Three other victims “smelling sweet in the nostrils of the Lord!”
The names of Justice North, the Rev. Dr. S. Wainwright, and Mr. Alexander Scott, will go to posterity, if Christendom has any decent sense of gratitude left in it. The first named is the righteous Judge who has sentenced Messrs. George W. Foote, the editor, T. Ramsey, the printer, and H. A. Kemp, the publisher of the Free-thinker, to rather a long term of imprisonment, the “trinity of Unrighteousness,” thus finding an avenging Nemesis in the “trinity of Righteousness.”
To moderate the zeal of Torquemada, the great Inquisitor, Pope Alexander VI had to name four assistants to help and check at the same time the passion of that holy ogre for burnt human flesh. To moderate the zeal of Justices North, the powers that be over them will have to repeal more than one law, eaten long since by rats, but still alive and cherished in the large magnanimous hearts of those who would call themselves the followers of Christ and the avengers of God, while full of the spirit of Torquemada, they are really but the humble servants of him—who tempted the Crucified. The parable about the “talents” in which.—Mr. Justice North personified the “Master,” who “reaps where he sows not, and gathers where he has not strewed,” was represented, with that difference only, that Mr. Foote, “the unprofitable servant,” was not accused by him of hiding his Lord’s “talent in the earth,” but of “prostituting his talents to the work of the devil.” Therefore—“thou wicked and slothful servant, be cast into the bottomless pit and outer darkness.” There was also “weeping and gnashing of teeth”—only not in the bottomless pit, but on the gallery—and we hope, higher, if there be such an upper story. The words addressed to the righteous Judge by the prisoner after sentence was passed on him (the father of a family, we hear, whose forced absence, and inability to support them for one whole year, will tell on the poor home) are memorable and may yet become historical. “My Lord, I thank you, it is worthy of your creed,”—said Mr. Foote.
And thus, once more is the prophecy fulfilled: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, . . . but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.”
The trial was for blasphemy—an elastic word that, capable of being stretched out ad infinitum.1 The Christmas Number of the Free-thinker contains the graphic, though, we must say a little too plastic, illustration of the solemn view allowed by divine grace to Moses from within the “cleft of the rock,” and described with such chastity of style in Exodus, xxxiii, v. 23. Failing to catch the spirit of the divine allegory, the defendants reproduced too faithfully the dead letter of the text, and thus could hardly fail to catch it this time. They were guilty of bad taste and vulgarity, and they certainly deserved to be tried and sentenced by a jury of—Æsthetics. The jury of Christians by declaring them “guilty” have only thrown dishonour and ridicule upon their own holy Bible. The sentence falls heavier upon the latter than upon the prisoners. We know a Christian gentleman in India who, little acquainted with the Old Testament, offered a sovereign for the Christmas Number of the Free-thinker, in order to compare the two, and who otherwise would have never heard of the publication.
Having done with No. 1 of the “Trinity of Righteousness,” we have to speak of the second and third personages of the same. Rev. Dr. Wainwright and Mr. Scott are respectively the President and the Honorary Secretary of the newly established “Society for the Suppression of Blasphemous Literature,” a body that bodes fair to revive the Holy Inquisition if, in the course of its evolution, it is not made to come to grief.
