The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27
A Plea for the Sunday Platform and a Protest Against the Attempt to Suppress it
A Plea for the Sunday Platform and a Protest Against the Attempt to Suppress it.
Mr. Bright spoke as follows:—
I desire in my lecture of this evening to explain what in my opinion are the meaning and mission of the Sunday Platform, and to enter a protest against any attempt to suppress it. (Applause.) And, in order that this may be seen to be of any value, it is perhaps necessary in the first place that I should show that there is a decided and premeditated effort to be made, now or in the immediate future, to ensure such suppression. Even after all that has been said, people find it difficult to convince themselves that those who are making this effort are really in earnest in what they are undertaking. It seems such a monstrous thing, at the present day, and in an English colony, that any government should desire to interfere with the peaceable pleasure and profit of a large section of the community, who do no harm to any other section, that it is indeed difficult to conceive such an effort is to be persisted in. But, from the first, for my own part, I have been well assured that the attempt was a premeditated one, and I felt tolerably convinced that it would, at least for a time, be persisted in. There was some little while ago an article in the S. M. Herald very fairly, in many respects, discussing the question, and offering, for the Herald, tolerably strong opinions why such an attempt should not be continued; and in that article it was said that the writer believed that the words affecting public lectures had found their way into the Licensing Bill through an inadvertence, and that they were not aimed at the Sunday evening gatherings. I addressed a letter to the Herald, in which I pointed out that such a contention as this seemed to be scarcely tenable I said that I believed—and moreover it was not merely my own belief, but that of a gentleman of legal standing in this community whose opinion would rank deservedly high—that those words "any public lectures" had never before found their way into a Licensing Bill, either in Imperial or Colonial British legislation. (Applause.) I pointed out that the only method in which such words could possibly have found their way into the Bill by inadvertence would have been by their being copied from some other enactment; and as there would seem to have been no enactment of the kind from which to copy page 3 them, I asked the question—How, for what reason, and at whose instigation did they find their way into the Licensing Bill? That letter did not make its appearance in the Herald, for what reason I am not aware; but possibly in pursuance of the usual policy of that paper, never to advance too far in the direction of freedom. (Laughter.)
However, this phase of the question is now placed beyond farther argument; for, as you are aware, in moving the second reading of this Bill, Sir Henry Parkes, the head of the government, took occasion to declare his sentiments, and what those are I will read to you from the report furnished in the Herald. He said:—"In connection with this there was a proviso in the Bill as it now stood, that these licensed theatres or public halls should not be used for Sunday lectures or other purposes without the special authority of the Colonial Secretary That appeared so he was told, very oppressive to some persons, but he failed to see the oppression. (Laughter.) He supposed there would be some movement made in society if the play of "Hamlet" was performed on a Sunday. Every religious sect in the country would feel scandalised, but that would be morality itself compared to some lectures. A lecture on the anatomy of the human frame might be made injurious to the welfare of the whole community,—(laughter)—and if they were not prepared to have the plays of Shakespeare performed on Sunday, he did not see the hardship of requiring a person wishing to instruct the public being called upon to state what he was going to do. (Laughter) If certain lectures were given in a theatre on a Sunday or on a Monday, and the government did not step in to prevent them, there would be a loud outcry and very justly so. He was sure that House in the spirit of liberty and fair play was not yet prepared to allow large classes of the community to be scandalised by some indecent performance under the title of a lecture. And if the House was not prepared to have the plays of Shakespeare and other dramatists performed on Sundays, he could not see how they could allow these lectures to be given It would remain for the committee to deal with this question when the Bill had passed its second reading, but he thought the principle could be defended, that the provision was no invasion of the liberty of the subject or of the liberty of the platform." Now that is the opinion expressed by Sir Henry Parkes in introducing the Bill, and holding that opinion, of course we can easily understand how those words "any public lectures" found their way into the measure.
