From this sketch of the inner sources of action let me turn to the actions themselves, and see how the outer life was led which fed itself at these springs.
I have said that the friendship between Mr. Bradlaugh and myself dated from our first meeting, and a few days after our talk in Turner Street he came down to see me at Norwood. It was characteristic of the man that he refused my first invitation, and bade me to think well ere I asked him to my house. He told me that he was so hated by English society that any friend of his would be certain to suffer, and that I should pay heavily for any friendship extended to him. When, however, I wrote to him, repeating my invitation, and telling him that I had counted the cost, he came to see me. His words came true; my friendship for him alienated from me even many professed Freethinkers, but the strength and the happiness of it outweighed a thousand times the loss it brought, and never has a shadow of regret touched me that I clasped hands with him in 1874, and won the noblest friend that woman ever had. He never spoke to me a harsh word; where we differed, he never tried to override my judgment, nor force on me his views; we discussed all points of difference as equal friends; he guarded me from all suffering as far as friend might, and shared with me all the pain he could not turn aside; all the brightness of my stormy life came to me through him, from his tender thoughtfulness, his ever-ready sympathy, his generous love. He was the most unselfish man I ever knew, and as patient as he was strong. My quick, impulsive nature found in him the restful strength it needed, and learned from him the self-control it lacked.
He was the merriest of companions in our rare hours of relaxation; for many years he was wont to come to my house in the morning, after the hours always set aside by him for receiving poor men who wanted advice on legal and other matters—for he was a veritable poor man's lawyer, always ready to help and counsel—and, bringing his books and papers, he would sit writing, hour after hour, I equally busy with my own work, now and then, perhaps, exchanging a word, breaking off just for lunch and dinner, and working on again in the evening till about ten o'clock—he always went early to bed when at home—he would take himself off again to his lodgings, about three-quarters of a mile away. Sometimes he would play cards for an hour, euchre being our favourite game. But while we were mostly busy and grave, we would make holiday sometimes, and then he was like a boy, brimming over with mirth, full of quaint turns of thought and speech; all the country round London has for me bright memories of our wanderings—Richmond, where we tramped across the park, and sat under its mighty trees; Windsor, with its groves of bracken; Kew, where we had tea in a funny little room, with watercress ad libitum; Hampton Court, with its dishevelled beauties; Maidenhead and Taplow, where the river was the attraction; and, above all, Broxbourne, where he delighted to spend the day with his fishing-rod, wandering along the river, of which he knew every eddy. For he was a great fisherman, and he taught me all the mysteries of the craft, mirthfully disdainful of my dislike of the fish when I had caught them. And in those days he would talk of all his hopes of the future, of his work, of his duty to the thousands who looked to him for guidance, of the time when he would sit in Parliament as member for Northampton, and help to pass into laws the projects of reform for which he was battling with pen and tongue. How often he would voice his love of England, his admiration of her Parliament, his pride in her history. Keenly alive to the blots upon it in her sinful wars of conquest, in the cruel wrongs inflicted upon subject peoples, he was yet an Englishman to the heart's core, but feeling above all the Englishman's duty, as one of a race that had gripped power and held it, to understand the needs of those he ruled, and to do justice willingly, since compulsion to justice there was none. His service to India in the latest years of his life was no suddenly accepted task. He had spoken for her, pleaded for her, for many a long year, through press and on platform, and his spurs as member for India were won long ere he was member of Parliament.
A place on the staff of the National Reformer was offered me by Mr. Bradlaugh a few days after our first meeting, and the small weekly salary thus earned—it was only a guinea, for national reformers are always poor—was a very welcome addition to my resources. My first contribution appeared in the number for August 30, 1874, over the signature of "Ajax," and I wrote in it regularly until Mr. Bradlaugh died; from 1877 until his death I sub-edited it, so as to free him from all the technical trouble and the weary reading of copy, and for part of this period was also co-editor. I wrote at first under a nom de guerre, because the work I was doing for Mr. Scott would have been prejudiced had my name appeared in the columns of the terrible National Reformer, and until this work—commenced and paid for—was concluded I did not feel at liberty to use my own name. Afterwards, I signed my National Reformer articles, and the tracts written for Mr. Scott appeared anonymously.
