The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53
"What is Freethought?"
"What is Freethought?"
o-Night I propose to answer a question that is often put, and to which the replies are various. What, it is asked, is Freethought? This is, I think, a fitting time to attempt to answer the question. We are opening a new Hall built for the express purpose of maintaining a free platform in this city, and having our children trained to approach the problems of life without being encumbered by the creeds of the past. Let us, then, see if we can define our position. We claim to be a Freethought Association—that is, a body of men and women united to assist each other in the investigation of life problems, and yet without a creed, and without a "sanction" for our opinion. I use sanction in the philosophical legal sense; that is, a man may denounce us, may abuse the position we take up, and yet we threaten his with no punishment. To use the elegant language of a modern defender of the faith, and a champion of the Young Men's Christian Association of Dunedin, "He may spit on our creed, and he will pass scathless." Of course, a man who does this, or speaks like this, has only attained a certain intellectual position, and we may consider that his position is a sufficient punishment. But we are unlike what are termed other religious associations in this respect. If a man denies their creed, he is threatened with all kinds of penalties. I do not require to allude to social penalties, nor to the abuse or misrepresentation that he is almost bound to receive, nor to the loss of political rights and citizenship privileges, which in some countries he must sustain: but I refer to the treat of future punishment. Every creed almost threatens future penalties. If a man does not believe as the Catholic Church or the Protestant Chruches believe, woe to him. Why is it, then, we run a risk? Some people have said, "Well, if you are correct, we are safe; but if we are right, you'll suffer." People, who are cowardly enough to approach the consideration of any questions in this way, are not thinkers. With Martineau we must believe that if we search for truth, we must not be casting sidelong glances after our soul's salvation. But do not let us assume that a Freethinker is necessarily one who is outside a church. There are, no doubt, Freethinkers in many churches. Every now and again one more pronounced than another is excommunicated. If he is a professor, for example, and if he applies to the study of the Bible the same canons of criticism as he would to the study of the Greek Bible, the Iliad of Homer, page 4 or to the reading of Shakespeare then he will be thrown out of his professorship. Or if he tries to explain Exodus or Leviticus according to arithmetic, he will meet with the fate of Bishop Colenso. Freethought is really a mode of thought. And wherever there is the mode there is the Freethinker, whether he is in or out of the church. And if, as I say, Freethought is a mode of thought, this being remembered will correct an error that is often made. It is assumed that all those outside the churches are Freethinkers. This is incorrect. Before a man can he a Freethinker, he must have thought. There are some who care nothing for theological or philosophical questions. They eat, drink, work, sleep, and enjoy themselves. To them life has no problem, save how to live. Whence is man, or whither? Is the race progressing, or is its Eden in the past? These and other questions never trouble them. They have no creed, and they care for none of these things. It would, therefore, be as reasonable to assume that all who register themselves as belonging to a religious denomination are orthodox, as to assume that those who belong to no church are Freethinkers. Before one can be a Freethinker, there must be an admission that there is something to think about. No doubt, the interest may vary. Temperaments vary. Early training counts for a good deal, and so do social surroundings. There must, however, be some enquiry, some doubt, some thought.
Freethought, then, implies some thought; and if any one asks what is a Freethinker, we must reply, one to whom there has come the need of considering some questions concerning man and his relation to the universe; and, secondly, that he has the right to consider them unfettered by any Church, by any state, by any Society; and, thirdly, there is his mode of search. He has to be guided by only one thing, those canons of evidence that will enable him to sift his subject to the bottom. He cares nothing for anathema, nor excommunication, nor threats of personal suffering here, or hereafter. He is the analyst; nay, more, he must ever be searching for truth. To him there is no rest. He may accept—nay, must accept—certain things as true; but even these—until he thinks the induction complete—he only accepts provisionally. And his attitude must ever be a waiting for further enlightenment. The emblems outside our Hall are never forgotten:—Liberty: He must be free as the air; Justice: He most, without bias and with unerring fidelity, weigh every fact as if his very existence depended on the scales being fairly, justly, truly held.
