.

So an order was issued from Scotland Yard that all public speaking in the parks should cease between ten o’clock in the morning and two in the afternoon. This was during church hours, for church attendance had begun to fall off very perceptibly.

Bradlaugh thought the order was without due process of law–that the parks belonged to the people, and that public speaking in the open was not an abuse of the people’s rights. More people than ever flocked to Hyde Park on the Sunday set for the fray. Bradlaugh arranged that a dozen or more of his colleagues should begin to speak at the same time in different parts of the park. The police began to charge and the crowds began to push. Then the police used their truncheons. Two policemen seized Bradlaugh. He politely asked them to keep their hands off, and when they did not he showed them his quality by wresting their truncheons from them, and flinging them to the cheering crowd. He then bumped the heads of the officers together, inciting riot, so ran the records.

This all sounds rather tragic, and I am sorry to believe that Bradlaugh rather enjoyed it. No one man physically was a match for him, and all men fall easy victims to their facility. The police did not succeed on this occasion in arresting him; and it seems that there was a sentiment abroad that made the Government hesitate about arresting him on a bench warrant. A few years before, and Bradlaugh would have been hanged, and there would ‘a been an end on’t. However, several friends of the “Cause” were locked up, and the next day Bradlaugh appeared in court to defend them. A truce was declared, without renouncing the rights of free speech, and Bradlaugh agreed, for the present, to cease holding public meetings.

The little weekly newspaper, “The Reasoner,” published by Bradlaugh was paying expenses, and there was a fair demand for his intellectual wares. When he lectured in the provinces, there were the usual warnings from pastors to their flocks which served to lessen the advertising expenses of the lecture. Many of those warned not to go, of course went, just to see how bad it was. Then occasionally halls were closed against Bradlaugh on account of local pressure, and lawsuits followed, for the “Iconoclast,” while not believing much in law, was yet so inconsistent as to invoke it. So all through life, when he did not have a lawsuit on hand, existence seemed tasteless and insipid. After he had lectured in a town, there was the usual theological and oratorical pyrotechnics in reply, with sermons from that indelicate text, “The fool saith in his heart, there is no God,” and challenges that he should come back and fight it out. The number of people who won tuppence worth of fame by replying to Ingersoll were as naught compared to those who achieved fame by berating Bradlaugh.

In all of the opposition encountered by Ingersoll, his arguments were never met with physical violence. Halls were locked against him, newspapers denounced him, preachers thundered, but no mobs gathered to hoot him down. Neither did he ever have to excuse himself in the midst of a discourse, and go outside to stop a tin-pan serenade.

The Governor of Delaware, I believe, once notified Ingersoll that Delaware had its whipping-post ready for his benefit when he came that way. But the threat raised such a laugh that Delaware, for a time, became a national joke. Later, a committee of Delaware citizens, as if to make amends, invited Colonel Ingersoll to speak at Dover, and this he did, also addressing the State Legislature.

Bradlaugh, however, for many years encountered ancient eggs, vegetables, rocks, and pushing, jostling mobs, which on several occasions swept him off the platform, but not before a few first citizens had been tumbled pellmell into the orchestra. Let it here be repeated that the sole offense of Bradlaugh was that he opposed the Christian religion. The violence offered him was of necessity the work of Christians, or those directly influenced and instigated by them. Ingersoll’s reference to the fact that the most zealous, orthodox Christian State in the Union still had its whipping-post was a turn of the argument which Bradlaugh effectively used. And so stingingly true was his statement that violence and mob-rule in England were the monopoly of organized religion, that the better element began to discourage the hot-headed communicants instead of urging them on. So, by Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six, Bradlaugh lectured throughout the United Kingdom to large audiences of highly cultured people, who came and gladly paid admission to hear him speak. Newspapers that had tried either to smother him with silence or else denounce him without reason began to report his speeches. Of course there was a little unkind comment, too, but this became less frequent, and was mostly the work of insignificant journals. One semi-religious paper of very small caliber, in a suburb of London, where he lived, published a “roast” that is worth repeating. It runs as follows:

We have in our midst the very Corypheus of infidelity, a compeer of Holyoake, a man who thinks no more of the Bible than if it were an old ballad–Colenso is a babe to him. This is a mighty man of valor, I assure you–a very Goliath in his way. He used to go starring it in the provinces, itinerating as a tuppenny lecturer on Tom Paine. He has occasionally appeared in our Lecture-Hall. He, too, as well as other conjurers, has thrown dust in our eyes and has made the platform reel beneath the superincumbent weight of his balderdash and blasphemy. The house he lives in is a sort of “Voltaire Villa.” The man and his “squaw” occupy it, united by a bond unblessed by priest or parson. But that has an advantage: it will enable him to turn his squaw out to grass, like his friend Charles Dickens, when he feels tired of her, unawed by either the ghost or the successor of Sir Cresswell Cresswell. Not having any particular scruples of conscience about the Lord’s Day, the gentleman worships the God of Nature in his own way. He thinks “ratting” on a Sunday with a good Scotch terrier is better than the “ranting” of a good Scotch divine– for the Presbyterian element has latterly made its appearance among us. Like the homeopathic doctor described in the sketch, this gentleman combines a variety of professions “rolled into one.” In the provinces he is a star of the first magnitude, known by the name of Moses Scoffer; in the city a myth known to his pals as Swear ‘Em Charley; and in our neighborhood he is a cipher–incog., but perfectly understood. He contrives to eke out a tolerable livelihood: I should say that his provincial blasphemies and his city practise bring him a clear five hundred pounds a year at the least. But is it not the wages of iniquity? He has a few followers here, but only a few. He has recently done a very silly act; for he has, all at once, converted “Voltaire Villa” into a glass house, and the whole neighborhood can now see into the wigwam, where he dwells in true Red Indian fashion with his squaw.

Had this clumsy libel appeared anywhere else than in a paper circulated in the immediate neighborhood of his home, probably Bradlaugh would have paid no attention to it. Other things quite as bad had been said about him; but this time he simply put on his hat and called on the writer, the Reverend Hugh McSorley. Just what happened Bradlaugh never told, and about it McSorley was singularly silent. It is feared, however, that at that time Bradlaugh had not quite gotten rid of all his Christian virtues.

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He carried a rattan cane, and his daughters thought that he went to see McSorley with no intent of breaking the Bible injunction to spare the rod. This we know, that the Reverend Mr. McSorley linked his name with that of the Reverend J. G. Packer, and that McSorley’s friends paid Bradlaugh five hundred pounds, which money was promptly turned over by Bradlaugh to the “Masonic Home” and “The Working-Men’s Relief,” two charities that Bradlaugh ever remembered when he realized on libel-suits. In the next issue of McSorley’s paper appeared the following apology:

The editor and proprietor of this newspaper desires to express his extreme pain that the columns of a journal which has never before been made the vehicle for reflection on private character should, partly by inadvertence, and partly by a too-unhesitating reliance on the authority and good faith of others, have contained a mischievous and unfounded libel upon Mr. Charles Bradlaugh.

That Mr. Bradlaugh holds, and fearlessly expounds, theological opinions entirely opposed to those of the editor and the majority of our readers, is undoubtedly true, and Mr. Bradlaugh can not and does not complain that his name is associated with Colenso, Holyoake or Paine; but that he has offensively intruded those opinions in our lecture-hall is not true. That his ordinary language on the platform is balderdash and blasphemy is not true. That he makes a practise of openly desecrating the Sabbath is not true. That he is known by the name of Moses Scoffer, or Swear ‘Em Charley, is not true. Nor is there any foundation for the sneer as to his city practise, or for the insinuations made against his conduct or character as a scholar and a gentleman.

