An Autobiography/Chapter XI

An Autobiography by Annie Wood Besant
Chapter XI: MR. BRADLAUGH'S STRUGGLE.


And now dawned the year 1880, the memorable year in which commenced Mr. Bradlaugh's long Parliamentary battle. After a long and bitter struggle he was elected, with Mr. Labouchere, as member for Northampton, at the general election, and so the prize so long fought for was won. Shall I ever forget that election day, April 2, 1880? How at four o'clock Mr. Bradlaugh came into the room at the "George", where his daughters and I were sitting, flung himself into a chair with, "There's nothing more to do; our last man is polled." Then the waiting for the declaration through the long, weary hours of suspense, till as the time drew near we knelt by the window listening—listening to the hoarse murmur of the crowd, knowing that presently there would be a roar of triumph or a howl of anger when the numbers were read out from the steps of the Town Hall. And now silence sank, and we knew the moment had come, and we held our breath, and then—a roar, a wild roar of joy and exultation, cheer after cheer, ringing, throbbing, pealing, and then the mighty surge of the crowd bringing him back, their member at last, waving hats, handkerchiefs, a very madness of tumultuous delight, and the shrill strains of "Bradlaugh for Northampton!" with a ring of triumph in them they had never had before. And he, very grave, somewhat shaken by the outpour of love and exultation, very silent, feeling the weight of new responsibility more than the gladness of victory. And then the next morning, as he left the town, the mass of men and women, one sea of heads from hotel to station, every window crowded, his colours waving everywhere, men fighting to get near him, to touch him, women sobbing, the cries, "Our Charlie, our Charlie; we've got you and we'll keep you." How they loved him, how they joyed in the triumph won after twelve years of strife. Ah me! we thought the struggle over, and it was only beginning; we thought our hero victorious, and a fiercer, crueller fight lay in front. True, he was to win that fight, but his life was to be the price of the winning; victory for him was to be final, complete, but the laurel-wreath was to fall upon a grave.

The outburst of anger from the more bigoted of the Christian community was as savage as the outburst of delight had been exultant, but we recked little of it. Was he not member, duly elected, without possibility of assailment in his legal right? Parliament was to meet on April 29th, the swearing-in beginning on the following day, and Mr. Bradlaugh had taken counsel with some other Freethinking members as to the right of Freethinkers to affirm. He held that under the Act 29 and 30 Vict. c. 19, and the Evidence Amendment Acts 1869 and 1870, the right to substitute affirmation for oath was clear; he was willing to take the oath as a necessary form if obligatory, but, believing it to be optional, he preferred affirmation. On May 3rd he presented himself and, according to the evidence of Sir Erskine May, the Clerk of the House, given before the second Select Committee on his case, he "came to the table and delivered the following statement in writing to the Clerk: 'To the Right Honourable the Speaker of the House of Commons. I, the undersigned, Charles Bradlaugh, beg respectfully to claim to be allowed to affirm, as a person for the time being by law permitted to make a solemn affirmation or declaration, instead of taking an oath. (Signed) Charles Bradlaugh.' And being asked by the Clerk upon what grounds he claimed to make an affirmation, he answered: 'By virtue of the Evidence Amendment Acts, 1869 and 1870.' Whereupon the Clerk reported to Mr. Speaker" the claim, and Mr. Speaker told Mr. Bradlaugh that he might address the House on the matter. "Mr. Bradlaugh's observations were very short. He repeated that he relied upon the Evidence Further Amendment Act, 1869, and the Evidence Amendment Act, 1870, adding: 'I have repeatedly, for nine years past, made an affirmation in the highest courts of jurisdiction in this realm. I am ready to make such a declaration or affirmation.' Substantially those were the words which he addressed to the Speaker." This was the simple, quiet, and dignified scene which took place in the House. Mr. Bradlaugh was directed to withdraw, and he withdrew, and, after debate, a Select Committee was appointed to consider whether he could make affirmation; that Committee decided against the claim, and gave in its report on May 20th. On the following day Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself at the table of the House to take the oath in the form prescribed by the law, and on the objection of Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, who submitted a motion that he should not be allowed to take the oath, another Committee was appointed.