Now, this method of investigation is not confined to one subject. Indeed, I may here at once say that it is the only method that has been fruitful in the past. If ever there has been an advance made in Religion, in Science, or in Philosophy, it has always been made by adopting this method. We, however, as an Association do not pretend to be a Scientific Institute, nor are we a page 5 Literary Club nor a Philosophical Society, As an Association, we claim to bring to the test I have mentioned the popular religions of to-day, and we unite for mutual help in our investigation and for mutual assistance, knowing that organisation is required to maintain intact our right to make such enquiries.
We have only to glance at history to see that there has been ever a conflict between the old and the new, between authority and freedom, between religion and science. Nay, the conflict is not yet ended. He who dares to doubt the popular explanation of the cosmos, and of man's relation to the universe, is denounced now as he was six hundred—nay, two thousand years ago. It is true there is not the same power in the hands of those in authority now; but there is still left a remnant of the old spirit, and there is still the same impatience manifested with the sceptic. Now, if a man has got peace in believing he can never be a Freethinker—he has no doubts to solve—he is intellectually anchored, and though this intellectual rest may mean intellectual death, still he is not troubled. He is at rest. A Freethinker, however, is never at rest. He is ever searching for something new, and he is ever analysing what is presented to him for belief or as a fact. There seem to me to be three attitudes a man may assume to the religious and quasi-religious questions of to-day.
There is, first, the attitude of the man who believes, and acts on the belief, that in some church organisation there is deposited the truth, and that its officers can tell him authoritatively what to believe, and what not to believe. This man does no thinking. The Church does it for him.
There is, second, the position of the man who believes that in some book, or collection of books, he can find all his problems solved—what he has to believe, and what he has to do.
There is, third, the man who accepts the authority of no Church and of no hook, but believes that man has not yet discovered the truth, and who joins with others in the search.
In the past we have often seen those who take up the first two positions, joining their forces to put down—to punish—nay, to drive out of existence, those who took up the third position. And our newspapers of to-day show, that, even yet, they may unite to punish one whose attitude is different from theirs.*
* The treatment of Mr. Bradlaugh, M.P., for example.
"Doubtless many will at once exclaim against the Roman Catholic Church for this, justice compels me to say, that the founders of Protestantism were no less zealous against the new scientific doctrine. Said Martin Luther: 'People gave ear to an upstart astrologer, who strove to snow that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun, and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is, of course, the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy. But Sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.'" Melancthon agreed with Luther. And Bruno—Giordano Bruno—because he asserted what is now taught in every Church school in the world, was burned. And need I allude to Galileo's treatment.page 7 He, like Copernicus and Bruno, was called an Atheist, was imprisoned, was dragged before that terrible institution, the Inquisition, and forced, in order to save his life, to confess that the sun moved round the earth, and not the earth round the sun. And even after his abjuration he was kept imprisoned till he was blind, and even after that treated harshly, and his death did not even end the virulence of his enemies, He was denied Catholic burial—the last weapon of the Church. And now, in less than 300 years, the very Church that condemned him, teaches his doctrine.
* I refer to the Proctor episode in Sydney, New South Wales.
"But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours—that is, on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjectures on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited. . . . For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information, and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the earth to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man."—("The City of God," translated by Rev. Marcus Dods.) "How could the earth be round, for were not all people to see the Lord descending at the last day out of the clouds,"*
* Sec Draper's "Conflict of Science and Religion," page 64.