Protestantism recognizing no saints—no statues, therefore, with glories around the heads can be erected to these three truly good men. Nor have they any chance of being canonized after passing through the usual process of beatification, the promoter of faith, popularly and legally known in Rome as “the devil’s advocate,” being sure to raise all possible objections against the beatification of the three Protestant gentlemen. It is a great pity though; for, if any “friends of God” have ever deserved such honours, it is surely they. Indeed, they have all the needed requisites demanded for it by the Holy See, viz. “a general reputation for sanctity, and supernatural gifts;” they having performed the two prescribed ostensible miracles—(a) that of resurrecting to life an old and obsolete law for blasphemy, dead as a door nail for over half a century; and (b) that other one—of forcing the proud, free-born Briton, whose greatest boast is his absolute liberty from the shackles of mental and physical slavery, to permit its revival and forthwith to see it taken advantage of and abused. Again, the act of devotion shown to their Maker, by these three saintly characters, is far more meritorious than that of many a glorified saint. Surely the merit of allowing one’s unwashed body to be devoured by vermin for fifty consecutive years, cannot bear for one moment comparison with that of abandoning one’s fair name to the vultures—called Contempt and Ridicule—of the generations to come! Let only the Rev. Dr. Wainwright and his worthy Secretary Mr. A. Scott, carry out their threat, and the thundering peals of laughter that will convulse all the educated classes of Europe and America will deafen every bigot, and silence for a long time, if not forever, the croaking sound of psalm-chanting, and nasal singing of every Sunday service and Mass. The astonished question, “What next?”—made by every sane man who had heard of the revival of an old law, of which decent people in England felt already ashamed 250 years ago, is answered by the self-constituted God’s body-guard, Messrs. Wainwright and Scott, in the following lines published in several daily papers:
“WE PROPOSE TO GET UP CASES, AS OUR FUNDS WILL ALLOW, AGAINST PROFESSOR HUXLEY, DR. TYNDALL, HERBERT SPENCER, SWINBURNE, THE AUTHOR OF ‘SUPERNATURAL RELIGION,’ THE PUBLISHERS OF MILL’S MORLEY, THE EDITOR OF THE Jewish World, DR. MARTINEAU, AND OTHERS, WHO BY THEIR WRITINGS HAVE SOWN WIDESPREAD UNBELIEF, AND, IN SOME CASES, RANK ATHEISM, IN CULTIVATED FAMILIES.”
Are we dreaming, or awake? Is the above grotesque defiance of disgraceful obscurantism thrown into the face of science as of all the enlightened portion of mankind, something more serious than an indecent farce of pseudo-conservatism, and is it really intended as a bonâ-fide threat? The sentence passed on the editors and publishers of the Free-thinker gives it an air of probability undreamt of in this so-called age of progress and freedom of thought. In our bewilderment, we really do not know whether in penning these remarks we are crossing or not the (to us) forbidden boundaries of politics. In these days of sudden surprises, when no one knows what is what, which is which, and who is who, we would not wonder if, like Mr. Jourdain, who spoke all his life prose without suspecting it, we were told that our reflections are “political” and also blasphemous to boot. It would, of course, be a profound honour to share prosecution in the distinguished company of Messrs. Huxley, Tyndall and Herbert Spencer. Yet—pro pudor! assuredly a subscription ought to be raised to secure for the said “body-guard” comfortable quarters in some pleasant but solitary place. For instance in one of those asylums which are lately giving hospitality to so many victims of religious frenzy—whenever they escape the gallows—modern imitators of Abraham’s sacrifice, the murderers of their sons and daughters who allege to receive divine commands from God to that effect. Already, another old law—against palmistry—having been dug out for the easier prosecution of Mr. Slade the medium, some six years since, with the revival of the law for blasphemy, England may hope to become ere long the world’s theatre re-enacting on its cultured and polished boards, and for the edification of all Europe, another series of those mediæval dramas and bloody tragedies of the palmy days that preceded King William’s veto of the witchcraft act, such as witch-burning and Quaker-branding and flogging at the cart’s tail. In our days of revivals of everything in general, and mouldy antiquities especially, it is not so very unreasonable to expect to see repeated the scenes that illustrated the reign of Francis I., a pleasant period during the lapse of which 100,000 witches were burned alive. And what more refreshing sight for the liberals of merry old England than the carrying out of this programme, for instance:—a whole army of mediums having been subjected to a close examination by Rev. Wainwright and Co., and found all marked by the devil’s horn (a sign that every candidate to sorcery bears during his novitiate) are sentenced by Mr. Justice North to public roasting on Charing Cross. Imposing spectacle and scenery! The huge piles of wood are surrounded and protected by a triple row of soldiers of the Salvation Army—Mrs. General Booth, as Commander-in-Chief on the back of an elephant (trophy of India), her banner with its ominous words “Blood and Fire” unfurled, and her double-edged sword, in the shape of a crux-ansata and cross combined, ready to cut the ear of any Malchus who would dare to interfere. Orders rapidly passed through telephones. Huge electrical machines prepared, as the wood of the pyres is to be kindled by electric light, and very huge phonographs in great supply,—the last words of mediums confessing to their allegiance to, and connection with, old Harry, having to be recorded and preserved in the phonographs as evidence for the future generations of sceptics to come. Large band of “celestial musicians,” gathered from the pagodas of India and converted by Major Tucker to Christianity, playing the March from Wagner’s Opera the “Graal” on the death of the Holy Swan. The motley crowd of mediums having been put to death and disposed of for believing in, and encouraging the devil; next comes a batch of the Fellows of the Royal society headed by Messrs. Tyndall, Huxley, and Herbert Spencer, sentenced for not believing in the horny and cloven-footed gentleman. In consideration for their services and their scientific discoveries, they having furnished the modern Holy Inquisition with telephones, electric light, and phonographs, the sentence of death passed on the learned prisoners is commuted to one more worthy of this enlightened age. To prove that Religion has always proceeded hand in hand with Science and Progress, the erudite blasphemers are simply “flogged and branded at the cart’s tail” and sent home with a paternal admonition from Comstock, invited for the occasion from America, his travelling expenses being paid from the Missionary funds, replenished by the voluntary contributions of all the poor servant girls in awe of eternal damnation. The gloomy scene closes with the “Death March of Saul.” . . .