Before this Committee Mr. Bradlaugh stated his case, and pointed out that the legal obligation lay on him to take the oath, adding: "Any form that I went through, any oath that I took, I should regard as binding upon my conscience in the fullest degree. I would go through no form, I would take no oath, unless I meant it to be so binding." He wrote in the same sense to the Times, saying that he should regard himself "as bound, not by the letter of its words, but by the spirit which the affirmation would have conveyed, had I been permitted to use it." The Committee reported against him, and on June 23rd he was heard at the Bar of the House, and made a speech so self-restrained, so noble, so dignified, that the House, in defiance of all its own rules, broke out over and over again into applause. In the debate that preceded his speech, members had lost sight of the ordinary rules of decency, and had used expressions against myself wholly gratuitous in such a quarrel; the grave rebuke to him who "was wanting in chivalry, because, while I can answer for myself and am able to answer for myself, nothing justified the introduction of any other name beside my own to make prejudice against me," brought irrepressible cheers. His appeal was wholly to the law. "I have not yet used—I trust no passion may tempt me into using—any words that would seem to savour of even a desire to enter into conflict with this House. I have always taught, preached, and believed the supremacy of Parliament, and it is not because for a moment the judgment of one Chamber of Parliament should be hostile to me that I am going to deny the ideas I have always held; but I submit that one Chamber of Parliament—even its grandest Chamber, as I have always held this to be—had no right to override the law. The law gives me the right to sign that roll, to take and subscribe the oath, and to take my seat there [with a gesture towards the benches]. I admit that the moment I am in the House, without any reason but your own good will, you can send me away. That is your right. You have full control over your members. But you cannot send me away until I have been heard in my place, not a suppliant as I am now, but with the rightful audience that each member has always had.... I am ready to admit, if you please, for the sake of argument, that every opinion I hold is wrong and deserves punishment. Let the law punish it. If you say the law cannot, then you admit that you have no right, and I appeal to public opinion against the iniquity of a decision which overrides the law and denies me justice. I beg your pardon, sir, and that of the House too, if in this warmth there seems to lack respect for its dignity. And as I shall have, if your decision be against me, to come to that table when your decision is given, I beg you, before the step is taken in which we may both lose our dignity—mine is not much, but yours is that of the Commons of England—I beg you, before the gauntlet is fatally thrown, I beg you, not in any sort of menace, not in any sort of boast, but as one man against six hundred, to give me that justice which on the other side of this hall the judges would give me, were I pleading there before them."

But no eloquence, no plea for justice, could stay the tide of Tory and religious bigotry, and the House voted that he should not be allowed to take the oath. Summoned to the table to hear the decision communicated by the Speaker, he answered that decision with the words firmly spoken: "I respectfully refuse to obey the order of the House, because that order was against the law." The Speaker appealed to the House for direction, and on a division—during which the Speaker and Charles Bradlaugh were left together in the chamber—the House ordered the enforcement of Mr. Bradlaugh's withdrawal. Once more the order is given, once more the refusal made, and then the Serjeant-at-Arms was bidden to remove him. Strange was the scene as little Captain Cosset walked up to the member of Herculean proportions, and men wondered how the order would be enforced; but Charles Bradlaugh was not the man to make a vulgar brawl, and the light touch on his shoulder was to him the touch of an authority he admitted and to which he bowed. So he gravely accompanied his small captor, and was lodged in the Clock Tower of the House as prisoner until the House should further consider what to do with him—the most awkward prisoner it had ever had, in that in his person it was imprisoning the law.

