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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Sir George Jessel

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Sir George Jessel.

During the long struggle which began in March, 1877, no word has escaped me against the respective judges before whom I have had to plead. Some have been harsh, but, at least, they have been fairly just, and even if a sign of prejudice appeared, it was yet not sufficient to be a scandal to the Bench. Of Sir George Jessel, however, I cannot speak in terms even of respect, for in his conduct towards myself he has been rough, coarse, and unfair, to an extent that I never expected to see in any English judge. Sir George Jessel is subtle and acute, but he is rude, overbearing, and coarse; he has the sneer of a Mephistopheles mingled with a curious monkeyish pleasure in inflicting pain. Sir George Jessel prides himself on being "a man of the world," and he expresses the low morality common to that class when the phrase is taken in its worst sense; he holds, like the "men of the world," who "see life" in Leicester Square and the Haymarket, that women are kept chaste only through fear and from lack of opportunity; that men may be loose in morals if they will, and that women are divided into two classes for their use—one to be the victims and the toys of the moment, the others to be kept ignorant and strictly guarded, so as to be worthy of being selected as wives, Sir George Jessel considers that a woman becomes an outcast from society because she thinks that women would be happier, healthier, safer, if they had some slight acquaintance with physiology, and were not condemned, through ignorance, to give birth to human lives fore-doomed to misery, to disease, and to starvation. Sir George Jessel says that no "modest woman" will associate with one who spreads among her sex the knowledge which will enable her sisters to limit their families within their means. The old brutal Jewish spirit, regarding women as the mere slaves of men, breaks out in the coarse language which disgraced himself rather than the woman at whom it was aimed. Sir George Jessel might have been surprised, had he been in the page 3 Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on the following day, and had seen it filled with men and women, quiet looking, well dressed, and respectable, and had heard the cries of "Shame on him!" which rang round the hall, when his brutal remark was quoted. Such language only causes a reaction towards the insulted person even among those who would otherwise be antagonistic, and Sir George Jessel has ranged on my side many a woman, who, but for him, would have held aloof.

Sir George Jessel is a Jew; he thinks that a parent should be deprived of a child if he or she withholds from it religious training. Two hundred years ago, Sir George Jessel's children might have been taken from him because he did not bring them up as Christians; Sir George Jessel and his race have been relieved from disabilities, and he now joins the persecuting majority, and deals out to the Atheist the same measure dealt to his forefathers by the Christians. The Master of the Rolls pretended that by depriving me of my child he was inflicting no punishment on me! If the master of the Rolls have any children, he must be as hard-hearted in the home as he is on the Bench, if he would not feel that any penalty was inflicted on him if his little ones were torn from him and handed over to a Christian priest, who would teach them to despise him as a Jew, and hate him as a denier of Christ. Even now, Jews are under many social disabilities, and even when richly gilt, Christian society looks upon them with thinly-concealed dislike. The old wicked prejudice still survives against them, and it is with shame and with disgust, that Liberals see a Jew trying to curry favour with Christian society by reviving the obsolete penalties once inflicted on his own people.

Sir George Jessel was not only brutally harsh; he was also utterly unfair. He quoted the Lord Chief Justice as agreeing with him in his judgment on Knowlton, on points where the Chief had distinctly expressed the contrary opinion, and he did this not through ignorance, but with the eloquent words of Sir Alexander Cockburn lying in front of him, and after I had pointed out to him, and he had deliberately read, or professed to read, the passages which page 4 obtained the exact contrary of that which he put into the Chief's mouth.

Of one thing Sir George Jessel and his Christian friends may be sure, that neither prosecution nor penalty will prevent me from teaching both Atheism and Malthusianism to all who will listen to me, and since Christianity is still so bigoted as to take the child from the mother because of a difference of creed, I will strain every nerve to convert the men and women around me, and more especially the young, to a creed more worthy of humanity.

Sir George Jessel pretended to have the child's interests at heart: in reality he utterly iguored them. I offered to settle,£110 a year on the child if she was placed in the charge of some trustworthy and respectable person, but the Master did not even notice the offer. He takes away the child from plenty and comfort, and throws her into comparative poverty; he takes her away from most tender and watchful care, and places her under the guardianship of a man so reckless of her health, that he chose the moment of her serious illness to ask for her removal; he takes her away from cultured and thoughtful society to place her among half-educated farmers. Nay, he goes further; Dr. Drysdale's affidavit stated that it was absolutely necessary at present that she should have her mother's care; and Sir George Jessel disregards this, and, in her still weak state, drags her from her home and from all she cares for, and throws her into the hands of strangers. If any serious results follow, Sir George Jessel will be morally, though not legally, responsible for them. In her new home she can have no gentle womanly attendance. No Christian lady of high character will risk the misconstruction to which she would be exposed by living alone at Sibsey Vicarage with a young clergyman who is neither a batchelor nor a widower; the child will be condemned either to solitary neglect at home, or to the cold strictness of a boarding-school. She is bright, gay, intelligent, merry now. What will she be at a year's end? My worst wish for Sir George Jessel is that the measure he has meted out, to me may, before he dies, be measured out to him or his.

Annie Besant.