The Bishop of Exeter
would now proceed to address himself to the subject of which he had given notice, and possibly it might be most convenient if he at once stated the terms of that motion—viz., that an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty would be pleased to command, that inquiries should be made into the diffusion of blasphemous and immoral publications, especially as to the tenets and proceedings of a society established under the name of Socialists; who were represented in petitions presented to this House to be a society, the object of which was by the diffusion of its doctrines to destroy the existing laws and institutions of this country. He had stated the terms of the motion with which he should conclude, in fairness to the noble Marquess and the rest of the Government, because he was aware that those terms implied some doubts upon the conduct of the noble Marquess in reference to this subject. He frankly owned that he had those doubts, and that he did not think it safe for the cause he presumed to advocate to leave the question in their hands without some impulse being given to it by an expression of opinion on the part of their Lordships; and he would proceed to tell the House upon what grounds that opinion had arisen. It was founded upon the language used on a former occasion by the noble Marquess at the head of the Home Department; it was founded upon the letters of the noble Viscount at the head of the Government: and also upon the course which had been taken in respect of matters brought directly under the consideration of the Government. It would be in the recollection of the House, that when he before addressed their Lordships on this question, when he very feebly described the horrors of the system of Socialism, he had called on the noble Marquess to in- 1177 stitute inquiries, and upon those inquiries to proceed to execute the offenders if he found offences against the laws had been committed. The noble Marquess on that said,That he would inquire, but that he regretted the right rev. Prelate had interfered, instead of leaving the matter to the good sense of the country. He regretted that the right rev. Prelate had taken the course he had, for though he would make inquiries, yet he did not anticipate that it would be thought desirable to adopt such measures as, he gathered from the right rev. Prelate's speech, were by him thought necessary to be forthwith adopted.Upon these grounds, he thought there was little hope that her Majesty's Ministers would be ready to enter upon an inquiry with that dispassionate view of the question which he should have expected. If the noble Marquess had said, that he would pursue that inquiry honestly, deliberately, and with an earnest wish to obtain the truth, and upon it to act—if he had disclaimed any intention to shrink from inquiry or to render it ineffectual, but on the contrary had said he would act openly, boldly, and fairly, their Lordships would have been spared the trouble of listening to the present Address. But it was not the conduct of the noble Marquess alone which caused these doubts in his mind as to the disposition of the Government on this subject. It appeared from a publication of the Socialists, in the New Moral World, No. 65, of the 23rd of December last, that at a meeting of the members of the branch of Socialists at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a memorial to the Home Secretary was adopted; that the secretary for the branch had received a letter from Mr. Phillipps, the Under Secretary of State, expressing the willingness of the Home Secretary to lay the memorial before the Government. The nature of that memorial he did not know, and he only mentioned the fact to show that the objects of the Socialists were well known to the Government, and that he had not been the first to inform the Government of their existence and their proceedings. Even these, however, were not the only grounds on which he had been induced to fear that there was not much eagerness on the part of the Government to inquire into the matter. He held in his hand a copy of a letter addressed to a person still higher in the Government than the noble 1178 Marquess (Normanby) near him—he meant the noble Viscount at the head of the Administration—so long ago as the 13th of July of last year, by a clergyman who subscribed his name to it, and who had given him (the Bishop of Exeter) permission to mention, if necessary, his name and address publicly. He did not feel it desirable to do so unless required, and he therefore would only read his letter and the letter he had received in reply. The letter was directed to Viscount Melbourne, and was as follows:—Having observed in the papers, that at a recent levee, Mr. Robert Owen, the Socialist, as he is pleased to call himself, received the very prominent distinction of being presented to her most gracious Majesty by your Lordship, personally, as the head of her Majesty's Government, the object of which presentation is stated in the Court Circular thus:—'Robert Owen, from the Congress of Delegates of the Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists, soliciting the Government to appoint parties to investigate measures which the Congress proposes, to ameliorate the condition of society,' I take the liberty of forwarding to your Lordship a copy of one of the numerous works issued by the society, of which Mr. R. Owen is the accredited representative, and, in fact, founder. It is the only one I have seen; but I am assured by those who have seen more of their publications, that it is a fair average specimen of their general character and tendency. I have, therefore, felt it my duty to send it to your Lordship, to put you on your guard as to the nature of the people whose chief has already