The name was suggested by the famous statue of
"Ajax Crying for Light," a cast of which may be seen
in the centre walk by any visitor to the Crystal Palace,
Sydenham. The cry through the darkness for light,
even though light should bring destruction, was one
that awoke the keenest sympathy of response from my
"If our fate be death
Give light, and let us die!"
To see, to know, to understand, even though the seeing blind, though the knowledge sadden, though the understanding shatter the dearest hopes—such has ever been the craving of the upward-striving mind in man. Some regard it as a weakness, as a folly, but I am sure that it exists most strongly in some of the noblest of our race; that from the lips of those who have done most in lifting the burden of ignorance from the overstrained and bowed shoulders of a stumbling world has gone out most often into the empty darkness the pleading, impassioned cry:
The light may come with a blinding flash, but it is light none the less, and we can see.
And now the time had come when I was to use that gift of speech which I had discovered in Sibsey Church that I possessed, and to use it to move hearts and brains all over the English land. In 1874, tentatively, and in 1875 definitely, I took up this keen weapon, and have used it ever since. My first attempt was at a garden party, in a brief informal debate, and I found that words came readily and smoothly: the second in a discussion at the Liberal Social Union on the opening of museums and art galleries on Sunday. My first lecture was given at the Co-operative Institute, 55, Castle Street, Oxford Street, on August 25, 1874. Mr. Greening—then, I think, the secretary—had invited me to read a paper before the society, and had left me the choice of the subject. I resolved that my first public lecture should be on behalf of my own sex, so I selected for my theme, "The Political Status of Women," and wrote thereon a paper. But it was a very nervous person who presented herself at the Co-operative Institute on that August evening. When a visit to the dentist is made, and one stands on the steps outside, desiring to run away ere the neat little boy in buttons opens the door and beams on one with a smile of compassionate superiority and implike triumph, then the world seems dark and life is as a huge blunder. But all such feelings are poor and weak as compared with the sinking of the heart and the trembling of the knees which seize upon the unhappy lecturer as he advances towards his first audience, and as before his eyes rises a ghastly vision of a tongue-tied would-be lecturer, facing rows of listening faces, listening to—silence. But to my surprise all this miserable feeling vanished the moment I was on my feet and was looking at the faces before me. I felt no tremor of nervousness from the first word to the last, and as I heard my own voice ring out over the attentive listeners I was conscious of power and of pleasure, not of fear. And from that day to this my experience has been the same; before a lecture I am horribly nervous, wishing myself at the ends of the earth, heart beating violently, and sometimes overcome by deadly sickness. Once on my feet, I feel perfectly at my ease, ruler of the crowd, master of myself. I often jeer at myself mentally as I feel myself throbbing and fearful, knowing that when I stand up I shall be all right, and yet I cannot conquer the physical terror and trembling, illusory as I know them to be. People often say to me, "You look too ill to go on the platform." And I smile feebly and say I am all right, and I often fancy that the more miserably nervous I am in the ante-room, the better I speak when once on the platform. My second lecture was delivered on September 27th, at Mr. Moncure D. Conway's Chapel, in St. Paul's Road, Camden Town, and redelivered a few weeks later at a Unitarian Chapel, where the Rev. Peter Dean was minister. This was on the "True Basis of Morality," and was later printed as a pamphlet, which attained a wide circulation. This was all I did in the way of speaking in 1874, but I took silent part in an electioneering struggle at Northampton, where a seat for the House of Commons had fallen vacant by the death of Mr. Charles Gilpin. Mr. Bradlaugh had contested the borough as a Radical in 1868, obtaining 1,086 votes, and again in February, 1874, when he received 1,653; of these no less than 1,060 were plumpers, while his four opponents had only 113, 64, 21 and 12 plumpers respectively; this band formed the compact and personally loyal following which was to win the seat for its chief in 1880, after twelve years of steady struggle, and to return him over and over again to Parliament during the long contest which followed his election, and which ended in his final triumph. They never wavered in their allegiance to "our Charlie," but stood by him through evil report and good report, when he was outcast as when he was triumphant, loving him with a deep, passionate devotion, as honourable to them as it was precious to him. I have seen him cry like a child at evidences of their love for him, he whose courage no danger could daunt, and who was never seen to blench before hatred nor change his stern immobility in the face of his foes. Iron to enmity, he was soft as a woman to kindness; unbending as steel to pressure, he was ductile as wax to love. John Stuart Mill had the insight in 1868 to see his value, and the courage to recognise it. He strongly supported his candidature, and sent a donation to his election expenses. In his "Autobiography" he wrote (pp. 311, 312):—
"He had the support of the working classes; having heard him speak I knew him to be a man of ability, and he had proved that he was the reverse of a demagogue by placing himself in strong opposition to the prevailing opinion of the Democratic party on two such important subjects as Malthusianism and Proportional Representation. Men of this sort, who, while sharing the democratic feeling of the working classes, judge political questions for themselves, and have the courage to assert their individual convictions against popular opposition, were needed, as it seemed to me, in Parliament; and I did not think that Mr. Bradlaugh's anti-religious opinions (even though he had been intemperate in the expression of them) ought to exclude him."
