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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55

Correspondence. — Sir William Fox in Reply to Mr Stout

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Sir William Fox in Reply to Mr Stout.

To the Editor of the New Zealand Times.

Sir,—My absence from Wellington for a few days prevented my attending Mr Stout's lecture in reply to mine on free thought. I presume from his remarks that he did not himself hear my lecture, and knew nothing of it but what he had read in the brief and very condensed report which appeared in the Times. I spoke for above an hour and a half, which would, if reported in extenso, have printed, at least, from three to four columns of your paper. The report actually filled a little more than half a column. I don't in the least blame your reporter for this; but I think it will be admitted that a report in which, at least, three-fourths of what I did say was omitted was not a very safe ground for Mr Stout to stand on when he attempted to reply to my arguments; and the consequence is that his criticisms are, to a great extent, quite beside the mark—entirely in many instances misapprehending the tenor of my arguments, and, in others, omitting qualifications, illustrations, and deductions which, if given, would have struck the ground from under his feet. He has, in fact, through the greater part of his lecture, been simply beating the air. It is not, however, worth my while to respond to criticism of this sort, and, if I did, it would occupy much more space than you could afford. But there is one particular passage which is so personal towards myself that I feel bound to reply to it. Mr Stout (according to your reporter) said that " in regard to Sir William Fox's reference to Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, the statement he had made was false and untrue, as neither of them had advocated free love; and Sir William Fox should, as a Christian, apologise for the slander he had heaped upon their heads." Now what really did say (and some who heard mo recollect lay exact words) was this; "That Mr Bradlaugh was an advocate of the vile system of free love was evident from his having, together with a female associate, the separated wife of a Church of England clergyman, published a book which had no other object then to promote the practice of that system." As to the personal relations of Mr Bradlaugh and the lady I desired my audience "to take particular notice, that I made no personal imputations upon them, and knew nothing whatever on the subject. But the book, I said, spoke for itself." And so I say still. The facts are as follows :—In 1876 or 1877, Mr Bradlaugh and Mrs Besant were indicted criminally for that they "unlawfully and wickedly devising, contriving, and intending to vitiate and corrupt the morals, as well of the youth as of divers ether subjects of the Queen, and so incite and encourage the said subjects to indecent, obscene, unnatural and immoral practices, and bring them into a state of wickedness, lewdness, and debauchery, unlawfully did print, publish, sell, and utter a certain indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy, and obscene book called 'The Fruits of Philosophy,' thereby contaminating, vitiating, and corrupting morals, &c." The jury found that the book was published by the defendants, and that it was calculated to deprave the public mind, and a verdict of guilty was entered up. Lord Chief Justice Cockburn pronounced the sentence, "that each of the defendants be imprisoned for six months; that they pay a fine of L200 a-piece, and enter into recognisances of L500 to be of good behavior for the future." On reference to the Justices of Appeal, the judgment was, however, reversed, on the purely technical ground that the obscene book ought to have been set out verbatim in the indictment, which it was hot; but JudgeBramwell, in delivering the judgment of the court, expressly said that the decision come to was "of a purely technical nature, and quite apart from the merits—a dry point of law which had nothing to do with the merits of the case." The merits had been settled by the verdict of the jury after perusal of the books so well described in the indictment. I hope that Mr Stout has never read the book in question. If he has, he has no excuse for the coarse accusation of falsehood he makes against me. I have read it, and will describe it as well as I dare to do in a journal which meets the eye of many pure and virtuous people. The whole object of the book is, first to instruct the readers of either sex how they may habitually indulge in illicit or adulterous intercourse without fear of the consequences, and, secondly, to teach married persons how they may successfully prevent their having the burden of a family. Many arguments are used to convince them of the advantage of such practices; and the methods (some mechanical, others medicinal) are taught by which the desired ends may be accomplished. A book more completely adapted page break to corrupt the minds of its readers (particularly as the indictment says of the youthful portion), to inflame their passions, to harden their gentler feelings, to destroy domestic confidence and parental instincts, it is not, in my opinion, possible to conceive. If these be the "Fruits of the Freethinkers' Philosophy" it is time that those whom Mr Stout seeks to convert to that philosophy should be made aware of what lurks behind it. It is true that Bradlaugh and Mrs Besant were not the authors of the book. It was written years before they republished it, and forgotten till they raked it up and published it at sixpence a copy. Tens of thousands of copies of it have been circulated, not only in the Old Country, but in Melbourne and some of our New Zealand towns. To pretend for one moment that Mr Bradlaugh does not approve and advocate the opinions contained in a book which he has taken so much trouble to scatter broadcast, at the risk of long imprisonment and crushing fines, is a quibble of which I think even Mr Stout will hardly avail himself. My charge of Bradlaugh being an advocate of free love was founded on the perusal of this book, which may well be called the Catechism and Manual of the Free Love creed, and which, if a man's opinions are to be inferred from his acts, place Mr Bradlaugh in the first rank of its advocates from the day when he published the vile and wicked book.

William Fox.