But there has grown up by Freethought, the recognition of a law, whose effects as changing the popular creeds we have not yet realised. In the starry heavens and in the bowels of earth alike we find law. No doubt there have been cataclysms, but even these display a uniformity. Everything seems brought under the domain page 9 of law. There are few leaps; slow changes are tee rule. We see this in the heavens, and geology shows how slowly species followed species, genera genera. From the study of these sciences and from observing plants and animals, we have had formulated the law of Evolution. As when the motion of the earth was first mentioned, so when Darwin and Wallace published their books, there was hardly an orthodox pulpit, but denounced the doctrine as heretical, and damnable. And, in Dunedin only three years ago, one clergyman was not deemed fit to become a member of the Young Men's Christian Association, because he said he believed in Evolution. Could I give you a better example of what Freethought, as opposed to the popular theology, means?
* See Hatch's "Bampton Lectures, 1880."
- Honour our parents.
- Do unto others as we would that they should do to us.
- Have charity.
- Blessed are the pure in heart.
- Blessed are the merciful.
- Love one another.
What do these I have mentioned, and the most of what are called the Mosaic Commandments, do hut inculcate right action. Their vitality consists not in their inculcation of religious duties, but they live because they teach right conduct. There is not much of what is called religion in them, but they tend to elevate humanity. Let me read to you some from other religious systems, and I think you will find, that the good, in the Christian system, does not differ much from the good in other systems, older far than Christianity.
† Mivart—See his "Contemporary Evolution."
"For while a youth is lost in soaring thought,
And while a maid grows sweet and beautiful,
And while a spring-tide coming lights the earth,
And while a child, and while a flower is born,
And while one wrong cries for redress and finds
A soul to answer, still the world is young."
And the future will have a better morality, and a better religion, just as our mode of travelling transcends that of the ancient Maori, and our steamship that of the Phœnician craft.
I have shown you how religion has ever waged a war against science. But, that it cramps humanity in another way, I might point out. Whoever read the history of Christianity without a shudder? Go to some museam, and see the instruments of torture that one sect used against the other. Read the account of the crusaders, and study the history of their wars, of their massacres, directly the result of their religion, and will you not agree with me that its tendency has been to degrade humanity by restricting all intellectual freedom? Let me go back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, or rather the end of the seventeenth. I select this date because what I am going to relate took place after some statutes, we think in force in New Zealand—for example, the Sabbath statute—were passed. What is the scene? Between Edinburgh and Leith and not yet 200 years ago, in 1695, there is a gallows erected. Around it there are several Presbyterian clergymen. At the foot of the gallows, ready to be hurled from this earth, there is a youth—18 years of age. He has been a student at the university, has approached philosophical questions, dabbled in metaphysics, and as a result has doubted. He cannot understand the doctrine of the Trinity, He says men might as well speak of a square circle. This youth had committed no other crime save that of thinking—of doubting. He believed in God, believed in a future state, bat he thought Ezra wrote the Pentateuch, and that Moses had learned the ancient Egyptian mythology and magic, and this youth was condemned to death. He said in prison he recanted his errors, but that did not obtain his pardon. He then asked for time to prepare to die, but this request even was not granted him. Ministers preached from their pulpits demanding his death. And this is not yet 200 years ago! And now, in the Southern Edinburgh, we can page 12 meet and speak of things for uttering which poor Thomas Aikenhead was murdered. Has not intelligence grown? Could I give a better illustration of how religion approaches the problems of existence, and how Freethought deals with them?