Now, I do not intend to-night to enter on the discussion of the question as to whether it would be well or not for Shakespeare's plays to be produced on Sunday. But inasmuch as it has been said by certain clergymen that they would prefer to have Shakespeare's plays performed than that lectures like mine should be given, I affirm that I would far rather have Shakespeare's plays performed than suffer the infliction of many of the sermons they deliver. (Laughter and hear, hear.) Shakespeare's plays would at all events not cause a man to hate his brother man; while many of the sermons delivered on a Sunday do have the effect of sending away their audiences with hearts filled with hatred of those who are opposed to them in theology. (Applause.) At all events, the public are not now demanding theatrical performances on Sunday evenings, while they do demand Freethought lectures. With respect to the argument of Sir Henry Parkes, that certain lectures might be delivered which would be a scandal to the community, so in the same way certain page 4 newspapers might appear which would be a scandal to the community; but is that any reason why a man should, before producing a reputable newspaper, go to the Colonial Secretary and ask for a license to do so? Surely, the platform has a right to be placed in the same position of freedom as the Press, in a free community. But have any of these evils which the Premier professes to fear arisen? Have we had these lectures on anatomy of this exciting character? For something like six or seven years the Sunday platform has been an institution here in Sydney, and I will venture to say that throughout the whole of that time there has been nothing produced upon such platform that should call for any restrictive or oppressive legislation of the kind now referred to. (Applause.) Moreover, if legislation be needful, it should be made of that character that will touch where the contact is required. Do not, because there might possibly arise certain evils in a growing institution, evils entirely problematical, and not yet showing any sign of arising; do not on that account strive to bring the whole institution under the heel of personal and capricious authority. Let it grow, let it extend, according to the needs of the community, and legislate for the correction of the evils if they manifest themselves.
Thus having shewn from the speech of the mover of the Bill himself, that there is a decided effort to be made now or at an early time to suppress this and similar platforms, let me repeat that I am not in the least degree surprised at it, because I am well aware that there have been attempts made to cause such legislation as this to be introduced. Not only here, but in other places where the Sunday platform has been instituted, the clergy have been greatly exercised in mind regarding it. They have seen, to their disgust, that it is a self-supporting institution, that it is not likely to fall to the ground, as they at first hoped, for want of public patronage; and they have been consequently troubled in their minds as to the best method of dealing with it. Some have suggested, as I know, that it should be publicly proceeded against by such obsolete laws as might be raked out of the dust of past legislation, but this has been opposed on the ground that it would but turn the lecturers into martyrs, and make them more popular than ever. (Applause.) Hence, it has been deemed, the best means of suppressing it, that prominent members of the Government should be ear-wigged on the subject, and the result, I make bold to say, of such earwigging, possibly, as we are informed by Sir Henry Parkes himself, with his full concurrence, is to be found in the Licensing Bill introduced into Parliament.
Seeing then, that this institution of a Sunday Platform is to be, if possible, suppressed, it becomes needful that we should consider what are its objects, and what its probable mission. And in order that we may fairly understand these we shall have to consider first what have been the object, the mission, and the nature of that other Sunday institution, the Pulpit. The ostensible object and mission of the Pulpit have been to minister to the spirituality, morality, and intellectual development of the people, and in the past doubtless it has, at times, acted powerfully in this direction. Even now, under exceptionally fortunate circumstances, i.e., where the Pulpit is filled by a man of capacity and breadth of thought, it may be beneficial to those who resort to it. But the same object and the same mission, precisely, are those which are set before the Sunday Platform. Hence, in these respects, in the aims of the two Sunday institutions, they are on a par—in their avowed aims they are on a par;—both page 5 of them desire to minister to the cultivation and morality of the people. While thus agreeing in ostensible aims, however, in constitution, these institutions are precisely the opposite of each other, and I shall proceed to show how this is the case.
Remember, that the Pulpit and the Platform, as institutions, are something more than merely pieces of furniture—something altogether apart from fixings. You may have a Pulpit which looks like a Platform, and in some rare cases you may have a Pulpit which is really a Platform. In America they are becoming, I believe, comparatively common. Apart from exceptions, however, the great difference between the two institutions is this:—The pulpit everywhere, (even if the person who fills it occupies the stage of a theatre) is the result of previous organisation Thus, a committee has to come together, a congregation has to form, and the person who addresses it has to speak in such a way as shall be satisfactory to the organization which supports him. He is, in truth, no matter how free he may deem himself or be deemed by others, under the authority of certain persons who are in reality placed above him Every occupant of a pulpit has to think of something else besides the simple question, what do I regard as truth? Every occupant of a pulpit has to turn side glances perpetually to another question,—what will be thought of this doctrine by those I am addressing? Will it be regarded as sound? Thus the pulpit wherever it is found, is under the control of sectarian organization. Now the platform, that is to say the Sunday Freethought Platform, is completely free of organization. The happy occupant of such a platform has not to go forth from the place where he stands in fear and trembling as to what the great "Mr. So-and-so" will think of what has been put before the public; or still worse, to speculate as to what the great "Mrs. So-and-so," who is such an ardent supporter of his organization, might have to say when he calls upon her in a few days time, lie has simply to place before those who come to hear him what he conceives to be truth, and nothing else. And that is a grand position.