In a special issue of the National Reformer, giving an account of the Committee's work and of Mr. Bradlaugh's committal to the Clock Tower, I find the following from my own pen: "The Tory party, beaten at the polls by the nation, has thus, for the moment, triumphed in the House of Commons. The man chosen by the Radicals of Northampton has been committed to prison on the motion of the Tory ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, simply because he desires to discharge the duty laid upon him by his constituency and by the law of the land. As this paper goes to press, I go to Westminster to receive from him his directions as to the conduct of the struggle with the nation into which the House of Commons has so recklessly plunged." I found him busily writing, prepared for all events, ready for a long imprisonment. On the following day a leaflet from my pen, "Law Makers and Law Breakers," appealed to the people; after reciting what had happened, it concluded: "Let the people speak. Gladstone and Bright are for Liberty, and the help denied them within the House must come to them from without. No time must be lost. While we remain idle, a representative of the people is illegally held in prison. Northampton is insulted, and in this great constituency every constituency is threatened. On freedom of election depends our liberty; on freedom of conscience depends our progress. Tory squires and lordlings have defied the people and measured their strength against the masses. Let the masses speak." But there was no need to make appeals, for the outrage itself caused so swiftly a growl of anger that on the very next day the prisoner was set free, and there came protest upon protest against the high-handed action of the House. In Westminster Hall 4,000 people gathered to cheer Mr. Bradlaugh when he came to the House on the day after his liberation. In less than a week 200 meetings had thundered out their protest. Liberal associations, clubs, societies, sent up messages of anger and of demand for justice. In Trafalgar Square there gathered—so said the papers—the largest crowd ever seen there, and on the Thursday following—the meeting was held on Monday—the House of Commons rescinded its resolution, refusing to allow Mr. Bradlaugh to affirm, and admitted him on Friday, July 2nd, to take his seat after affirmation. "At last the bitter struggle is over," I wrote, "and law and right have triumphed. The House of Commons has, by rescinding the resolution passed by Tories and Ultramontanes, re-established its good name in the eyes of the world. The triumph is not one of Freethought over Christianity, nor is it over the House of Commons; it is the triumph of law, brought about by good men—of all shades of opinion, but of one faith in justice—over Tory contempt of law and Ultramontane bigotry. It is the reassertion of civil and religious liberty under the most difficult circumstances, the declaration that the House of Commons is the creation of the people, and not a club of the aristocracy with the right of blackballing in its own hands."

The battle between Charles Bradlaugh and his persecutors was now transferred to the law courts. As soon as he had taken his seat he was served with a writ for having voted without having taken the oath, and this began the wearisome proceedings by which his defeated enemies boasted that they would make him bankrupt, and so vacate the seat he had so hardly gained. Rich men like Mr. Newdegate sued him, putting forward a man of straw as nominal plaintiff; for many a weary month Mr. Bradlaugh kept all his enemies at bay, fighting each case himself; defeated time after time, he fought on, finally carrying the cases to the House of Lords, and there winning them triumphantly. But they were won at such heavy cost of physical strength and of money, that they undermined his strength and burdened him heavily with debt. For all this time he had not only to fight in the law courts and to attend scrupulously to his Parliamentary duties, but he had to earn his living by lecturing and writing, so that his nights away from the House were spent in travelling and his days in incessant labour. Many of his defeated foes turned their weapons against me, hoping thus to give him pain; thus Admiral Sir John Hay, at Wigton, used language of me so coarse that the Scotsman and Glasgow Herald refused to print it, and the editor of the Scotsman described it as "language so coarse that it could have hardly dropped from a yahoo." August 25th found me at Brussels, whither I went, with Miss Hypatia Bradlaugh, to represent the English Freethinkers at the International Freethought Conference. It was an interesting gathering, attended by men of world-wide reputation, including Dr. Ludwig Büchner, a man of noble and kindly nature. An International Federation of Freethinkers was there founded, which did something towards bringing together the Freethinkers of different countries, and held interesting congresses in the following years in London and Amsterdam; but beyond these meetings it did little, and lacked energy and vitality. In truth, the Freethought party in each country had so much to do in holding its own that little time and thought could be given to international organisation. For myself, my introduction to Dr. Büchner, led to much interesting correspondence, and I translated, with his approval, his "Mind in Animals," and the enlarged fourteenth edition of "Force and Matter," as well as one or two pamphlets. This autumn of 1880 found the so-called Liberal Government in full tilt against the Irish leaders, and I worked hard to raise English feeling in defence of Irish freedom even against attack by one so much honoured as was Mr. Gladstone. It was uphill work, for harsh language had been used against England and all things English, but I showed by definite figures—all up and down England—that life and property were far safer in Ireland than in England, that Ireland was singularly free from crime save in agrarian disputes, and I argued that these would disappear if the law should step in between landlord and tenant, and by stopping the crimes of rack-renting and most brutal eviction, put an end to the horrible retaliations that were born of despair and revenge. A striking point on these evictions I quoted from Mr. T.P. O'Connor, who, using Mr. Gladstone's words that a sentence of eviction was a sentence of starvation, told of 15,000 processes of eviction issued in that one year. The autumn's work was varied by the teaching of science classes, a debate with a clergyman of the Church of England, and an operation which kept me in bed for three weeks, but which, on the other hand, was useful, for I learned to write while lying on my back, and accomplished in this fashion a good part of the translation of "Mind in Animals."