In his next lecture, on the benefits of Christianity, I hope the lecturer, whoever he is, will read the record of what took place in Edinburgh from the year 1690 to 1700. Do not think Aikenhead's case was an isolated one. No doubt it was isolated so far as the end of the seventeenth century was concerned, but it was a necessary consequence of the assumption that the Record of Truth had closed. The Church has ever said, "Let all heretics for ever hold their peace; if any one entertains an opinion which the Church has condemned, let him keep it to himself, and not communicate it to another." The Freethinker says the very opposite: If you have a thought, out with it. It is better that you should speak your mind than net the hypocrite. The world is not hurt much by a bad opinion. Crushing out thought that was not in accordance with the popular views has done more harm than allowing the free expression of opinion. As Mill says in "Liberty," the opinion may be true. "Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth, but they are not infallible." No doctrine is so certain that it cannot be questioned. If the person who denies is correct, humanity loses by not having the error exposed. And if the denier is wrong, what harm is done by his ventilating his opinions. At one time it was a crime to assert the earth was round, and revolved round the sun. Almost everyone now believes the earth is round. There are, however, a very few people who, believing the Bible cannot be wrong, say the earth is flat. What harm is done by their ventilating their opinion? I mention this as a case where most people would say it is certain the earth is round. But what of the vast number of question son which there is no certainty, nor any approach to certainty? Is there to be no more thinking about them? Have men in the past—well meaning, no doubt, but perhaps not acquainted with nature, as we are, going to determine for us the problems of existence? Are we to be bound by what men in Asia and Southern Europe wrote centuries ago? Yes, wrote at a time when their views of astronomy, of geology, of biology were false, erroneous—might I add—to us, even ridiculous. Is it any recommendation to the writers of ancient books that they knew nothing of science? I ask, Is their ignorance of science, which means ignorance of the world in which they were living, any evidence they knew of another world, or how the present world attained to its present development? One would think that the more ignorant of science, of nature, you proved a man who wrote on the problems of life, of the universe, the less you would value his writings. But there are some who gravely tell us that we are to take as our guides to religion, to philosophy—men who were ignorant of things taught in our district schools. As Free- page 13 thinkers, we cannot be bound by any such authority; we must bring things, ancient and modern, to the test of scientific proof. Faith has no place with us. We may have this faith, it is true:—That the world is so constituted that truth is good, error bad, and that a belief in something that is not fact can help no one. But before we believe, and base our action on belief, we must have some evidence. And here I might point out what may be termed some ways in which we are to approach historical facts, and how we are to decide on the credibility of things told us. For fuller treatment of this question, I must refer you to "Bain's Logic."* first, there are some things that require more evidence than others. This, some people, who argue in favour of popular theology, often forget. For example, if one tells us that he saw a man drop down dead in Princes-street, we ask who he was, was the informant present, and if we learn our informant was there, it does not seem to us incredible. We know that men have dropped down dead, and hence the fact is not contrary to our experience. It is credible. But if the informant build us that he was in the Southern Cemetery, and saw a grave upen of itself, and a body get out and live and walk about and talk—a body that had been dead for years may be—what would we say? Would the evidence that satisfied us as to the thirst event satisfy us as to the second? I think not. We would say it was incredibly and we would at once say we do not believe, and we would think our informant was mad. Why? Because from past experience we know this does not occur. It is more credible that our informant was mistaken than that something opposed to all the experience of humanity should have occurred. It is inconsistent with what has hitherto been observed. And so with the relation of events, If they are opposed to some law—which means observed phenomena always occurring in like circumstances—we at once pronounce them untrue. If it is said, and this is Bain's illustration, Mahomet's coffin hung suspended in mid air, we are bound to disbelieve it, unless we can show it was kept up by magnets or other contrivances. It is contrary to the law of gravity, and if we believed in the coffin hanging, we would have to say that there is no law of gravity. So if we believe in what is called the resurrection of men from death to life again, one of our commonest inductions—one that is used as an illustration in our text books of logic—all men are mortal, would not be true. Then, if there are things told us as new—such as, it is said, clairvoyance or prophecy, etc, These cannot be believed, unless under the most rigorous tests. Why? Because they are not in accordance with the experience of the race.
* Vol. ii., p. 149 and p. 423.