* On Liberty, 2nd ed., p. 61.
Viewed within itself the lecture platform is a most admirable means of giving information to those who from their occupations during the week, or from disinclination to study, are unable to make themselves acquainted with the grand thoughts of the time, with the great and subtle questions that are now agitating public opinion, or with the arcana of scientific facts. On this subject I would read you a few words from an essay upon the lectures of that distinguished astronomer who is now delivering addresses with such success in Melbourne, Mr. R. A. Proctor, and whom before long, doubtless, we shall have the pleasure of hearing. (Applause.) In speaking of Mr. Proctor, the writer of this excellent essay under the head of "The Critic," in the Australasian of Saturday, 5th June, says:—" There are many people who are desirous of gaining knowledge who yet, from habit of mind, are not able to assimilate it with east when presented in a book. The effort of translating the letters of the printed page into ideas and facts is too much for them. They want the ideas and facts put before them conversationally. It is far easier to get at their minds through the ear than through the eye. This is where the usefulness of the lecturer comes in. He collects a large number of people interested in his subject; he puts himself, with a lecturer's tact, into relation with their understandings, feels by an acquired sense when he is commanding their attention, and conducts them through a subject which many of them would have been quite unable to follow without his assistance." Now that very fairly I think presents what may be done by a lecture; and as I have said, there are also to be considered those people who have not time to study these subjects for themselves. If that be the case with a lecture on purely scientific topics, the remarks apply with even greater force to lectures on subjects connected with what is generally known as Freethought, i.e. opinions which are opposed to those entertained by the majority of mankind at the time when such views are presented. Mill says:—" If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labour for ourselves."*
* On Liberty 2nd ed. page 82.
Sectarianism, be it remembered, is not a good thing in itself. It is a thoroughly bad thing in all its results, excepting so far as its teaching may make in the direction of moral goodness; but we know right well that a vast proportion of its teaching is based on speculative, yet changeless, creeds, which rational men and women are beginning to know to be false. They are beginning to perceive that there is no truth in the creedal statements that the eternal God ever walked the earth in the guise of humanity and was put to death by his own creatures, that a child was born without a human father, that three persons arc One, that the judicial murder of one man made atonement for all who believed, and that the rest are to be tortured in flames for everlasting; these and various similar statements are begining to be regarded by vast numbers as false, and as Thomas Carlyle says (in a passage quoted in Marcus Clarke's admirable pamphlet "Civilisation without Delusion") "the first of all gospels is this, that a lie cannot endure for ever." (Applause.) Truth has nothing whatever to fear from freedom of speech. Truth invites, does not shun, attacks; and if the Sunday Platform is allowed, as it must sooner or later be permitted, to develop itself unassailed, except by argument, the truth must benefit by the unfettered speech to which it will conduce.page 8
There ore manifold other agencies at work now, besides the Churches. In the remote past the Church was the sole teacher of anything in the shape of morality and domestic virtue. Now there are unnumbered secular agencies, most of them having had the churches opposed to them in their initiation. There are temperance societies, friendly societies, debating clubs, schools of arts, athenaeums, public libraries, and the press, and it is just as much as the old churches can do to come stumbling along after these institutions—(laughter and applause)—patronising them when they no longer require patronage, after having opposed them while they were struggling for existence. Every good and beneficial institution has been so treated, from the Sunday School itself upwards. All organizations of a catholic character will stand their ground, and if we can only be rid of religious sectarianism the result will be enormously beneficial to mankind. In speaking thus, 1 allude not to one sect, but to all. All in direct proportion to the power they possess, will persecute freedom "We discern the evidence of this fact in every direction. It was once thought that in those sections of Christianity, where indeed the Christian belief is whittled away as thin as possible, that dogmatic opposition to other forms of belief would be at an