received such an unusual mark of distinction and encouragement at your hands; for I am quite certain that your Lordship could not have been aware that the person introduced into the presence of our beloved, pure, and maiden Queen, was the organ of the society, who, under the specious name of 'Rational Religionists,' repudiate the revealed word of Almighty God, and by way of 'ameliorating the condition of society,' disseminate systematically, works of such disgusting obscenity, and so demoralizing in their tendency. Should your Lordship think fit to honour me with any notice of my communication, should be happy indeed to think I had been the means of giving timely information on a subject of vital concern to the public, that no further encouragement is likely to be afforded to a society of such a character, or any member of it; and that your Lordship has received, without taking offence, what I have felt it my duty as a clergyman thus to state.
The Bishop of Exeter
It certainly did not come from Birmingham, but he believed from some part of Wiltshire, and 1179 he would give the name of the writer if the noble Marquess desired it. Here, then, there was an instance of a country clergyman taking that very course which the noble Marquess the other night had lamented the clergymen at Birmingham had not taken. This clergyman in his letter gives the title of a book published by the society of Socialists. Though he (the Bishop of Exeter) might be laughed at, he would not read to the House that title. It was a book that had before been put into his hands One passage of it had been placed before his eyes, but he had never since permitted his mind to be polluted by again looking at it. If the noble Marquess looked at it, he would be convinced that it was much better to leave it under the decent veil of obscurity. Suffice it to say, that the title was given in the letter, which also stated, that it was published by four booksellers in London, and was to be had in all great towns. He would now read the answer which the rev. gentleman received. It was dated Downing-street, the 15th of July, 1839.Rev. Sir,—I am desired by Lord Melbourne to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th of July, stating your objections to Mr. Owen's presentation at Court.I am, Sir, your obedient servant,J. HOWARD.He called the attention of the House to this, because nothing could be more strange than for a Government professing to ask for, nay, to demand information, even to turning clergymen into policemen, should have presumed to have returned such an answer to such a letter. He did not mean to make any strong remarks on the indiscretion of the noble Viscount in presenting Mr. Owen, but he only referred to that fart to show his grounds of an increased doubt as to the intentions of her Majesty's Government. But he (the Bishop of Exeter) was not the only person who had those doubts; there were other persons, who knew more of her Majesty's Ministers, who were of the same opinion. In their own publication, the Socialists had given an account of the proceeding at the opening of their new building at Huddersfield, on Sunday, the 3d of November last. On that occasion, an address was made by one of the lecturers—a person of the name of Fleming; and, contrary to the usual course of that individual, that address was conceived in guarded and delicate terms, and he put forward the prin- 1180 ciples of the system in more decent language than usually was his practice. But in that address he said—Crowns and kings are the creations of man; they had a beginning in his ignorance and weakness, they will have an end when that ignorance is dispelled, that weakness is changed into strength. The mysteries of priestly dogmas are also 'creatures of a day;' they have arisen, flourished, and died. Some are already dead, without hope of resurrection. Everywhere their mortal origin is clearly discernible; their final termination may be easily predicted." "Hitherto all legislation and constitution-mongering has proceeded upon the assumption that man is a free agent, and justly responsible to the powers by which he is originally formed, and to his fellow-men for his feelings, convictions, and actions. Religion, law, commerce, education—in short, all the institutions of society, have been based upon this supposed free agency of man. That this is an error equal in magnitude to that of taking two and two to be equal to five, is capable of demonstration to all who prefer the substantial and incontrovertible evidence of facts to the specious but baseless theories of imagination. Fortunately, we live in an age and under a Government when the free expression of opinion upon these subjects is permitted, and when those who advocate changes in social, ecclesiastical, and commercial policy, neither have locks put upon their mouths nor fetters on their limbs.In the evening of the same day Fleming introduced the following observations:—The priesthood frightened them to death by their bugaboos, and then made them pay tithes and church-rates to save them from the Devil.He then took a Bible in his hand, and said, he "would prove, according to that book, that God was a fool and a liar." He then went through a mock ceremony of infant baptism, took the child in his arms, and repeated some jargon over it, giving it its name.—[Viscount Melbourne. —Was that Mr. Owen.]