And how are we to treat historical records? If a man presents us with a statement of what occurred, we ask, Was he present? If he was not present, Who told him? If he did not live in the age when the event is said to have occurred, then how did he hear of it? For example: Suppose it were granted Moses wrote Genesis. He is detailing events that happened before he was born. How does he know they were true? We do not know how he obtained his information of what, for example, took place a million of years before man lived on the earth. If he says—which, by the bye, he does not—that it was told him by Deity, we enquire, When? Is there any reply? None. But if he said he was compelled to write as he wrote, and he felt it was God that told him to do so, how is this verifiable? Is there any evidence for it? Would Moses's statement be enough? We must say no, because we are cognisant of states of mankind when men imagine things just the same. Go to a Lunatic Asylum, and you will hear patients say spirits speak to them, and they say they feel things that other and sane people cannot feel. They are honest in what they say, but they are not in a normal state. Are we to believe all a person says because he feels it, and honestly tells us what he feels? No; we must verify it. Is it true? Mahomet said he was inspired; he may have believed it! Are we, then, to accept his statement? It is against experience, and we are bound to reject it. But if the writer relates events, they may be true; he may have heard of them from his contemporaries, and we know the story of things that have happened are handed down by oral tradition. Songs hundreds of years old, stories centuries old, and never written, may have been heard in out-of-the-way places, where writing and printing were rare. And if it is found, that on Assyrian and other monuments, there are histories or records telling a similar story to what the author or authors of Genesis wrote, then we would feel at liberty to conclude that these stories were the current rumours and tales of the day when the writers lived. Every Assyrian tablet that corroborates Genesis destroys any pretence of it being a divine book. But this by the way.
* See "Bain's Logic," p.423.
And, now, I come to the last point which I can deal with tonight. There are some who, unable to meet us on a logical standing-ground, ask the question as to the result of Freethought on morality. There are many things that might be said in answer to such; let me set before you a few. First, I reply, Look at the past. Look what fettered thought has done. Think of the millions slaughtered for heresy. Think how the growth of the race has been prevented. Think how science was kept back, and how truth was crushed. In the past those persons who acted thus were not Freethinkers; they were Christians; they were believers in Deity. Even the Sea Green Incorruptible got the Revolutionary Convention in Paris to decree a State religion, and the feast of the Supreme Being. He would have exiled all Atheists—at Agnostics. He thought there were two dogmas necessary for a State—Theism and the Future Life. When people talk of Freethinkers persecuting in the French Revolution, let them think of Thomas Paine in prison, and the Sea Green Incorruptible—Robespierre—demanding the exile of Atheists.
Then consider how much of the means of mankind, their mental labour, their material wealth, have been expended to propagate the dogmas of the Churches. Do you think if the same energy had been expended on science—all kinds of science—that the race would not have been further advanced? Then I pass on to another consideration—and it is this: We say the race could not exist without morality, and we say that the race will keep those laws that are self-preserving laws. I ask, What is the basis of morality? The Jews were, I suppose, moral before the meeting at Sinai, at which Moses read them the Ten Commandments. Was there no morality in Egypt? Was there none in India, none in China? Nay, before a European visited New Zealand, was there no morality amongst the Maoris? What does morality mean? I suppose it implies some recognition of rights. No people could live if all were liars, all dishonest, all thieves, Long before Sinai men lived, and loved, and did kind deeds. Do you think there was no friendship before the days of Moses? Do you think no man helped a mate when, as we say, he was down on his luck—hard up—with, perhaps, no coin and no food? Is anyone so credulous as to believe, that morality started page 17 when Moses road the words from the slate? We can go back to ancient Egyptian writings, and we can find sentiments pure and philantrophic, and not unlike the maxims we now inculcate. No, morality is not a creation of a religion; it is growth of humanity, and as mankind has advanced in knowledge it has become elevated. Let us place our basis of morality here, and nothing can disturb it.