And here let me point a moral about hard work. Hard work kills no one. I find a note in the National Reformer in 1880 from the pen of Mr. Bradlaugh: "It is, we fear, useless to add that, in the judgment of her best friends, Mrs. Besant has worked far too hard during the last two years." This is 1893, and the thirteen years' interval has been full of incessant work, and I am working harder than ever now, and in splendid health. Looking over the National Reformer for all these years, it seems to me that it did really fine educational work; Mr. Bradlaugh's strenuous utterances on political and theological matters; Dr. Aveling's luminous and beautiful scientific teachings; and to my share fell much of the educative work on questions of political and national morality in our dealings with weaker nations. We put all our hearts into our work, and the influence exercised was distinctly in favour of pure living and high thinking.

In the spring of 1881 the Court of Appeal decided against Mr. Bradlaugh's right to affirm as Member of Parliament, and his seat was declared vacant, but he was at once returned again by the borough of Northampton, despite the virulence of slander directed against him, so that he rightly described the election as "the most bitter I have ever fought." His work in the House had won him golden opinions in the country, and he was already recognised as a power there; so Tory fear was added to bigoted hatred, and the efforts to keep him out of the House were increased.

He was introduced to the House as a new member to take his seat by Mr. Labouchere and Mr. Burt, but Sir Stafford Northcote intervened, and after a lengthy debate, which included a speech from Mr. Bradlaugh at the Bar, a majority of thirty-three refused to allow him to take the oath. After a prolonged scene, during which Mr. Bradlaugh declined to withdraw and the House hesitated to use force, the House adjourned, and finally the Government promised to bring in an Affirmation Bill, and Mr. Bradlaugh promised, with the consent of his constituents, to await the decision of the House on this Bill. Meantime, a League for the Defence of Constitutional Rights was formed, and the agitation in the country grew: wherever Mr. Bradlaugh went to speak vast crowds awaited him, and he travelled from one end of the country to the other, the people answering his appeal for justice with no uncertain voice. On July 2nd, in consequence of Tory obstruction, Mr. Gladstone wrote to Mr. Bradlaugh that the Government were going to drop the Affirmation Bill, and Mr. Bradlaugh thereupon determined to present himself once more in the House, and fixed on August 3rd as the date of such action, so that the Irish Land Bill might get through the House ere any delay in business was caused by him. The House was then closely guarded with police; the great gates were closed, reserves of police were packed in the law courts, and all through July this state of siege continued. On August 2nd there was a large meeting in Trafalgar Square, at which delegates were present from all parts of England, and from as far north as Edinburgh, and on Wednesday, August 3rd, Mr. Bradlaugh went down to the House. His last words to me were: "The people know you better than they know any one, save myself; whatever happens, mind, whatever happens, let them do no violence; I trust to you to keep them quiet." He went to the House entrance with Dr. Aveling, and into the House alone. His daughters and I went together, and with some hundreds of others carrying petitions—ten only with each petition, and the ten rigidly counted and allowed to pass through the gate, sufficiently opened to let one through at a time—reached Westminster Hall, where we waited on the steps leading to the passage of the lobby.