It has been said that Mr. Mill's support of Mr. Bradlaugh's candidature at Northampton cost him his own seat at Westminster, and so bitter was bigotry at that time that the statement is very likely to be true. On this, Mr. Mill himself said: "It was the right thing to do, and if the election were yet to take place, I would do it again."
At this election of September, 1874—the second in the year, for the general election had taken place in the February, and Mr. Bradlaugh had been put up and defeated during his absence in America—I went down to Northampton to report electioneering incidents for the National Reformer, and spent some days there in the whirl of the struggle. The Whig party was more bitter against Mr. Bradlaugh than was the Tory. Strenuous efforts were made to procure a Liberal candidate, who would be able at least to prevent Mr. Bradlaugh's return, and, by dividing the Liberal and Radical party, should let in a Tory rather than the detested Radical. Messrs. Bell and James and Dr. Pearce came on the scene only to disappear. Mr. Jacob Bright and Mr. Arnold Morley were vainly suggested. Mr. Ayrton's name was whispered. Major Lumley was recommended by Mr. Bernal Osborne. Dr. Kenealy proclaimed himself ready to come to the rescue of the Whigs. Mr. Tillett, of Norwich, Mr. Cox, of Belper, were invited, but neither would consent to oppose a good Radical who had fought two elections at Northampton and had been the chosen of the Radical workers for six years. At last Mr. William Fowler, a banker, accepted the task of handing over the representation of a Liberal and Radical borough to a Tory, and duly succeeded in giving the seat to Mr. Mereweather, a very reputable Tory lawyer. Mr. Bradlaugh polled 1,766, thus adding another 133 voters to those who had polled for him in the previous February.
That election gave me my first experience of anything in the nature of rioting. The violent abuse levelled against Mr. Bradlaugh by the Whigs, and the foul and wicked slanders circulated against him, assailing his private life and family relations, had angered almost to madness those who knew and loved him; and when it was found that the unscrupulous Whig devices had triumphed, had turned the election against him, and given over the borough to a Tory, the fury broke out into open violence. One illustration may be given as a type of these cruel slanders. It was known that Mr. Bradlaugh was separated from his wife, and it was alleged that being an Atheist, and, (therefore!) an opponent of marriage, he had deserted his wife and children, and left them to the workhouse. The cause of the separation was known to very few, for Mr. Bradlaugh was chivalrously honourable to women, and he would not shield his own good name at the cost of that of the wife of his youth and the mother of his children. But since his death his only remaining child has, in devotion to her father's memory, stated the melancholy truth: that Mrs. Bradlaugh gave way to drink; that for long years he bore with her and did all that man could do to save her; that finally, hopeless of cure, he broke up his home, and placed his wife in the care of her parents in the country, leaving her daughters with her, while he worked for their support. No man could have acted more generously and wisely under these cruel circumstances than he did, but it was, perhaps, going to an extreme of Quixotism, that he concealed the real state of the case, and let the public blame him as it would. His Northampton followers did not know the facts, but they knew him as an upright, noble man, and these brutal attacks on his personal character drove them wild. Stray fights had taken place during the election over these slanders, and, defeated by such foul weapons, the people lost control of their passions. As Mr. Bradlaugh was sitting well-nigh exhausted in the hotel, after the declaration of the poll, the landlord rushed in, crying to him to go out and try to stop the people, or there would be murder done at the "Palmerston," Mr. Fowler's headquarters; the crowd was charging the door, and the windows were being broken with showers of stones. Weary as he was, Mr. Bradlaugh sprang to his feet, and swiftly made his way to the rescue of those who had maligned and defeated him. Flinging himself before the doorway, from which the door had just been battered down, he knocked down one or two of the most violent, drove the crowd back, argued and scolded them into quietness, and finally dispersed them. But at nine o'clock he had to leave Northampton to catch the mail steamer for America at Queenstown, and after he had left, word went round that he had gone, and the riot he had quelled broke out afresh. The Riot Act was at last read, the soldiers were called out, stones flew freely, heads and windows were broken, but no very serious harm was done. The "Palmerston" and the printing-office of the Mercury, the Whig organ, were the principal sufferers; doors and windows disappearing somewhat completely. The day after the election I returned home, and soon after fell ill with a severe attack of congestion of the lungs. Soon after my recovery I left Norwood and settled in a house in Westbourne Terrace, Bayswater, where I remained till 1876.