"If," says a writer,* "there are no other origins for right and wrong than an enunciated or intuited divine will, then, as alleged, were there no knowledge of the divine will, the acts now known as wrong would not be known as wrong. But if men did not know such acts to be wrong because contrary to the divine will, and so in committing them, did not offend by disobedience; and if they could not otherwise know them to be wrong; then they might commit them indifferently with the acts now classed as right; the results practically considered would be the same. In so far as secular matters are concerned, there would be no difference between the two, for to say that in the affairs of life any evils would arise from continuing to do the acts called wrong, and ceasing to do the acts called right, is to say that these produce m themselves certaim mischevious consequences, and certain beneficial consequences; which is to say there is another source for moral rules than the revealed or inferred divine will; they may he established by induction from these inferred consequences. From this implication I see no escape. It must be either admitted or denied that the acts called good and the acts called bad naturally conduce, the one to human well-being, and the other to human ill-being. Is it admitted? Then the admission amounts to an assertion that the conduciveness is shown by experience; and this involves abandonment of the doctrine that there is no origin for morals apart from divine injunctions. Is it denied, that acts classed as good and bad differ in their effects? Then it is tacitly affirmed that human affairs would go on just as well in ignorance of the distinction; and the alleged need for commandments from God disappear."
But not only would morality be placed on a surer and firmer basis, were it recognised that the goodness or badness of an action, does not depend on any commandment, but on its effect on the race, but true morality would be promoted. If the individual is injured, the race is injured. In the growth of the race the individual must not, nay, cannot be overlooked. And then, consider some things Freethinkers are ever exalting. Truth above all things. Authority, dogma, Church organisation, respectability, all must yield to truth. Can we insist too much on this? Suppose there were no lies in the world, would it not be a happier and a better world? Is it immoral teaching to place truth in the fore front? This is what we do. And yet because we prefer truth to authority, truth to faith, truth to Church dogmas, our teaching is immoral!!
* "Data of Ethics," by Herbert Spencer, page 50.
And, then, there is another thing we teach. It is that bad actions have had consequences. If something is done to cripple a tree, to present its liberty, its growth, we get a stunted tree. So with a man. Give him bad surroundings, give him no education, do you think you will get a good man? If a man does wrong, he has suffered. Even the physical appearance of a man is changed if he neglects right doing. And, I ask you, Which teaching is more likely to tend to good actions, to right doing, that which tells a man if he does wrong he suffers punishment, or that which is ever telling him of a mode of escape through the death of a God? Tell a man that, a few minutes before his death, all his bad deeds can be blotted out, by a profession of belief, and will he feel so uncomfortable as if he were told: "There is no atonement for you, and none for your children. They also may suffer for your actions," I believe were the law of heredity firmly grasped, no more potent preacher could ever be found to make men moral. A bad habit may extend its influence to many generations. Given drunken, criminal parents, the chances ate that the children will inherit some of the vices of their ancestors. Physically the child inherits its parent: peculiarities, so mentally, so morally. Let this truth be firmly grasped, and I think it will tend more to morality than the popular views about the Atonement. There seems to me no doctrine or hypothesis so moral, so tending to induce men to aim at physical, mental, and moral perfection, as Evolution. From your physical neglect, no escape; from your mental torpor, no escape; from your wrong doing, no escape. And yet, because we proclaim this, and deny the popular belief about imputed righteousness, and sin, and atonement, our teaching lends to immorality!
Still the heavens lie open as of old
To the entranced gaze, ay nearer far,
And brighter than of yore; and Might is there,
And Infinite Purity is there, and high
Eternal Wisdom, and the calm, clear face
If the race has done high, noble, heroic things in the past, it will transcend them in the future. We will have a better religion, a nobler government, a truer morality, a mightier science than the world has yet seen.
What is our attitude, then, to the existing religions? To those who profess them we have no antipathy, no desire to persecute them. Liberty is ever our watchword. We examine the religions page 19 of the past just as we examine the habits of an existing animal, or read the records of the fossil life of the planet. Since the science of comparative religion has been established, we have seen that granted a certain development we may expect a certain religious and a certain political system. And we have learned what many Freethinkers of the last century did not appreciate, that religion is not a creation of priests, but a growth of humanity. It has its growth, its decay. And we may, using the words of John Morley, say to the Churches;
"We shall pass you by on your flank; your fiercest darts will only spend themselves on air. We will not attack you as Voltaire did; we will not exterminate you; we shall explain you. History will place your dogma in its class, above or below a hundred competing dogmas, exactly as the naturalist classifies his species. From being a conviction, it will sink to a curiosity; from being the guide to millions of human lives, it will dwindle down to a chapter in a book. As history explains your dogma, so science will dry it up; the conception of law will silently make the conception of the daily miracle of your altars seem impossible; the mental climate will gradually deprive your symbols of their nourishment, and men will turn their backs on your system, not because they have confuted it, but because, like witchcraft or astrology, it has ceased to interest them."