—No: it was Mr. Fleming, one of the persons who said, the Government permitted such things. But these were not the only persons who had this confidence in her Majesty's Government. They had that night been told by a noble and learned Lord, whom he regretted not to see in his place, that there were 8,000 signatures attached to a petition from Birmingham, praying for inquiry into the principles of Socialism, not signed entirely by Socialists, but by many amateurs, he believed. If there were 8,000 1181 subscribers to this petition from Birmingham, he was sure there could not be a stronger argument of the vast necessity of taking a decided course to put a stop to these proceedings. But what had been the effect of what had passed at these meetings which had been held? He had it on the authority of a person who was present on Sunday last, February 2nd at one of their lectures, delivered at the Socialist Institution, Birmingham,That the lecturers Mackintosh and Murphy declared, that they had the assurance of men in office in Birmingham, who had signed the Socialists petition, that they would do all in their power to defend them if proceeded against by the Government, which seemed to inspire them with fresh courage.Now such was the opinion of the Socialists here. In America there was a similar confidence that all was going on well for the cause of Socialism in England—that the Socialists were sure not to meet with any impertinent interruptions from Attorney-generals or other officers of state. He would read to their Lordships an extract from an American paper which he had taken from the Socialists' paper, the New Moral World;—Never has there been a reformer who succeeded as Robert Owen seems likely to succeed. No reformer ever opposed so thoroughly every existing institution and prejudice of mankind, and yet escaped the fangs of the law, the death of a Socrates, the imprisonment of a Galileo, or the clerical abuse of a Paine. While Carlile, Taylor, and other opposers of religion, that have not gone one tenth so far, have been fined and imprisoned to their utter ruin; while Mackenzie and Papineau have been driven from Canada into exile, and a reward offered for their heads; while Stephens, O'Conner, and O'Brien, have been fined, imprisoned, or put under heavy bonds, Owen, who has opposed the whole organization of the present moral world, still roams abroad in all the locomotive power of liberty, even under a protecting act of Parliament" (he believed the Friendly Societies Act), "establishing an institution that will eventually explode every existing government and institution among mankind. The great secret by which he is effecting all this is his superior knowledge of human nature, his superior amiability of conduct, and his superior charity of sentiment in addressing the interests, the prejudices, and the sensibilities of mankind.These extracts showed what impunity was expected for these individuals; and this general expectation of impunity on the part of offenders themselves and of their friends made it, he thought, pecu- 1182 liarly necessary that their Lordships should know that her Majesty's Ministers did not entertain the sentiments which were here ascribed to them. In saying this, he did not really think that her Majesty's Ministers could intend to favour those persons: the imagination never entered his mind; he only meant to say, that they acted as if they favoured them—that they so acted that the individuals themselves must consider the conduct of the Government to imply favour to them. He could not be surprised at the individuals feeling so; he certainly thought that the whole conduct of Ministers showed a deadness of feeling on this subject, which it was absolutely necessary for their Lordships to contravene. He had said, that he would not obtrude on their Lordships any fresh instances, unnecessarily, of the blasphemies and immoralities set forth. He ventured to think that enough had been said on a former occasion to be his excuse; and unless he saw some intimation of a wish that he should prove this part of the case, he thought he should better consult their Lordships' wishes by abstaining from it. The state of things, however, which existed was dangerous; the open defiance of God—the open defiance of His power— the personal insults offered by man to the Supreme Being, braving his vengeance— which occurred in the lectures of the paid lecturers of this society, were absolutely horrid. He had heard of more than one instance. He had heard of an instance of a female lecturer, not absolutely defying her Maker, but putting forth all the horrid and abominable pollutions of this society. But he must call the particular attention of their Lordships to one instance, and also the attention of her Majesty's Ministers to the periodical paper of this society. Whatever might be said of the other publications of this society, that they did not reach the impenetralia of Downing-street, that paper must reach Downing-street, or at least must reach the officers of Stamps. The noble Marquess (Normanby) shook his head. He would tell the noble Marquess how that paper must reach the Stamp office. By an act of Parliament, all newspapers must go to the Stamp-office; and he was able to say, on the authority of a person who had entered the Stamp-office that day, that the New Moral World did go to the Stamp-office. He therefore said that the Government had no right to be ignor- 1183 ant of that journal. That publication abounded in principles of the most tremendous nature; the audacity, however, of their exhibition, had been on the decline within the last few weeks. He could not conceive how it could be possible for any Minister of the Crown of England to have stated that it was difficult to put a stop to these publications, and to the progress of the society. Whatever else might be said of the difficulty of prosecuting for these things, those difficulties and those dangers did not exist in respect of the papers of which he was speaking—the periodical papers and newspapers. The law of the land had wisely armed Government with the means of putting down such publications without bringing them often before the attention of the people. It would be