end. But it is not so. Even such a sect as the Unitarians, who are almost everywhere cold-shouldered by orthodox Christians, who will not admit they are Christians at all,—even they sometimes act as illiberally as the other sects. I have noticed an instance quite recently in an American paper. Some of you may be aware that there is a publisher in the United States, who, to the shame of that country, has lingered a full year in gaol for the publication of some obnoxious opinions—Mr. D. M. Bennett, editor of the New York Truth Seeker. I can say nothing regarding the work, for the publication of which he was imprisoned, as I have not seen it, but I know that men like Elizur Wright, James Parton, and Colonel Ingersoll would not uphold him if he had not been impelled to his work by a love of truth, and a desire to benefit his race. This man was cast into gaol, and remained there twelve months. A large number of his friends in New York, as the time arrived for his liberation, were determined to give him a grand reception. They applied for a large hall in New York, known as the "Cooper Union Hall." At first there was no objection offered, but after a while the committee of that hall, which is under Unitarian superintendence, having been established by the beneficence of a well-known Unitarian after whose name it was called, refused the use of the hall for the purpose. They were not liberal enough to throw open their doors to an arch-heretic like Bennett, and the result has been that the promoters of the movement had to obtain another, the Chickering Hall, and I believe a splendid demonstration, in which people from all parts of the United States assisted, occurred there on the 2rd May last. I refer to this to shew you that you cannot enter upon anything in the shape of sectarianism without at once entering also upon something which resembles the ancient religious bigotry. With the Platform this is of course altogether impossible. It is an institution founded in freedom. It asks for no mediator between the lecturer and the public. If the lecturer has something to say, and can say it so as to be attractive to the public, the public will come and hear him, and no one else is required or ought to be suffered to interpose between them (Applause.)page 9
Such being the claims of the Sunday Platform, what is the nature of the attack made upon it? The time is past when any orthodox priesthood are enabled, directly, to fetter freedom of speech. As long as priesthoods had the power to do so, they did it. They attacked directly those who in any form of teaching were opposed to them in opinion, and crushed them. Of course, the Church which did this with the greatest vigor was that which from its unity occupied the most powerful position, but all churches have, to the extent of their ability, persecuted those whose opinions differed from their own. For some time, however, thanks to the efforts of Freethinkers, it has been unpopular to avowedly attack freedom of speech, and so side issues have been raised. Oh! no, they never, any of them, want to cripple freedom of speech ! Those who imprisoned George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, did not wish to crush freedom of speech, only to guard the morals of the public! (Laughter.) So with those who attacked and imprisoned Bunyan, and placed Defoe in the pillory! And so in a most remarkable instance at a later time; an instance which I propose to dwell on for a little, because I believe it will prove most instructive to those who are opposed to us in sentiment.
In the last century religion in England was, as historians plainly shew us, at a very low ebb; a fact not to be wondered at when we remember that it was a state-supported religion, and that those who were called its teachers knew very well that they need not make any exertion to secure the support of the people they addressed. Hence, it is not strange to learn that religion had fallen into disrepute There were fox-hunting parsons who prided themselves on hopping easily over a five-barred gate, parsons who rushed away as soon as possible from the few words they deemed it necessary to address to their parishioner on Sunday, in order to go and see a cockfight. These parsons ran away from the pulpit almost as soon as they entered it, and for any benefit that their flocks derived they might just as well have gone before,—(laughter)—left their pulpits to go into the vestry in order that they might drink with their boon companions. On all sides we are told the Church was in a dreadful state. The clergy, to a large extent, were hangers on for preferment to the Ministry of the day, or still worse about the ante-rooms of the king's German mistresses. Everywhere there was nothing but lethargy and corruption. No new churches had been erected, and no schools opened, we are informed, since the grammar schools in the days of King Edward and Queen