In the time at my command, I have, I think, helped you to understand our position.
The relation of Freethonght to science and to other things, I have not time to dwell on. To those who say our organisation is unnecessary, let me address a few words. We know there is in all Churches a spirit of inquiry abroad. There are numerous adherents, and Church members, who do not believe the creeds, numerous members who hesitate to repeat what one Church orders its clergy and members to repeat—that those who do not believe certain doctrines shall suffer eternal damnation. We admit this, But, we say, that it is better a man should freely express his views, than lend his countenance and support to a system he thinks wrong. A harsh term might be used to characterise such conduct, but I shall not use it, as I feel sure many remain in Churches after they have ceased to be to them living institutions, unconscious of their doing aught wrong. There are others who do so out of respect to the belief of their relations, and so as not to hurt their feelings. Do not judge them. Let us each act up to what we believe, and whilst we do so, we expect that we shall have the fullest liberty in the State. And here comes in, why we organise. Without some kind of organisation we are liable to be politically ignored. Even since we met to lay the foundation stone of our hall, what have we seen? A deputation of leading citizens asking the aid of the law to put down our lectures. Have we not, then, need of organisation, of united action? Alas! the enemies of freedom, of page 20 liberty, of thought, have not yet ceased to be They are ever active, ever watchful. Time and againt in past history, have they been successful. Truth has been often crushed, often conquered. But, happily for the good of humanity, in some souls there sprang up the desire to know, stronger than the desire to believe, and again the battle between truth and falsehood was fought, and error was vanquished. But we must watch. We are in a minority, and we are trained by our political system to assume that majorities must rule. So it must be. But there is something that transcends even the rights of majorities; it is the right of man to think, and to speak what he thinks.—Let us ever guard that sacredly, so that when we are gone our children, and may be our children's children, will have privileges that even humanity does not now possess. Let us, at all events, see that if we can help it, what we enjoy in Dunedin in 1882 shall never be lessened, never curtailed, and that no one will ever be able to point to our time with a shudder, as we point to the age when Thomas Aikenhead was murdered.
"O Freedom! Thou art not a poet's dream,
A fair young girl, with light and delicate limbs,
And wavy tresses gushing from the cap
With which the Roman master crowned his slave,
When he took off the gyves. A bearded man,
Armed to the teeth, art thou; one mailed hand
Grasps the broad shield, and one the sword; thy brow,
Glorious is beauty tho' it be, is scarred
With tokens of old wars; thy massive limbs
Are strong with struggling. . . . .
. . . Tyranny himself,
Thy enemy, although of reverend look,
Hoary with many years, and far obeyed,
Is later born than thou; and as he meets
The grave defiance of thine elder eye,
Thou shalt wax stronger with the lapse of years,
But he shall fade into a feebler age—
Feebler, yet subtler. He shall weave his snares,
And spring them on thy careless steps, and clap
His withered hands, and from their ambush call
His hordes to fall upon their. He shall send
Quaint maskers, wearing fair and gallant forms
To catch thy gaze, and uttering graceful words
To charm thy ear; while his sly imps by stealth
Twine round thee threads of steel, light thread on thread
That grows to fetters—or bind down thy arms
With chains contained in chaplets. Oh, not yet
May'st thou embrace thy corslet, nor lay by
Thy sword. Not yet, O Freedom I close thy lides
On slumber; for thine enemy never sleeps,
And thou must watch and combat till the day
Of the new earth and heaven!"