in the recollection of their Lordships, that about three years ago an act passed lowering the price of stamps on newspapers; they would also recollect that the decent part of the public press were much alarmed, lest the consequence should be to give countenance to publications of a mischievous character. He had it on the authority of a gentleman that the noble Lord, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not now present, but he would nevertheless state the fact, and perhaps some noble Friend of the noble Lord would tell him of it—he had it on the authority of a gentleman who was the chairman of the deputation of provincial newspaper proprietors, who appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion to reduce the duty on stamps and amend the laws relative thereto, thatHe had had several interviews with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Spring Rice, on the subject, when he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) assured him that one great inducement to reduce the duty on newspapers was to put down the unstamped press, by making the duty so low that the fair-dealing tradesman should be placed on a level with him who avoided it. But what was more important, that he intended; under the advice of the officers of the Crown, to insert clauses in the intended act to give those powers to Government which would enable them to suppress the unstamped press.Those powers the Government now possessed, and if their Lordships referred to the 19th clause of that act, and to the 22nd clause, which enabled the granting of warrants to search for unstamped newspapers and concealed papers, they would find the power there set forth.
The Bishop of Exeter
did not know; he was told they went there. He had got several there, if the noble Lord wished to see them. He had never seen one of those papers that was stamped; and when he told their Lordships that they were sold for 2d., he was quite sure that they could not pay the stamp. But supposing they were stamped, and came within the cognizance of the Government, it could have no difficulty in ascertaining their contents, and he was sure it was the duty of the Government to proceed against them. If the Government ascertained their contents, it must admit, that these periodical publications were the most blasphemous and obscene that the pen of man ever penned. A single conviction would enable the Government to take the strongest course against such publications, it could seize the presses and all the copies, besides inflicting enormous penalties to which the parties were liable. If they were stamped, they might be very easily punished at law. He must say, therefore, that all the observations they had heard of the difficulty of proceeding against those publications fell to the ground. The objection also that prosecution gave publicity fell to the ground, because by these proceedings these publications might be restrained or suppressed by law, and a great part of the injurious matter which they contained would be done away with. Would their Lordships permit him to say what Socialism was? He had spoken of it generally as a scheme of blasphemy and immorality, but in very many instances where it had polluted the minds of individuals it was not found absolutely free from other things. Socialism and Chartism went very much together; but where they did not go together, and where it did not absolutely produce the effect of making all who had access to it, believers of its foul doctrines, even there they found it produce very ruinous effects. A clergyman at Birmingham told him,Socialism as such is not much increasing; but infidelity is, through the Socialist missionaries, the bitterest enemies of revelation and all established institutions. Their publications are fifty or sixty in number; no fewer than half a million were dispersed in May last, and the circulation of them is greatly increasing. Mere exposure of them will have done harm unless they are put down by the strong arm of law,1185 In that he concurred. He had a personal feeling on the subject. Whatever might be the vote of their Lordships that night, whatever might be the conduct of her Majesty's Ministers, he should not reproach himself for the course which he had taken. He had stood forward from a sense of duty, and made known to the Government of the country what was due in the deplorable state of society which existed, and to which he now ventured earnestly to call their Lordships' attention. Though he felt rejoiced that he had taken a step of which his conscience approved, yet he should feel most unhappy if, after having taken that step, with a view to induce their Lordships to urge Government to take steps to put a stop to these proceedings, he should not be successful. A clergyman of Leeds told him—Though I do not fear the advance of Socialism, properly so called, I look with horror to the fact, that they (the Socialists) are preparing and circulating the most horrible books and tracts, many of them written in a style so specious, as not to disgust the reader, and oftentimes with a kind of pretence to science.They allured the more decent and intelligent operatives by having scientific lectures given at their places of meeting. A Dr. Epps, a lecturer on physiology, had given lectures in one of the Socialist institutions in this great town, calculated to impose on the minds of all. But their Lordships would do very little good by expressing their opinions of, or punishing, or even putting down, this society: for, if put down, the wickedness of men's hearts would lead them into some other mischiefs, unless they had recourse to those sanative measures which alone would put an end to this subject. A friend of his, writing from Birmingham, said there were 180,000 souls, and that their