While making this atonement to Mr. Bradlaugh, the editor must express his unfeigned sorrow that the name of Mrs. Bradlaugh should have been introduced into the article in question, accompanied by a suggestion calculated to wound her in the most vital part, conveying as it does a reflection upon her honor and fair fame as a woman and a wife. Mrs. Bradlaugh is too well known and too much respected to suffer by such a calumny; but for the pain so heedlessly given to a sensitive and delicate nature the editor offers this expression of his profound and sincere regret
.

When Bradlaugh was forty-one years of age he met Annie Besant. This was in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-four, and a friendship grew up between them that was of great benefit to both. Mrs. Besant was a woman of much power, a clear, logical thinker, and a fluent and eloquent public speaker. Her influence upon Bradlaugh was marked. After meeting her, much of the storm and stress seemed to leave his nature, and he acquired a poise and peace he had never before known.

They entered into a business partnership and together published the “National Reformer.” The exceptional quality of Mrs. Besant’s mind raised the status of the paper. Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were influencing their times, and were being influenced by their times. Once they talked to mobs, now they had audiences.

It was through Mrs. Besant’s influence that Bradlaugh was nominated for Parliament in Northampton. Three successive elections he ran, and was defeated, each defeat, however, being by a smaller majority than before. Mrs. Besant campaigned the district and certainly introduced a new element into politics. “I can not vote,” she said, “but I trust I can use a woman’s privilege and influence men concerning the use of the ballot for truth and right.”

In Eighteen Hundred Eighty, Bradlaugh was elected with Mr. Labouchere, whose views as to theology and the Established Church were one with Bradlaugh’s.

“Labby” took the oath quite as a matter of course, just as atheists everywhere kiss the book in courts, it being to them but an antique form of affirming that what they say will be truth. Had Bradlaugh followed Labouchere’s example, the most important chapter of his life would not have been written. Bradlaugh asked that he be allowed to affirm his allegiance, instead of making oath. Here the House of Commons blundered, for if as a body it had given assent, that would have made the request of Bradlaugh quite incidental and trivial. Instead, the House made a mountain out of a molehill, by refusing the request and appointing a select committee of seventeen members to consider the matter. They called Bradlaugh before them and interrogated him at length as to his belief in a Supreme Being and a life after death. Then they voted, and the ballot stood eight to eight. The chairman, a large white barn-owl, gave the casting vote, declining to accept the affirmation. The matter was reported to the House, and the action duly confirmed. Bradlaugh then, on advice of Labouchere, notified the House that he was willing to accept the regulation oath, all in the interests of amity, it being of course understood that his religious views had not changed. Bradlaugh thought, of course, that this would end the matter, his view being that he had fully receded from his former position, and was conforming to the pleasure of his colleagues in accepting the regulation oath. To his surprise, however, when he approached the bar to take the oath, Gladstone arose and remonstrated against administering the oath to a man who had publicly disavowed his belief in a Supreme Being, and moved that the question be referred to a select committee.

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Here was a new and unexpected issue. The ayes had it. A committee, consisting of the suggestive number of twenty-three, examined Bradlaugh at length and finally reported against allowing him to take the oath, but recommended that he be allowed to affirm at his own legal risk. The suggestion was promptly voted down, to the eternal discredit of Gladstone, who led the opposition, and was bent on keeping the “infidel” out of Parliament. During the conflict, the character, high endowments, and personal worth of Bradlaugh were never officially challenged–it was just his lack of religious belief. The matter was fast becoming a national issue, and Churchwomen without number were canvassing all England with petitions asking Parliament to remember that England was a Christian nation.

Bradlaugh was down and out, legally, but he presented himself again at the bar, showed his election credentials, and demanded that the oath be administered. He was arrested as an intruder on motion of Sir Stafford Northcote, but was immediately released, as it was seen he was going to meet violence with violence.

Gladstone here came in with a very sharp bit of practise. He introduced a resolution that “any member shall be allowed to affirm or to take oath, at his own legal peril.”