Elizabeth. The masses of the people were ignorant and brutal. Such was the state of religion in the early portion of the last century, and what occurred? There were certain men in the English Church, itself, who could not be content with a mere sham religion. They must be in earnest, endeavouring to do something to awaken the people to the conviction of the greatness of the truth of that which they themselves believed. The most prominent of these men were the two Wesleys and Whitfield. Though differing completely from their religious views, let me own at once, that they did a grand work in, at all events, making people truthful and resolved that their lives and religious professions should be no longer at variance. What happened to them? In "The Life and Times of John Wesley" by the Rev. L. Tyerman, I find the following,—part of a letter from John Wesley himself:—" Being convinced of that important truth which is the foundation of all real religion that by grace we are saved through faith, we immediately began declaring it to others.page 10
But in doing this, we were assaulted and abused on every side. We were everywhere represented as mad dogs, and treated accordingly. We were stoned in the streets, and several times narrowly escaped with our lives. In sermons, newspapers, and pamphlets of all kinds, we were painted as unheard of monsters." In order to shew you the opinion then entertained of this zealous and vital religion, I will give you a quotation presented by Mr. Tyerman from a pamphlet by a reverend doctor of divinity of the time, who no doubt set much store on his knowledge of the dead languages, while arguing feebly in living ones. (Laughter.) This pamphlet was entitled "The Nature, Folly, Sin, and Danger of being righteous overmuch; with a particular view to the doctrines and practices of certain modern Enthusiasts. Being the substance of four discourses lately preached in the parish churches of Christ Church and St Lawrence, Jewry, London, and St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster, by Joseph Trapp, D.D." (Laughter.) And what does Dr. Trapp, D.D., say?—"For laymen to officiate in reading prayers in any assembly, except their own families, is an encroachment upon the office of those who are ordained to holy functions; and for them to expound or interpret scripture is neither laudable nor justifiable, but tends to the confirmation, not the removal of ignorance." Having thus expressed his dissatisfaction at laymen intruding upon sacerdotal preserves, Dr. Trapp next proceeds to give his opinion respecting one not a layman—" For a raw novice, though in holy orders, to take upon him, at his first setting out, to be a teacher, not only of all the laity, in all parts of the kingdom, but of the teachers themselves, the learned clergy, many of them learned before he was born, is an outrage upon common decency and common sense; the height of presumption, confidence, and self sufficiency! so ridiculous as to create the greatest laughter, were it not so deplorable and detestable as to create the greatest grief and abhorrence, especially when vast multitudes are so sottish and wicked as, in a tumultuous manner, to run madding after him." Thus you see that precisely similar denunciations were levelled against those who followed Wesley and Whitfield, rather than the orthodox Church of England clergy, that are now used against those who come and hear freethought lecturers. (Hear, hear) And Dr. Trapp says further—" They (the Methodists) teach such absurd doctrines, and second them with such absurd practices, as to give countenance to the lewd and debauched, the irreligious and profane. For a clergyman of the Church of England to pray and preach in the fields, in the country, or in the streets of the city,"—this is one of the saddest features, "to preach in the fields or the streets of the city "—and, now by this Hill they want to prevent Freethinkers from speaking anywhere else. (Laughter.) Dr. Trapp goes on—"This is perfectly new, a fresh honour to the blessed age in which we have the happiness to live. I am ashamed to speak upon a subject which is a reproach not only to our church and country, but to human nature itself. Can it promote the Christian religion to turn it into riot, tumult, and confusion? to make it ridiculous and contemptible, and expose it to the scum and feoffs of infidels and atheists? To the prevalence of immorality and profaneness, infidelity and atheism, is now added the pest of enthusiasm." A great pest always to orthodox preachers! (Laughter.) "Our prospect is very sad and melancholy. Go not after these imposters and seducers, but shun them as you would the plague." When we find the clergy a century or so ago talking in that fashion of those who are now almost worshipped page 11 as religious lights, we cannot be astonished that they assail, as they do at this day, unlicensed Freethought lecturers.