number was annually increasing to an enormous extent; and of these 180,000 souls, there was only church room for 24,000. While this was the case, could they wonder that the wickedness of man should be thus prevalent? It they were in earnest to put it down, they must be prepared to go to the full charge of it on the country—the country which called itself Christian. He went to the full extent of saying that the country ought to be put to the charge of giving to the inhabitants of large towns the means of knowing that there was a God, or they (the people) would make them feel, to their cost, that there was a 1186 devil—a devil in man. He might adduce to their Lordships extracts to show their doctrines from their own book. The London and Westminster Review of April, 1839, says—Owenism, in one form or other, is at present the actual creed of a great portion of the working classes.Among other expedients to spread their doctrines was the circulation of their paper, the New Moral World. In a report of the Central Board of the Congress it was said,It is of the utmost consequence to the welfare of the association, that the organ between it and the public should be not only improved in its quality and capabilities for giving intelligence, but also that its publication be so conducted as to insure an increased circulation.Its circulation was not less now than 2,000.There should be established in each branch a tract committee, whose business it should be to circulate them in every possible way—by gifts, loan, or sale. It may be safely stated, that upwards of half a million copies of various publications explanatory of our principles have been issued during the past year, of which about 360,000 have been published by the Central Board and London Tract Committee.And here he had to state that two clergymen in different parts of England, one in Staffordshire and the other in Suffolk, on conversing together, found that each had had packets of tracts distributed in the streets of their towns, advocating the principles of the Socialists. Now they had put another tremendous engine in force; they had establishedSocial day and Sunday schools upon the most improved principles, in which facts only shall be communicated unmixed with sectarian principles.But they did not confine themselves, as he had already said, to irreligion and immorality; they embodied amongst their number many Chartists. In the new community, established at East Tytherly, on Sunday, January 26, 1840, the following proceedings took place. Mr. Finch, who, he must say, was a man of considerable property connected with the trade of Liverpool, and who was understood to be one of the individuals who tendered 10,000l. towards the cause of the Socialists, was the governor of the new establishment in the county of Hants, and he 1187 attended on the occasion. He spoke on the authority of two gentleman named Brindley and Tomkins, who said:—The proceedings commenced with their 10th hymn, sung to a sacred tune—a parody on one of the hymns of the church service. Mr. Finch then read, as is usual with them on the Sunday, what they call a portion of Scripture. Could not tell what book he pretended to quote; but it was to the disparagement of Christianity, showing how little it had progressed compared with the various heathen systems. Another hymn was then sung, the 32nd in their book, to a sacred tune. The lecture was next given. He said he would take for his text that portion of what was called the Gospel which declared 'He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved, but he that believeth not, shall be damned.' Gospel signified good news, glad tidings. He would show that the Gospel of the New Testament contained the worst news for man that could be brought him. It represented God as taking delight in damning men throughout eternity, as roasting and frizzling them alive in hell for ever. He was a fierce and cruel God. It spoke also of a devil; but did they believe such nonsense? Did they ever see a devil, or smell a devil, or chew a devil? Then it also told them of a heaven, where the few that reached it were to be engaged in singing and shouting, and falling on their faces and blowing trumpets throughout eternity, who would want such as a heaven as that? He (Finch) believed the whole thing was a fiction. Socialism the only true gospel and he that believes this gospel will be saved from all future want, and care, and toil. The Gospel of the Christians was a mock Gospel. He said much to excite them against their employers and persons of property. Told them, 'They produced all the things which those persons consumed:' that 'they were kept in pining, want, and wretchedness, while the others were rolling in wealth, and living in idleness.' He again referred to the Bible, spoke of David with many obscene expressions, and then ridiculed the psalms which, 'that hypocrite wrote:' said 'the Bible was a most filthy and immoral book;' that 'for one God saved, it told them the devil damned twenty.' 