The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
Mr. Bright's Farewell Lecture
Mr. Bright's Farewell Lecture.
At the Theatre Royal last evening, Mr Charles Bright delivered his farewell lecture, on which occasion there was a large audience, there being present a number of his old friends, and the lecturer's remarks were most liberally applauded throughout. The chair was occupied by Mr F. J. Thomas, president of the Liberal Association, who made a few introductory observations concerning the consistent and able manner in which Mr Bright had advocated the cause of freethoauht in this city and his successful efforts in opposing the attempts which bad been made to suppress Sunday lectures. He felt that he was expressing the feelings of the audience in saying this,—(applause)—and he had consented to be present as chairman on this occasion in order to testify how fully he appreciated the noble work which Mr Bright, often at great personal sacrifice, bad thus carried on.
Mr Bright then stepped forward, and was greeted most enthusiastically by all sections of the audience. He expressed his thanks to Mr Thomas for the kindly manner in which he had spoken of him, and to the audience also for so cordially responding thereto. After referring to the first and second of the three lectures he had determined to deliver on retiring from that platform, he said the present discourse would deal with "Freethought lecturers and their mission," by way of showing what should be the aim of the freethought lecturer, and what he might reasonably desire to achieve. He regarded the labours of this class of men as the highest and most honourable labour which the world at the present day offered to any ore outside the ranks of those men of genius who furnished the material of which the freethought lecturers took advantage and thus enabled the masses to benefit by those new truths which they had not the time to study for themselves. Were the works of our great social and moral reformers, our scientists and philosophers thoroughly known—if the majority of men had the time to study them the progress of thought generally would be much greater than it at present was; but these lecturers acted as purveyors for those great minds, and in their humble capacity as reporters performed an honourable task which was of great benefit to society. It was a mission to be proud of, and one whose fruits were already beginning to be appreciated, There was still urgent need for their services. It was, however, at mistake to suppose that we enjoyed all the freedom we could desire in purely innocent affairs. In most despotic days, when the greatest oppression reigned, the cry was the same as it was now. To the cry for more liberty in those times the despots said : "What would you have, is not this enough for you? That which we are content with is surely good enough tor you." It was precisely the same in this age—the boundaries of liberty required to be widened, because a large number of mankind could not be satisfied wich the amount of freedom vouchsafed to them. Evolution ran through the history of the world; the same struggle for freedom of thought, the same opposition to old ideas in favour of reconstruction had gone on through the ages. He, in studying the Bible, not as an inspired work, but as he would study any other book, could perceive therein the sums effects; the prophet-mind was continually at war with the priestly mind, the former being attracted to nature and struggling against old forms of idolatry. The idol of Christianity was the Bible, and toe same demands were now made for contributions on behalf of institutions based upon that idolary as were made for Moloch and Baal; but a great modern light had been thrown upon the world, and large numbers of people came under its beneficent influence and cried out for freedom to enjoy it to perfection. The free thought lecturers were the prophets of the day, as were Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist of old. They were the interpreters of nature in their position as humble reporters of the great minds who were devoting their lives and their genius to the enlightenment of mankind, and the loosening of the shackles that had held them in the miserable bondage of superstition and priestly tyranny, Mr Bright went ON to point out that freethought lectured had important mission to perform as popular educators on these points. It was quite unnecessary from their stand point that they should deny the existence of a divine government over this universe. The greatest scientists and philosophers of the day, and those who were most opposed to institutions based upon past superstitions did not deny the possibility of a higher intelligence beyond our individual conception. But they looked to the nature surrounding them as a guide to the path of truth, and sought for knowledge where alone they could find it. They refused to be dependent for inspiration upon an invisible something that no one could comprehend, and preferred to be guided by natural law, Religion itself was not based upon truth. It was really surrounded by hypocrisy. The clergymen in their pulpits even did not speak the truth SO far as it was in them, for it was a well-known fact that many of this class admitted holding views in private which were inconsistent with their pulpit orations, but excused themselves for the hypocrisy on the ground that it would not be well to disturb the beliefs of their congregation. After referring to the various social and political questions that freethought lecturers would have to study in the carrying out of their mission, Mr Bright said a few words in conclusion as to the reasons which had induced him to forsake the freethought platform. He said he had been for nearly 10 years most actively engaged in this work, to which he was most earnestly devoted, (Applause.) And he now thought that he had earned the right to retire, at least for a time, into private life, inasmuch as he would be able to earn a living at easier work with his pen. And he might say here that he was really not fond of talking—(laughter)—and there came a time when men engaged is be had been could claim a right to be silent. It had been said by some that he was about to join the Salvation Army. (Laughter.) That was scarcely page break true, nor was another assertion that he had heard, to the effect that be was going to join the Baptist Church as the Rev. Charles Bright. (Laughter.) He was not likely at this time of day to change his views. Moreover he should always be heartily glad to do anything to assist the cause that he had so lone: advocated and the work of social reform generally. He bad always endeavoured to elevate the character of the platform he had occupied for so long, and looking back he did not know that be could wish to recall one single word that he had uttered during that time. He bad received much kindness, and occasional assistance, in the course of his work, for which he now returned his most grateful acknowledgments, He believed also that he bad been the means of benefitting many whom he had helped to rescue from darkness by means of his lectures. He proposed a vote of thanks to the chairman, which was cordially earned, and the proceedings then terminated.
In the course of his remarks last night, Mr Bright, who has forsaken the lecturing business for his old calling, said be was not really fond of talking, and "preferred living by the pen to the tongue."
Mr Chas. Bright delivered his farewell lecture at the Theatie Royal last night. He says his views are unchanged, and he will always do all in his power in the direction of social reform.