An inspector ordered us off. I gently intimated that we were within our rights. Dramatic order: "Four officers this way." Up they marched and looked at us, and we looked at them. "I think you had better consult Inspector Denning before you use violence," I remarked placidly. They thought they had, and in a few moments up came the inspector, and seeing that we were standing in a place where we had a right to be, and were doing no harm, he rebuked his over-zealous subordinates, and they retired and left us in peace. A man of much tact and discretion was Inspector Denning. Indeed, all through this, the House of Commons police behaved admirably well. Even in the attack they were ordered to make on Mr. Bradlaugh, the police used as little violence as they could. It was Mr. Erskine, the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms, and his ushers, who showed the brutality; as Dr. Aveling wrote at the time: "The police disliked their work, and, as brave men, had a sympathy for a brave man. Their orders they obeyed rigidly. This done, they were kindness itself." Gradually the crowd of petitioners grew and grew; angry murmurs were heard, for no news came from the House, and they loved "Charlie," and were mostly north country men, sturdy and independent. They thought they had a right to go into the lobby, and suddenly, with the impulse that will sway a crowd to a single action there was a roar, "Petition, petition, justice, justice," and they surged up the steps, charging at the policemen who held the door. Flashed into my mind my chief's charge, his words, "I trust to you to keep them quiet," and as the police sprang forward to meet the crowd I threw myself between them, with all the advantage of the position of the top of the steps that I had chosen, so that every man in the charging crowd saw me, and as they checked themselves in surprise I bade them stop for his sake, and keep for him the peace which he had bade us should not be broken. I heard afterwards that as I sprang forward the police laughed—they must have thought me a fool to face the rush of the charging men; but I knew his friends would never trample me down, and as the crowd stopped the laugh died out, and they drew back and left me my own way.

Sullenly the men drew back, mastering themselves with effort, reining in their wrath, still for his sake. Ah! had I known what was going on inside, would I have kept his trust unbroken! and, as many a man said to me afterwards in northern towns, "Oh! if you had let us go we would have carried him into the House up to the Speaker's chair." We heard a crash inside, and listened, and there was sound of breaking glass and splintering wood, and in a few minutes a messenger came to me: "He is in Palace Yard." And we went thither and saw him standing, still and white, face set like marble, coat torn, motionless, as though carved in stone, facing the members' door. Now we know the whole shameful story: how as that one man stood alone, on his way to claim his right, alone so that he could do no violence, fourteen men, said the Central News, police and ushers, flung themselves upon him, pushed and pulled him down the stairs, smashing in their violence the glass and wood of the passage door; how he struck no blow, but used only his great strength in passive resistance—" Of all I have ever seen, I never saw one man struggle with ten like that," said one of the chiefs, angrily disdainful of the wrong he was forced to do—till they flung him out into Palace Yard. An eye-witness thus reported the scene in the Press: "The strong, broad, heavy, powerful frame of Mr. Bradlaugh was hard to move, with its every nerve and muscle strained to resist the coercion. Bending and straining against the overpowering numbers, he held every inch with surprising tenacity, and only surrendered it after almost superhuman exertions to retain it. The sight—little of it as was seen from the outside—soon became sickening. The overborne man appeared almost at his last gasp. The face, in spite of the warmth of the struggle, had an ominous pallor. The limbs barely sustained him.... The Trafalgar Square phrase that this man might be broken but not bent occurred to minds apprehensive at the present appearance of him."

They flung him out, and swift, short words were there interchanged. "I nearly did wrong at the door," he said afterwards, "I was very angry. I said to Inspector Denning, 'I shall come again with force enough to overcome it,' He said, 'When?' I said, 'Within a minute if I raise my hand.'" He stood in Palace Yard, and there outside the gate was a vast sea of heads, the men who had journeyed from all parts of England for love of him, and in defence of the great right he represented of a constituency to send to Parliament the man of its choice. Ah! he was never greater than in that moment of outrage and of triumphant wrong; with all the passion of a proud man surging within him, insulted by physical violence, injured by the cruel wrenching of all his muscles—so that for weeks his arms had to be swathed in bandages—he was never greater than when he conquered his own wrath, crushed down his own longing for battle, stirred to flame by the bodily struggle, and the bodily injury, and with thousands waiting within sound of his voice, longing to leap to his side, he gave the word to tell them to meet him that evening away from the scene of conflict, and meanwhile to disperse quietly, "no riot, no disorder." But how he suffered mentally no words of mine may tell, and none can understand how it wrung his heart who does not know how he reverenced the great Parliament of England, how he honoured law, how he believed in justice being done; it was the breaking down of his national ideals, of his pride in his country, of his belief that faith would be kept with a foe by English gentlemen, who with all their faults, he thought, held honour and chivalry dear. "No man will sleep in gaol for me to-night," he said to me that day; "no woman can blame me for her husband killed or wounded, but—" A wave of agony swept over his face, and from that fatal day Charles Bradlaugh was never the same man. Some hold their ideals lightly, but his heart-strings were twined round his; some care little for their country—he was an Englishman, law-abiding, liberty-loving, to his heart's core, of the type of the seventeenth-century patriot, holding England's honour dear. It was the treachery that broke his heart; he had gone alone, believing in the honour of his foes, ready to submit to expulsion, to imprisonment, and it was the latter that he expected; but he never dreamed that, going alone amongst his foes, they would use brutal and cowardly violence, and shame every Parliamentary tradition by personal outrage on a duly-elected member, outrage more worthy of a slum pot-house than of the great Commons House, the House of Hampden and of Vane, the House that had guarded its own from Royal violence, and had maintained its privileges in the teeth of kings.