In the following January (1875), after much thought and self-analysis, I resolved to give myself wholly to propagandist work, as a Freethinker and a Social Reformer, and to use my tongue as well as my pen in the struggle. I counted the cost ere I determined on this step, for I knew that it would not only outrage the feelings of such new friends as I had already made, but would be likely to imperil my custody of my little girl. I knew that an Atheist was outside the law, obnoxious to its penalties, but deprived of its protection, and that the step I contemplated might carry me into conflicts in which everything might be lost and nothing could be gained. But the desire to spread liberty and truer thought among men, to war against bigotry and superstition, to make the world freer and better than I found it—all this impelled me with a force that would not be denied. I seemed to hear the voice of Truth ringing over the battlefield: "Who will go? Who will speak for me?" And I sprang forward with passionate enthusiasm, with resolute cry: "Here am I, send me!" Nor have I ever regretted for one hour that resolution, come to in solitude, carried out amid the surging life of men, to devote to that sacred cause every power of brain and tongue that I possessed. Very solemn to me is the responsibility of the public teacher, standing forth in Press and on platform to partly mould the thought of his time, swaying thousands of readers and hearers year after year. No weighter responsibility can any take, no more sacred charge. The written and the spoken word start forces none may measure, set working brain after brain, influence numbers unknown to the forthgiver of the word, work for good or for evil all down the stream of time. Feeling the greatness of the career, the solemnity of the duty, I pledged my word then to the cause I loved that no effort on my part should be wanted to render myself worthy of the privilege of service that I took; that I would read and study, and would train every faculty that I had; that I would polish my language, discipline my thought, widen my knowledge; and this, at least, I may say, that if I have written and spoken much, I have studied and thought more, and that I have not given to my mistress Truth that "which hath cost me nothing."
This same year (1875) that saw me launched on the world as a public advocate of Freethought, saw also the founding of the Theosophical Society to which my Freethought was to lead me. I have often since thought with pleasure that at the very time I began lecturing in England, H.P. Blavatsky was at work in the United States, preparing the foundation on which in November, 1875, the Theosophical Society was to be raised. And with deeper pleasure yet have I found her writing of what she called the noble work against superstition done by Charles Bradlaugh and myself, rendering the propaganda of Theosophy far more practicable and safer than it would otherwise have been. The fight soon began, and with some queer little skirmishes. I was a member of the "Liberal Social Union," and one night a discussion arose as to the admissibility of Atheists to the Society. Dr. Zerffi declared that he would not remain a member if avowed Atheists were admitted. I promptly declared that I was an Atheist, and that the basis of the union was liberty of opinion. The result was that I found myself cold-shouldered, and those that had been warmly cordial to me merely as a non-Christian looked askance at me when I had avowed that my scepticism had advanced beyond their "limits of religious thought." The Liberal Social Union soon knew me no more, but in the wider field of work open before me, the narrow-mindedness of this petty clique troubled me not at all.