In 1744, a pamphlet was published by one who did not give his name, but subscribed himself a gentleman of Pembroke College, Oxford," and this "gentleman," speaking of the Methodists says, "they are a tag-rag mob using lascivious and blasphemously languishing expressions when they talk of the Redeemer's love." They are "a set of creatures of the lowest rank, most of them illiterate and of desperate fortunes; cursing, reviling and showing their teeth at everyone that does not approve of their frenzy, and extravagance." (Laughter.) And of Whitfield, that outspoken preacher—one who is so highly thought of by the Methodists, in fact by all the orthodox of our time, this writer says, "he is crafty and malicious enough to be suspected of any wicked enterprise, a person of wicked principles, travelling over all counties to establish new fangled societies;" and he and his friends were "heads and spiritual directors of hot-brained cobblers, all big with venom against the clergy of the Established Church" The author "trembles and shudders," fancy that! the author, a gentleman of Pembroke College "trembles and shudders," lest the Methodists should be betrayed by their feelings and stretchings into a bed of eternal fire and brimstone, appointed for the reception of the lewd, the concupiscent, and the blasphemous." (Laughter.) I hope our friends, the Wesleyan Methodists of the present day, who are so prone to rain down upon Freethinkers similar blessings, will lay all this to heart. (Hear, hear.) One extract more: the Rev. L. Tyerman, says: "In addition to all this foam and fury against the Methodists, must be mentioned an equally vile attack of another kind. At the Brecon assizes, held in the month of August the grand jury deemed it their duty to make a presentment to the presiding judge to the following effect: 'that the Methodists held illegal meetings and that their preachers pretended to expound the scriptures by virtue, of inspiration;' that, by this means, 'they collected together great numbers of disorderly persons' "—"disorderly persons"! very much like the "larrikins" I suppose, who, according to a recent "reverend" speaker come to my lectures. (Laughter) "Very much endangering the peace of our sovereign lord the king "George II and his German seraglio, "and that unless their proceedings were timely suppressed, they might endanger the peace of the kingdom in general. At all events the pretended preachers, or teachers, at their irregular meetings, by their enthusiastic doctrines, very much confounded and disordered the minds of his majesty's good subjects, and this in time might lead to the overthrowing of our good government, both in Church and State." Finally the judge is requested, "if the authority of the present Court was not sufficient for the purpose, to apply to some superior authority in order to put an end to the villianous schemes of such dangerous assemblies." This is taken by Tyerman from the Gentleman's Magazine for 1744 p. 504.
These extracts will shew you what was thought of Methodism at that time. I have dwelt on these occurrences and conflicts of the last century in order to indicate the difficulties which this movement which is now admitted to have done service of a highly moral and excellent character in that generation, had to encounter and the way in which it was spoken of by those who then plumed themselves on their orthodox conservatism. But different ages unfold different developments. The page 12 Conservatives of this day are fully prepared to accept all which was so obnoxious in the last century; quite prepared to see clergymen go outside their churches addressing people in the open air, if they so choose; quite prepared to see, moreover, a great extension of liberty of speech in the pulpit itself. But we have now arrived at a time when a vast number of people require something more for their intellectual, religious and moral well-being than that which was satisfactory in the last century. There are numbers of people who are almost or altogether outside the influence of the churches, chapels, and conventicles who find it beneficial, instructive, and entertaining to attend the Sunday Platform. If we need a proof of the fact that proof is before us here. (Applause.) I ask is there any more reason why there should be clerical attacks upon this institution of the Sunday Platform, which is being developed in accordance with the requirements best suited to itself, not having its laws dictated to it by others, but comporting itself in the way best suited to its own interests, is there any more reason why it should be subject to attacks in any shape, or attempted to be dictated to by government censorship, than there was for similar interference with the Methodism of last century? All people of open minds will admit that the Wesleys and Whitfield had a right to do as they did, to do what they believed to be their duty, and that they were justified in carrying on their work in the face of all opposition that might be brought against them. And at this day, are those who come forth upon the Freethought platform not justified in doing what they have found to their hands, doing a needful work which will produce its fruits? I venture to say that the outcome of the Reformation itself will shew no grander fruit than this Sunday Platform, when once it becomes an institution in all parts of the world. (Applause.)
"What needs the bridge much broader than the flood?"
"The fairest grant is the necessity."