'He could not believe in a God damning us for what he had made us to do and be.'He repeated, that he felt himself bound to produce this specimen of what had taken place in the new establishment. That detestable establishment must be put down; it could not be endured, or the Government ought not to be endured, if it tolerated that society. He would now give a specimen of the articles in the New Moral World, published so late as the 25th of January last. Speaking of the new establishment in Hampshire, this paper stated:— 1188Success is certain, and an ever increasing happiness is in store for all the poor hell and poverty tormented victims of error and misery. Continue your determined opposition to the old world, its habits, its customs, its religions, its institutions.It was a common thing for Chartists and Socialists to meet in the same rooms, and the leaders of the one body frequently assisted the leaders of the others on public occasions. For example:—At the Socialist Institution, Birmingham, the female Chartists meet every Monday evening, and the male Chartists every Tuesday evening. At Bradford, the Chartist leader Barker is also an adopted advocate of Socialism, and was sent by the Socialists to oppose Mr. Brindley in his lectures there. At Halifax and other towns in the north it has been the same. The Socialist newspaper, and the Northern Star, the Chartist paper, are both printed at the same place, by Hobson, Leeds. At Dudley, they frequently used the same room as the Chartists, the two bodies being nearly co-extensive.The Socialists, in the commencement of their career, put forth (as is commonly the case) the political or economical features of their system, keeping back their religion until the former shall have made their impression—unless compelled to produce them by an opponent in dispute. Mr. Cook, the leader of the Chartists, in Dudley, was also the leader, of the Socialists. Cook has been lately committed to Worcester gaol for his support of Chartism. The Socialists also ran down every passage in the Scriptures which taught the duty of subjects to their rulers. In a speech delivered by a Socialist, a charge was brought against the Christian religion because it sanctioned the division of men into classes of higher and lower, master and servant. Such principles do these people entertain in opposition to all earthly government, and as for heavenly government, they cast that aside as too contemptible to be considered for a moment. That such doctrines were productive of evil, their Lordships could hardly entertain a doubt. He did not mean to inflict upon the House a large number of cases showing the evil consequences of these doctrines, but he felt it to be his duty to state a few:—At Birmingham, a man who, previously to his becoming a Socialist, was a good husband and good parent, after he joined the Socialist body, became so brutal and immoral in his conduct, that at length his wife, having remonstrated with him, he threw her out of 1189 the window, and her life was for some lime despaired of. The man was apprehended, tried, and found guilty of the offence, and sentenced to transportation for life." "At Liverpool, a Socialist now stands committed on a charge of murdering an infant child of his by his own sister.The noble Viscount said, that this was merely a charge. He only stated it as a charge; he did not say the man was guilty, but there was such a primâ facie case against him, that the magistrates had thought it their duty to commit him. He was only showing the tendency of these doctrines to produce crime, and though the noble Viscount might hug himself on the notion that the man was not convicted, he had yet enough of indisputable cases to give to the noble Viscount. He had on a former occasion detailed to the House the suicide of a poor apprentice at Wolverhampton. Since then he had received from the uncle of that youth a letter, from which the following was an extract:—I would to God that those who advocate the diabolical doctrines of that arch fiend Robert Owen, could feel even for a brief period the agony—the hopeless, unmitigated agony—which fell upon our family circle from the enacting of the recent horrible tragedy. They might then, perhaps, ask their own hearts how that devilish doctrine deserved the specious appellation of 'Socialism,' which, by inculcating the principle of the non-responsibility of individuals, tacitly justifies such terrible acts as my poor nephew's self-destruction—acts that would shake all society to its base, and by teaching men to live and die only for themselves, would (putting aside higher considerations) destroy at one fell blow all truly' social' principles and feelings. Even the poor deluded boy of whom I write felt somewhat of this; for he says, in his letter to his parents, after speaking of his own disgust of life, 'You will perhaps reproach me for not thinking of your sufferings, but I have weighed them against my own, and have struck the balance in my favour.' What can declare with louder tongue than this, the in-famous character of Socialism? This boy, only fifteen years old—not sixteen, as stated —had been from infancy an exceedingly loving boy; between him and his parents the most glowing affection, as well as the most bound, less confidence, existed; yet he could coolly prepare for them their deadly grief, whose power and extent he must well understand— he could thus readily, to save himself merely the trouble of life, inflict on them, and on all his relations, a wound no time can perfectly heal. Oh, my Lord, the fatal poison had changed a confiding, kind, heart, into a cold concentration of selfishness.1190 That was the expression of the feeling of a near relative of the unhappy youth. In the neighbouring town of Coventry a case somewhat similar had also occurred, in consequence of these accursed doctrines. He would read the deposition taken before the coroner:—On the previous evening the deceased told me, that he had been to the Socialist Society, and that he coincided with them in many things, and gave me some papers, which I now produce; they are entitled Social Tracts —Man the Creature of Circumstances. No. 4. The Religion of the New Moral World. I expressed my wonder at his going; he said that he went from curiosity. Yesterday he told me, that he had accompanied a person of the name of Norman to a house in Coventry, and that he (Norman) had a glass of gin, and he (Staveley) a glass of gin and milk. Staveley did not appear to me to be intoxicated, but rather in a stupid state. Staveley did not believe in Christianity, and he has often threatened to cut his throat.