Bradlaugh here fell an easy prey, and at once affirmed, and took his seat, when he was straightway arrested on a warrant for violation of the rules of the House, which ordained that no man should take official part in Parliament who had not taken the oath.

This transferred the case to the criminal courts, where the case was tried and Bradlaugh found guilty. This legally vacated his seat. The Church folks were jubilant, and Gladstone received many congratulations from men with collars buttoned behind, on having disposed of the infidel Bradlaugh.

But the matter was not yet settled. Northampton had another election, and Bradlaugh was again elected.

Again he presented himself at the bar of the House and asked to be sworn. The House, however, would not accept either his oath or his affirmation, and asked for time to consider. In the meantime, writs were issued to “show cause,” demurrers filled the air, and the mandamus grew gross through lack of exercise.

Four months passed, and the House making no move, Bradlaugh endeavored to appear and address the members on his own behalf. He was ordered to leave. But he demanded “English fair play.” He said: “I have been elected a member of the House of Commons, you do not contest my election, neither do you declare my seat vacant. I ask to be allowed either to take the oath or to affirm, whichever you choose, but so far you allow me to do neither. In justice to my constituents I am here to stay.”

The order was given that he be removed, and then occurred a scene such as had never occurred in the House before, and probably never will occur again. Four messengers attempted to seize Bradlaugh. He flung them from him as though they were children. They stood about him attempting to get a hold upon him, menacing him. The police were called and ten of them made a rush at the man. Benches were torn up, tables upset, and the mass of fifteen men went down in a heap. Bradlaugh’s clothing was literally torn into shreds, and his face was bruised and bloody when after ten minutes’ battle he was overpowered and carried outside. No attempt was made to arrest him: he was simply put out and the gates locked. The crowd in the street would have overrun the place in an instant, had not Mrs. Besant, who stood outside, motioned them back. They had put him out, but the end was not yet. Things done in violence have to be done over again.

Bradlaugh was elected for the third time. Again he presented himself at the House, and on refusal to administer the oath he administered it himself. He was arrested for blasphemy, and charges of circulating atheistic literature were brought in various courts. The endeavor was to enmesh him in legal coils and break his spirit. Where then was the English spirit of fair play!

But public opinion was crystallizing, society was waking up, and a rapidly growing conviction was springing into being that, aside from the injustice to Bradlaugh himself, the House of Commons was unfair to Northampton in not allowing the borough to be represented by the man they so persistently sent. “An affirmation bill” was introduced in the House and voted down.

Again Bradlaugh was elected. On his sixth election Bradlaugh presented himself as usual at the bar, and this time, on the order of Speaker Peel, who had been elected on this very issue, Bradlaugh’s oath was accepted, and he took his seat. The opposition was dumb. Bradlaugh had won.

He promptly introduced an affirmation bill which became a law without any opposition worth the name. Bradlaugh’s crowning achievement is that he fixed in English law the truth that the affirmation of a man who does not believe in a Supreme Being is just as good as the oath of one who does.

During the Bradlaugh struggle, John Morley, the free-thinker, was a member of the House of commons, having taken the regulation oath and been accepted without quibble. Morley constantly used his influence with Labouchere in Bradlaugh’s behalf, but for five years he was blocked by Gladstone.

However, John Morley is now a member of the Cabinet. Gladstone is dead. In January, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-one, when it was known that Bradlaugh was dying, a resolution was introduced and passed by the House of Commons, expunging from the records all references to Bradlaugh having been expelled or debarred from his seat. Gladstone, the chief figure in the expulsion and disbarment, favored the resolution.

When the dying man was told this, he said: “Give them my greetings–I am grateful. I have forgiven it all, and would have forgotten it, save for this.” Here he paused, and was silent. After some moments, he opened his eyes, half-smiled, and motioning to Labouchere to come close, whispered: “But, Labby, the past can not be wiped out by a resolution of Parliament. The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on, nor all your tears shall blot a line of it.”

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