I started my definite lecturing work at South Place Chapel in January, 1875, Mr. Moncure D. Conway presiding for me, and I find in the National Reformer for January 17th, the announcement that "Mrs. Annie Besant ('Ajax') will lecture at South Place Chapel, Finsbury, on 'Civil and Religious Liberty.'" Thus I threw off my pseudonym, and rode into the field of battle with uplifted visor. The identification led to an odd little exhibition of bigotry. I had been invited by the Dialectical Society to read a paper, and had selected for subject, "The Existence of God." (It may be noted, in passing, that young students and speakers always select the most tremendous subjects for their discourses. One advances in modesty as one advances in knowledge, and after eighteen years of platform work, I am far more dubious than I was at their beginning as to my power of dealing in any sense adequately with the problems of life.) The Dialectical Society had for some years held their meetings in a room in Adam Street, rented from the Social Science Association. When the members gathered as usual on February 17th, the door was found to be locked, and they had to gather on the stairs; they found that "Ajax's" as yet undelivered paper was too much for Social Science nerves, and that entrance to their ordinary meeting-room was then and thenceforth denied them. So they, with "Ajax," found refuge at the Charing Cross Hotel, and speculated merrily on the eccentricities of religious bigotry.
On February 12th I started on my first provincial lecturing tour, and after speaking at Birkenhead that evening went on by the night mail to Glasgow. Some races—dog races—I think, had been going on, and very unpleasant were many of the passengers waiting on the platform. Some Birkenhead friends had secured me a compartment, and watched over me till the train began to move. Then, after we had fairly started, the door was flung open by a porter, and a man was thrust in who half tumbled on to the seat. As he slowly recovered he stood up, and as his money rolled out of his hand on to the floor, and he gazed vaguely at it, I saw to my horror that he was drunk. The position was not pleasant, for the train was an express, and was not timed to stop for a considerable time. My odious fellow-passenger spent some time on the floor, hunting after his scattered coins; then he slowly gathered himself up and presently became conscious of my presence. He studied me for some time, and then proposed to shut the window. I assented quietly, not wanting to discuss a trifle and feeling in deadly terror—alone at night in an express with a man not drunk enough to be helpless, but too drunk to be controlled. Never before nor since have I felt so thoroughly frightened. I can see him still, swaying as he stood, with eyes bleared and pendulous lips—but I sat there quiet and outwardly unmoved, as is always my impulse in danger till I see some way of escape, only grasping a penknife in my pocket, with a desperate resolve to use my feeble weapon as soon as the need arose. The man came towards me with a fatuous leer, when a jarring noise was heard and the train began to slacken.
"What is that?" stammered my drunken companion.
"They are putting on the brakes to stop the train," I answered very slowly and distinctly, though a very passion of relief made it hard to say quietly the measured words.
The man sat down stupidly, staring at me, and in a minute or two the train pulled up at a station—it had been stopped by signal. My immobility was gone. In a moment I was at the window, called the guard, and explained rapidly that I was a woman travelling alone, and that a half-drunken man was in the carriage. With the usual kindness of a railway official, he at once moved me and my baggage into another compartment, into which he locked me, and he kept a friendly watch over me at every station at which we stopped until he landed me safely at Glasgow.
At Glasgow a room had been taken for me at a temperance hotel, and it seemed to me so new and lonely a thing to be "all on my own account" in a strange hotel in a strange city, that I wanted to sit down and cry. This feeling, to which I was too proud to yield, was probably partly due to the extreme greyness and grubbiness of my surroundings. Things are better now, but in those days temperance hotels were for the most part lacking in cleanliness. Abstinence from alcohol and a superfluity of "matter in the wrong place" do not seem necessary correlatives, yet I rarely went to a temperance hotel in which water was liberally used for other purposes than that of drinking. From Glasgow I went north to Aberdeen, where I found a very stern and critical audience. Not a sound broke the stillness as I walked up the hall; not a sound as I ascended the platform and faced the people; the canny Scot was not going to applaud a stranger at sight; he was going to see what she was like first. In grim silence they listened; I could not move them; they were granite like their own granite city, and I felt I would like to take off my head and throw it at them, if only to break that hard wall. After about twenty minutes, a fortunate phrase drew a hiss from some child of the Covenanters. I made a quick retort, there was a burst of cheering, and the granite vanished. Never after that did I have to complain of the coldness of an Aberdeen audience. Back to London from Aberdeen, and a long, weary journey it was, in a third-class carriage in the cold month of February; but the labour had in it a joy that outpaid all physical discomfort, and the feeling that I had found my work in the world gave a new happiness to life.