We confess our shortcomings. We prefer brutal sincerity and a frank avowal of despotism to sham protestations of liberty, and—pharisaism. We would a thousand times rather submit to the iron-bound limitations of the Russian press-laws, of censorship, and an honestly open system of autocratism, than risk to trust to the treacherous promises of the deceptive fata morgana of English social and religious liberty, as exercised at present. Why not be honest, and confess at once that the freeborn Englishman is free, only so long as no old laws, reliquiae of an age of barbarism, are dragged out to light as a weapon against him by the first Pecksniff-like scoundrel who chooses to satisfy his grudge and spite against his better ones? After which, this vaunted freedom may be snuffed out under the extinguisher left by law at the sweet will and pleasure of any prejudiced or bigoted judge. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and along with it social freedom, are simply delusions like all the rest; the will-o’-the-wisps, the pitfalls prepared by the old generations to ensnare the new ones, the credulous and the innocent. “So far shalt thou go and no further!” says the terrible but honest genius of the Russian Press, pointing with his finger to the boundaries prescribed by censorship; while the Englishman who sings so proudly
“Britannia rule the waves!
Britons never, ne—ver, n-e-e-v-e-r, will be slaves!”
—finds himself before he has hardly time to draw the last note, in the tight embrace of Public Opinion, the boa constrictor-like Mrs. Grundy; who, after squeezing breath out of him, coolly throws him right into the clutches of some other such “Trinity of Righteousness” that may be watching its main chance from the top of some other pile of obsolete and long-forgotten, but still-existing, laws. . . .
Thus, it would appear that Protestant England who has rejected with the rest of the Roman Catholic dogmas, laws and usages, that of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum and Expurgandorum, and filled miles of columns in her newspapers with scornful remarks upon Russian censorship, allows after all her pious judges and clerical bigots to have the best of her in various underhanded ways. And why should they not, since there is no one to check their zeal? Adding cant to piety, and treachery to intolerance, by pouncing upon their chosen victims unawares, they could never serve in any more appropriate way the God created by them in their own image—the “Lord,” who promised Moses “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” and who has hardened it about a dozen times for the mere pleasure of multiplying his signs and wonders, and then punishes by putting his own victim to death.
Dies iræ! . . . Non omne licitum honestum. We prefer Mr. Foote’s actual position to that of his severe Judge. Aye, and were we in his guilty skin, we would feel more proud, even in the poor Editor’s present position, than we would under the wig of Mr. Justice North, who, Solomon-like, sits in all his glory rendering judgments “after his own heart.”
1. “What is blasphemy?” asks Col. R. Ingersoll in a recent lecture—“First, it is a geographical question. There was a time when it was blasphemy in Jerusalem to say that Christ was God. In this country it is now blasphemy to say that he is not. It is blasphemy in Constantinople to deny that Mahomet was the prophet of God; it is blasphemy here to say that he was. It is a geographical question, and you cannot tell whether you are a blasphemer or not without looking at the map. What is blasphemy? It is what the mistake says about the fact. It is what last year’s leaf says about this year’s bud. It is the last cry of the defeated priest. Blasphemy is the little breastwork behind which hypocrisy hides; behind which mental impotency feels safe. There is no blasphemy but the open avowal of your honest thought, and he who speaks as he thinks blasphemes.”