We ask for no affected toleration for free speech at the hands of these gentleman we don't want it. They overdo the thing in offering it. All we ask from them is simply that they shall keep to their own business, mind their own concerns, and leave us alone. (Applause.) This overdoing of a thing is always a mistake; people who overdo anything are sure to render themselves ridiculous I noticed lately a most amusing instance of this kind in a humorous picture which I doubt not is familiar to a good many of you. There was an individual who, unfortunately for himself, had to have a tooth extracted, and who was blessed by nature with an extremely large mouth. When he saw the dentist standing with the forceps ready to operate, ho opened his jaws so wide that the dentist stood back and politely remarked, "Don't open your mouth so wide, please; I stand outside." (Laughter.) Now, as regards those gentlemen who are so kind in offering us their toleration of free speech, I would simply ask them not to open their mouths so wide. They cannot open their mouths in affected toleration of liberty, without showing their teeth. I have here a page 13 copy of the Protestant Standard, which has been very much exercised in its editorial mind on this subject. On the 15th May (and it returned again to the topic in pretty much the same vein on the 22nd, and I daresay frequently since, for I do not often read it) it says—" We go in for free speech." Of course! (Laughter) "We have fought for free speech." Doubtless, against all those who wished to fetter them, but not for those they wish to fetter. "But then, free speech ought to be defined. Blasphemy is not free speech." If these gentlemen had been under the tender mercies of the Roman Catholic Church a few centuries ago, they would have been termed blasphemous. However, they now say to Sir Henry Parkes, "Let him give notice to the Sunday evening lecturers, Messrs. Bright and Co., that charges to their lectures on Sunday evenings are illegal, and that they must rely on the power of the plate, and we guarantee that the result will be, that the freethought lectures will be at a discount." (Laughter.) Further down in the same article,—"We want no gag on 'free speech.' We desire no crippling of lectures and knowledge. We have no fear from the paltry infidels who now live by their slanders on the Bible and its teachings. And we are convinced that the Bible has stood the charges of far heavier artillery than that of the mercenary infidels who now occupy the 'platform' of the theatres on the Sunday evenings in Sydney. But we think that Sir Henry Parkes has a right to insist that if theatres and concert halls, and shops and business houses are to be closed on the Sunday, Bright and Co.'s nostrums ought to be forbidden on Sunday evenings, ought, at least to be forbidden, unless on the free-trade principle of the 'plate'—which Mr. John Hurley will hold gratis." (Laughter.) Now that, you will see, is simply aimed, as all preceding endeavours to crush freedom have been, in Protestant countries, (all at least excepting those where one sect has been very powerful, as at the time of the burning of Servetus, in Geneva, or the torturing of the poor Quakers and others in Massachusetts)—it is simply aimed at a side issue because they dare not strike openly. They indulge in shallow raillery at those they term "infidels," and endeavour if possible to get up a feeling against them, while at the same time striving to stop the only institution before the public which permits those they attack obtaining a hearing. They acknowledge the platform could not exist as a sectarian organization, and hence beseech that it shall be compelled to organize. Transformed into a pulpit they know its power is swept away.
To the denunciations and vituperations heaped upon infidels, I would merely reply in the words of Mill, in his "Essay on Liberty,"—" If Christians would teach Infidels to be just to Christianity, they should themselves be just to Infidelity. It can do truth no service to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected the Christian faith."* (Applause.) Let those who rail at infidels endeavour to manifest towards them some of that christian love about which they are so often and to such a sickening extent talking, when there is no use for it. Then, as Mill indicates, in their turn perhaps they would receive more justice than they possibly can at the present day from those whom they denounce and abuse.
* On Liberty, 2nd ed., p. 93.
Spite of the feeble opposition of bigotry, it will prove the mission of the Sunday Platform to carry the watchword of freedom further than it can at present be, or ever has been in the past, carried, by religious sects. Sects are always under the dominancy of the most bigoted and straightened minds, and hence all the pulpits supported by such sectarian efforts are circumscribed and dwarfed. But what men now require and are gradually establishing, is this very institution of the Sunday Platform, where no organization is necessary, where the man who has something to say, which he believes is of value to his fellow creatures, and who has the capacity of saying it in such a way that his fellow creatures will come and hear him, can be at full liberty to say it. We demand that this institution shall be allowed to develop itself according to its own laws, and we fail to see the justice of its regulations being formulated by the "gentlemen" who edit the Protestant Standard. They assert that if what they desire were brought to pass, the institution would immediately decline. Whether that be so or not, our desire is that the institution shall flourish, not decline, and to insure this consummation, it must be left to develop itself. In the past we have seen how interference with a cognate institution—the Press—has always been pernicious; whereas when the Press was left to develop itself according to its own needs it gradually attained to a magnificent power for usefulness. Supposing the Press had remained as it was in the past, when any one who had something to write to his fellow creatures, and wished to print it, had to go and bow down before some Mecaenas, some patron, and ask him for permission, where would have been its influence? That was the fashion formerly, and that would have continued had not the Press worked out its own freedom from censorship, and gradually acquired a position so that any man who desires to print his thoughts is able to do so without going to any Colonial Secretary and saying, "By your leave, sir." As the Press has thus been enabled to work out its freedom, to vindicate its right to expand and develop precisely as the exigencies of surrounding circumstances demanded, all we ask is that our own institution, that is just acquiring strength, shall be left to develop itself in a similar way.