On February 28th I stood for the first time on the platform of the Hall of Science, Old Street, St. Luke's, London, and was received with that warmth of greeting which Secularists are always so ready to extend to any who sacrifice aught to join their ranks. That hall is identified in my mind with many a bitter struggle, with both victory and defeat, but whether in victory or in defeat I found there always welcome; and the love and the courage wherewith Secularists stood by me have overpaid a thousandfold any poor services I was fortunate enough to render, while in their ranks, to the cause of Liberty, and wholly prevent any bitterness arising in my mind for any unfriendliness shown me by some, who have perhaps overstepped kindness and justice in their sorrowful wrath at my renunciation of Materialism and Atheism. So far as health was concerned, the lecturing acted as a tonic. My chest had always been a little delicate, and when I consulted a doctor on the possibility of my standing platform work, he answered, "It will either kill you or cure you." It entirely cured the lung weakness, and I grew strong and vigorous instead of being frail and delicate, as of old.
It would be wearisome to go step by step over eighteen years of platform work, so I will only select here and there incidents illustrative of the whole. And here let me say that the frequent attacks made on myself and others, that we were attracted to Free-thought propaganda by the gains it offered, formed a somewhat grotesque contrast to the facts. On one occasion I spent eight days in Northumberland and Durham, gave twelve lectures, and made a deficit of eleven shillings on the whole. Of course such a thing could not happen in later years, when I had made my name by sheer hard work, but I fancy that every Secularist lecturer could tell of similar experiences in the early days of "winning his way." The fact is that from Mr. Bradlaugh downwards every one of us could have earned a competence with comparative ease in any other line of work, and could have earned it with public approval instead of amid popular reproach. Much of my early lecturing was done in Northumberland and Durham; the miners there are, as a rule, shrewd and hard-headed men, and very cordial is the greeting given by them to those they have reason to trust. At Seghill and at Bedlington I have slept in their cottages and have been welcomed to their tables, and I have a vivid memory of one evening at Seghill, after a lecture, when my host, himself a miner, invited about a dozen of his comrades to supper to meet me; the talk ran on politics, and I soon found that my companions knew more of English politics, had a far shrewder notion of political methods, and were, therefore, much better worth talking to, than most of the ordinary men met at dinner parties "in society." They were of the "uneducated" class despised by "gentlemen," and had not then the franchise, but politically they were far better educated than their social superiors, and were far better fitted to discharge the duties of citizenship. How well, too, do I remember a ten-mile drive in a butcher's cart, to give a lecture in an out-of-the-way spot, unapproached by railway. Such was the jolting as we rattled over rough roads and stony places, that I felt as though all my bones were broken, and as though I should collapse on the platform like a bag half-filled with stones. How kind they were to me, those genial, cordial miners, how careful for my comfort, and how motherly were the women! Ah! if opponents of my views who did not know me were often cruel and malignant, there was compensation in the love and honour in which good men and women all the country over held me, and their devotion outweighed the hatred, and many a time and often soothed a weary and aching heart.
Lecturing in June, 1875, at Leicester, I came for the first time across a falsehood that brought sore trouble and cost me more pain than I care to tell. An irate Christian opponent, in the discussion that followed the lecture, declared that I was responsible for a book entitled, "The Elements of Social Science," which was, he averred, "The Bible of Secularists." I had never heard of the book, but as he stated that it was in favour of the abolition of marriage, and that Mr. Bradlaugh agreed with it, I promptly contradicted him; for while I knew nothing about the book, I knew a great deal about Mr. Bradlaugh, and I knew that on the marriage question he was conservative rather than revolutionary. He detested "Free Love" doctrines, and had thrown himself strongly on the side of the agitation led so heroically for many years by Mrs. Josephine Butler. On my return to London after the lecture I naturally made inquiry as to the volume and its contents, and I found that it had been written by a Doctor of Medicine some years before, and sent to the National Reformer for review, as to other journals, in ordinary course of business. It consisted of three parts—the first advocated, from the standpoint of medical science, what is roughly known as "Free Love"; the second was entirely medical; the third consisted of a clear and able exposition of the law of population as laid down by the Rev. Mr. Malthus, and—following the lines of John Stuart Mill—insisted that it was the duty of married persons to voluntarily limit their families within their means of subsistence. Mr. Bradlaugh, in reviewing the book, said that it was written "with honest and pure intent and purpose," and recommended to working men the exposition of the law of population. His enemies took hold of this recommendation, declared that he shared the author's views on the impermanence of the marriage tie, and, despite his reiterated contradictions, they used extracts against marriage from the book as containing his views. Anything more meanly vile it would be difficult to conceive, but such were the weapons used against him all his life, and used often by men whose own lives contrasted most unfavourably with his own. Unable to find anything in his own writings to serve their purpose, they used this book to damage him with those who knew nothing at first-hand of his views. What his enemies feared were not his views on marriage—which, as I have said, was conservative—but his Radicalism and his Atheism. To discredit him as politician they maligned him socially, and the idea that a man desires "to abolish marriage and the home," is a most convenient poniard, and the one most certain to wound. This was the origin of his worst difficulties, to be intensified, ere long, by his defence of Malthusianism. On me also fell the same lash, and I found myself held up to hatred as upholder of views that I abhorred.