These stormy scenes brought about a promise of Government aid; Mr. Bradlaugh failed to get any legal redress, as, indeed, he expected to fail, on the ground that the officials of the House were covered by the House's order, but the Government promised to support his claim to his seat during the next session, and thus prevented the campaign against them on which we had resolved. I had solely on my own responsibility organised a great band of people pledged to refrain from the use of all excisable articles after a certain date, and to withdraw all their moneys in the Savings Bank, thus seriously crippling the financial resources of the Government. The response from the workers to my appeal to "Stop the supplies" was great and touching. One man wrote that as he never drank nor smoked he would leave off tea; others that though tobacco was their one luxury, they would forego it; and so on. Somewhat reluctantly, I asked the people to lay aside this formidable weapon, as "we have no right to embarrass the Government financially save when they refuse to do the first duty of a Government to maintain law. They have now promised to do justice, and we must wait." Meanwhile the injuries inflicted on Mr. Bradlaugh, rupturing the sheaths of some of the muscles of the arm, laid him prostrate, and various small fights went on during the temporary truce in the great struggle. I turned up in the House two or three times, haled thither, though not in person, by the people who kept Mr. Bradlaugh out, and a speech of mine became the subject of a question by Mr. Ritchie, while Sir Henry Tyler waged war on the science classes. Another joy was added to life by the use of my name—which by all these struggles had gained a marketable value—as author of pamphlets I had never seen, and this forgery of my name by unscrupulous people in the colonies caused me a good deal of annoyance. In the strengthening of the constitutional agitation in the country, the holding of an International Congress of Freethinkers in London, the studying and teaching of science, the delivering of courses of scientific lectures in the Hall of Science, a sharp correspondence with the Bishop of Manchester, who had libelled Secularists, and which led to a fiery pamphlet, "God's Views on Marriage," as retort—in all these matters the autumn months sped rapidly away. One incident of that autumn I record with regret. I was misled by very partial knowledge of the nature of the experiments performed, and by my fear that if scientific men were forbidden to experiment on animals with drugs they would perforce experiment with them on the poor in hospitals, to write two articles, republished as a pamphlet, against Sir Eardley Wilmot's Bill for the "Total Suppression of Vivisection." I limited my approval to highly skilled men engaged in original investigations, and took the representations made of the character of the experiments without sufficient care to verify them. Hence the publication of the one thing I ever wrote for which I feel deep regret and shame, as against the whole trend and efforts of my life. I am thankful to say that Dr. Anna Kingsford answered my articles, and I readily inserted her replies in the paper in which mine had appeared—our National Reformer—and she touched that question of the moral sense to which my nature at once responded. Ultimately, I looked carefully into the subject, found that vivisection abroad was very different from vivisection in England, saw that it was in very truth the fiendishly cruel thing that its opponents alleged, and destroyed my partial defence of even its less brutal form.