Surely, in the past there has been enough of this intolerant persecution, without the same unhappy struggle being perpetuated in this century. It is difficult to understand how Sir Henry Parkes, who has been regarded sometimes as nearly a Freethinker himself, should consent to come down to Parliament and in the abused name of liberty propose to fetter this growing institution? Surely he, who knows nothing regarding it, save from interested and biassed hearsay is not such a good judge of its value as those who come and patronise it. Surely the people of this colony, from whom colonial secretaries spring, may be trusted to decide what is good for themselves without the leading strings of a Government official. I am happy to say that some among the members of Parliament have taken up a proper position and spoken out well on this matter, one gentleman especially. And really I think it should make Archbishop Vaughan himself laugh in his sleeve at the turn events have taken. He must be amused to observe that Sir Henry Parkes, who claims to be such a model in upholding freedom, should be thus endeavoring to fetter a free institution, while a gentleman who belongs to the Catholic faith comes forward as its staunchest defender. (Applause.) On the second reading of the Licensing Bill, Mr. Fitzpatrick (applause)—the leader of the Opposition—after speaking of the evils of intemper- page 15 nce. for which the Bill was endeavouring to find some remedy, is reported by the Herald as follows:—" He was as much impressed with the evils of intemperance as any member, and he would go very far to check them, but he would see all the temperance societies farther before he would consent to gag men who desired to express their conscientious convictions on Sundays. Members inclined to support such a proposition were not three generations removed from those who would have shed the blood of those who differed from them in religious belief. Were they to punish a man because he did not agree with their views of Christianity? Why, what a pretence of liberty it was to say that a man should not invite his friends to hear him in any house, provided he did not break the peace or utter libels. If such men's views were right, why should they not express them; and if they were wrong what harm would they do? The community was dotted with tens of thousands of men who did not hold their views of Christianity. These men did not force men to go to listen to them. Only those went who chose to go. If they stopped Mr. Bright lecturing who else would they stop? The views that gentleman expressed were not widely different from those of the Unitarians, and would they cause the Unitarians to close their church? When he read this clause his hair rose on his head and his blood crept to learn that in the 19th century they were to be asked to prevent educated gentlemen expressing their views on human nature and the great hereafter. Where would they draw the line? (Applause.) Now I say that all honour is due to a gentleman who utters sentiments of that enlightened character There were others who spoke to a similar effect, but in attempting to guage the opinion of Parliament we must remember that those who are disposed to be bigoted rarely speak out, and it is not to be thought because a few members utter their sentiments as opposed to these clauses in the Licensing Bill, that therefore they may not, some time or other, be carried. Those who intend to support such clauses say nothing about it, but they vote; and although I myself do not believe that this Bill, will pass at all this session,* yet still I am well convinced that there has been sufficient organisation at the bottom of this effort to suppress the Sunday Platform, to ensure its being continued, and that the attempt will again and again be renewed to put it down by the strong arm of the law.
Under the circumstances I think the public, or that portion of them who desire this institution to continue, are perfectly justified in resisting such an attempt to the uttermost. It is a policy of repression worthy, as was said by Mr. Wilson, of a country like Russia, not of any country where free institutions are supposed to flourish. We do not want here the repose which is only to be secured by repression. There is danger in any one sitting on the safety valve of a steam engine to prevent the noise of the steam escaping. Better let it escape. The man who sits on the safety valve may perhaps enjoy the idea that he is stopping an agitation which is unpleasant to him, but he will probably suffer the subsequent inconvenience of being blown off his seat, and having to be picked up in shattered pieces.
* The Bill has, since been withdrawn by the Premier for the resent session.