I may add that far warmer praise than that bestowed on this book by Mr. Bradlaugh was given by other writers, who were never attacked in the same way.
In the Reasoner, edited by Mr. George Jacob Holyoake, I find warmer praise of it than in the National Reformer; in the review the following passage appears:—
"In some respects all books of this class are evils: but it would be weakness and criminal prudery—a prudery as criminal as vice itself—not to say that such a book as the one in question is not only a far lesser evil than the one that it combats, but in one sense a book which it is a mercy to issue and courage to publish."
The Examiner, reviewing the same book, declared it to be—
"A very valuable, though rather heterogeneous book.... This is, we believe, the only book that has fully, honestly, and in a scientific spirit recognised all the elements in the problem—How are mankind to triumph over poverty, with its train of attendant evils?—and fearlessly endeavoured to find a practical solution."
The British Journal of Homoeopathy wrote:—
"Though quite out of the province of our journal, we cannot refrain from stating that this work is unquestionably the most remarkable one, in many respects, we have ever met with. Though we differ toto coelo from the author in his views of religion and morality, and hold some of his remedies to tend rather to a dissolution than a reconstruction of society, yet we are bound to admit the benevolence and philanthropy of his motives. The scope of the work is nothing less than the whole field of political economy."
Ernest Jones and others wrote yet more strongly, but out of all these Charles Bradlaugh alone has been selected for reproach, and has had the peculiar views of the anonymous author fathered on himself.
Some of the lecture work in those days was pretty rough. In Darwen, Lancashire, in June, 1875, stone-throwing was regarded as a fair argument addressed to the Atheist lecturer. At Swansea, in March, 1876, the fear of violence was so great that a guarantee against damage to the hall was exacted by the proprietor, and no local friend had the courage to take the chair for me. In September, 1876, at Hoyland, thanks to the exertions of Mr. Hebblethwaite, a Primitive Methodist, and two Protestant missionaries, I found the hall packed with a crowd that yelled at me with great vigour, stood on forms, shook fists at me, and otherwise showed feelings more warm than friendly. Taking advantage of a lull in the noise, I began to speak, and the tumult sank into quietness; but as I was leaving the hall it broke out afresh, and I walked slowly through a crowd that yelled and swore and struck at me, but somehow those nearest always shrank back and let me pass. In the dark, outside the hall, they took to kicking, but only one kick reached me, and the attempts to overturn the cab were foiled by the driver, who put his horse at a gallop. Later in the same month Mr. Bradlaugh and I visited Congleton together, having been invited there by Mr. and Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy. Mr. Bradlaugh lectured on the first evening to an accompaniment of broken windows, and I, sitting with Mrs. Elmy facing the platform, received a rather heavy blow on the back of the head from a stone thrown by some one in the room. We had a mile and a half to walk from the hall to the house, and were accompanied all the way by a stone-throwing crowd, who sang hymns at the tops of their voices, with interludes of curses and foul words. On the following evening I lectured, and our stone-throwing admirers escorted us to the hall; in the middle of the lecture a man shouted, "Put her out!" and a well-known wrestler of the neighbourhood, named Burbery, who had come to the hall with some friends to break up the meeting, stood up as at a signal in front of the platform and loudly interrupted. Mr. Bradlaugh, who was in the chair, told him to sit down, and, as he persisted in interrupting, informed him that he must either be quiet or go out. "Put me out!" shouted Mr. Burbery, striking an attitude. Mr. Bradlaugh left the platform and walked up to the noisy swashbuckler, who at once grappled with him and tried to throw him. But Mr. Burbery had not reckoned on the massive strength of his opponent, and when the "throw" was complete Mr. Burbery was underneath. Amid much excitement Mr. Burbery was propelled towards the door, being gently used on the way as a battering-ram against his friends who rushed to the rescue, and at the door was handed over to the police. The chairman then resumed his normal duties, with a brief "Go on" to me, and I promptly went on, finishing the lecture in peace. But outside the hall there was plenty of stone-throwing, and Mrs. Elmy received a cut on the temple from a flint. This stormy work gradually lessened, and my experience of it was a mere trifle compared to that which my predecessors had faced. Mr. Bradlaugh's early experiences involved much serious rioting, and Mrs. Harriet Law, a woman of much courage and of strong natural ability, had many a rough meeting in her lecturing days.