1882 saw no cessation of the struggles in which Mr. Bradlaugh and those who stood by him were involved. On February 7th he was heard for the third time at the Bar of the House of Commons, and closed his speech with an offer that, accepted, would have closed the contest. "I am ready to stand aside, say for four or five weeks, without coming to that table, if the House within that time, or within such time as its great needs might demand, would discuss whether an Affirmation Bill should pass or not. I want to obey the law, and I tell you how I might meet the House still further, if the House will pardon me for seeming to advise it. Hon. members have said that would be a Bradlaugh Relief Bill. Bradlaugh is more proud than you are. Let the Bill pass without applying to elections that have taken place previously, and I will undertake not to claim my seat, and when the Bill has passed I will apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. I have no fear. If I am not fit for my constituents, they shall dismiss me, but you never shall. The grave alone shall make me yield." But the House would do nothing. He had asked for 100,000 signatures in favour of his constitutional right, and on February 8th, 9th, and 10th 1,008 petitions, bearing 241,970 signatures, were presented; the House treated them with contemptuous indifference. The House refused to declare his seat vacant, and also refused to allow him to fill it, thus half-disfranchising Northampton, while closing every avenue to legal redress. Mr. Labouchere—who did all a loyal colleague could do to assist his brother member—brought in an Affirmation Bill; it was blocked. Mr. Gladstone, appealed to support the law declared by his own Attorney-General, refused to do anything. An impasse was created, and all the enemies of freedom rejoiced. Out of this position of what the Globe called "quiet omnipotence" the House was shaken by an audacious defiance, for on February 21st the member it was trying to hold at arm's length took the oath in its startled face, went to his seat, and—waited events. The House then expelled him—and, indeed, it could scarcely do anything else after such defiance—and Mr. Labouchere moved for a new writ, declaring that Northampton was ready, its "candidate was Charles Bradlaugh, expelled this House." Northampton, ever steadfast, returned him for the third time—the vote in his favour showing an increase of 359 over the second bye-election—and the triumph was received in all the great towns of England with wild enthusiasm. By the small majority of fifteen in a House of 599 members—and this due to the vacillation of the Government—he was again refused the right to take his seat. But now the whole Liberal Press took up his quarrel; the oath question became a test question for every candidate for Parliament, and the Government was warned that it was alienating its best friends. The Pall Mall Gazette voiced the general feeling. "What is the evidence that an Oaths Bill would injure the Government in the country? Of one thing we may be sure, that if they shirk the Bill they will do no good to themselves at the elections. Nobody doubts that it will be made a test question, and any Liberal who declines to vote for such a Bill will certainly lose the support of the Northampton sort of Radicalism in every constituency. The Liberal Press throughout the country is absolutely unanimous. The political Non-conformists are for it. The local clubs are for it. All that is wanted is that the Government should pick up a little more moral courage, and recognise that even in practice honesty is the best policy." The Government did not think so, and they paid the penalty, for one of the causes that led to their defeat at the polls was the disgust felt at their vacillation and cowardice in regard to the rights of constituencies. Not untruly did I write, in May, 1882, that Charles Bradlaugh was a man "who by the infliction of a great wrong had become the incarnation of a great principle"; for the agitation in the country grew and grew, until, returned again to Parliament at the General Election, he took the oath and his seat, brought in and carried an Oaths Bill, not only giving Members of Parliament the right to affirm, but making Freethinkers competent as jurymen, and relieving witnesses from the insult hitherto put upon those who objected to swearing; he thus ended an unprecedented struggle by a complete victory, weaving his name for ever into the constitutional history of his country.

In the House of Lords, Lord Redesdale brought in a Bill disqualifying Atheists from sitting in Parliament, but in face of the feeling aroused in the country, the Lords, with many pathetic expressions of regret, declined to pass it. But, meanwhile, Sir Henry Tyler in the Commons was calling out for prosecutions for blasphemy to be brought against Mr. Bradlaugh and his friends, while he carried on his crusade against Mr. Bradlaugh's daughters, Dr. Aveling, and myself, as science teachers. I summed up the position in the spring of 1882 in the following somewhat strong language: "This short-lived 'Parliamentary Declaration Bill' is but one of the many clouds which presage a storm of prosecution. The reiterated attempts in the House of Commons to force the Government into prosecuting heretics for blasphemy; the petty and vicious attacks on the science classes at the Hall; the odious and wicked efforts of Mr. Newdegate to drive Mr. Bradlaugh into the Bankruptcy Court; all these are but signs that the heterogeneous army of pious and bigoted Christians are gathering together their forces for a furious attack on those who have silenced them in argument, but whom they hope to conquer by main force, by sheer brutality. Let them come. Free-thinkers were never so strong, never so united, never so well organised as they are to-day. Strong in the goodness of our cause, in our faith in the ultimate triumph of Truth, in our willingness to give up all save fidelity to the sacred cause of liberty of human thought and human speech, we await gravely and fearlessly the successors of the men who burned Bruno, who imprisoned Galileo, who tortured Vanini—the men who have in their hands the blood-red cross of Jesus of Nazareth, and in their hearts the love of God and the hate of man."