In September, 1875, Mr. Bradlaugh again sailed for America, still to earn money there to pay his debts. Unhappily he was struck down by typhoid fever, and all his hopes of freeing himself thus were destroyed. His life was well-nigh despaired of, but the admirable skill of physician and nurse pulled him through. Said the Baltimore Advertiser:—
"This long and severe illness has disappointed the hopes and retarded the object for which he came to this country; but he is gentleness and patience itself in his sickness in this strange land, and has endeared himself greatly to his physicians and attendants by his gratitude and appreciation of the slightest attention."
His fortitude in face of death was also much commented on, lying there as he did far from home and from all he loved best. Never a quiver of fear touched him as he walked down into the valley of the shadow of death; the Rev. Mr. Frothingham bore public and admiring testimony in his own church to Mr. Bradlaugh's noble serenity, at once fearless and unpretending, and, himself a Theist, gave willing witness to the Atheist's calm strength. He came back to us at the end of September, worn to a shadow, weak as a child, and for many a long month he bore the traces of his wrestle with death.
One part of my autumn's work during his absence was the delivery and subsequent publication of six lectures on the French Revolution. That stormy time had for me an intense fascination. I brooded over it, dreamed over it, and longed to tell the story from the people's point of view. I consequently read a large amount of the current literature of the time, as well as Louis Blanc's monumental work and the histories of Michelet, Lamartine, and others. Fortunately for me, Mr. Bradlaugh had a splendid collection of books on the subject, and ere we left England he brought me two cabs-full of volumes, aristocratic, ecclesiastical, democratic, and I studied all these diligently, and lived in them, till the French Revolution became to me as a drama in which I had myself taken part, and the actors were to me as personal friends and foes. In this, again, as in so much of my public work, I have to thank Mr. Bradlaugh for the influence which led me to read fully all sides of a question, and to read most carefully those from which I differed most, ere I considered myself competent to write or to speak thereon. From 1875 onwards I held office as one of the vice-presidents of the National Secular Society—a society founded on a broad basis of liberty, with the inspiring motto, "We Search for Truth." Mr. Bradlaugh was president, and I held office under him till he resigned his post in February, 1890, nine months after I had joined the Theosophical Society. The N.S.S., under his judicious and far-sighted leadership, became a real force in the country, theologically and politically, embracing large numbers of men and women who were Freethinkers as well as Radicals, and forming a nucleus of earnest workers, able to gather round them still larger numbers of others, and thus to powerfully affect public opinion. Once a year the society met in conference, and many a strong and lasting friendship between men living far apart dated from these yearly gatherings, so that all over the country spread a net-work of comradeship between the staunch followers of "our Charlie." These were the men and women who paid his election expenses over and over again, supported him in his Parliamentary struggle, came up to London to swell the demonstrations in his favour. And round them grew up a huge party—"the largest personal following of any public man since Mr. Gladstone," it was once said by an eminent man—who differed from him in theology, but passionately supported him in politics; miners, cutlers, weavers, spinners, shoemakers, operatives of every trade, strong, sturdy, self-reliant men who loved him to the last.