—Verdict, 'Temporary insanity.'The Norman mentioned in the deposition was emissary of the Socialists. He would only give another instance of the fatal effects of these doctrines. At a trial at Worcester there happened to be on the jury a Socialist, and he was said to have held that the party accused of crime ought not to be punished for doing that which he could not help, and he found another person on the jury weak enough to agree with him. He had this story from high authority; and he knew that the circumstances occurred with the directions given to parties by the Social works, for in the New Moral World he found the following passage:—Under the present distressed circumstances of the operative classes, when the influences which surround them are of a nature to stimulate them to actions—conventionally named crimes—it seems peculiarly appropriate to republish the following paper; we recommend the reasoning it contains, to the serious attention of all whose position may place them in the jury box.And then came the following passage:—With these convictions, and after long experience of the inefficiency of a system of blind vengeance, injurious alike to the well-being of the state which sanctions, and to the offenders who are compelled to become criminals by the associations with which they are environed, and from which the society that punishes offers them no means of escape, no refuge—I cannot conscientiously lend myself to punishments which all experience has proved 1191 inadequate to reclaim offenders or to repress crime.Such was the doctrine addressed to jurors: they were told to care not to forward the laws of the land, and not to punish acts conventionally called crimes. He thought he had stated enough to get rid of any of those common objections to the punishment of such doctrines which were urged on the last occasion he had the honour to address their Lordships. One of those objections was certainly not common place, but of a very rare and singular character; it was what he could not have expected to be said by any man, and least of all by the prime Minister of her Majesty. Their Lordships would recollect, that the noble Viscount at the head of the Government said, that he could not agree with those who argued that doctrines, because they were absurd, might not be mischievous; he admitted, that the subject was full of difficulties; but he added, that this unrestrained and unpunished press was a great experiment. So that, in fact, the religion and morals of the country were to be left to take their chance in the working out of this great experiment. The noble Marquess at the head of the Home Department did not talk in that way; he had confidence in the good sense of the people, and he said, that if anything would give currency to these pernicious doctrines it would be persecution. By whom had persecution been suggested? Had he (the Bishop of Exeter) ever intimated a wish, that any course should be taken excepting that of the enforcement of the laws, which it was the peculiar duty of the noble Marquess to enforce? He had never recommended any other course; but that was persecution. The noble and learned Lord (Brougham) went still further; but he should not allude to what fell from that noble and learned Lord, because he had left the House. He was not surprised at the noble and learned Lord's absence, for he probably did not wish to hear of these matters again. He must be permitted to say, that there was a wide difference between blasphemous and seditious publications, and in the danger to be apprehended from punishing them. He admitted, that the prosecution of a seditious libel must at all times be matter of grave consideration. It was essential to attend to the state of public feeling at the time, so that it might not be exasperated by 1192 seeking for convictions, when there was not a reasonable chance of obtaining them. But such considerations did not apply to blasphemous publications; and the Government never could be justified in permitting with impunity—if they could prevent it—the diffusion of any opinion, blasphemously injurious to that God by whom princes reigned and decreed justice. These Socialists believed in no religion, which was the sole foundation on which the Government stood. The whole frame of society rested on religion. Every judicial proceeding, every security that bound man to man, depended on the sanctity of an oath. Therefore on no occasion ought blasphemous publications, if they could be prosecuted with effect, to be passed over. He said this with confidence, because his statement was consistent with reason, and also with an authority, which he should presently cite. This was a matter which had been before under their Lordships' consideration. An Act passed in 1819, to which considerable exceptions were taken at the time, as it inflicted a punishment almost unknown to the law of England, viz. that of banishment, when a party was twice convicted for blasphemous publications. What was the line of argument pursued on that occasion by the party in opposition? Was it that the Government should not prosecute? No. They said to the Government, "Why propose this unprecedented measure, this innovation on British jurisprudence, until you have exerted all the powers of the existing law?" In the debates on this bill, Lord Grey reproached the Government for not enforcing the old law against blasphemy, instead of asking for new laws. He complained that such publications had not been prosecuted, as they ought. Lord Erskine, too, said,—The controversies of the numerous sects of Christians, however widely differing from the doctrines of the national church, were completely and rightly tolerated. Nothing in such discussions were considered to be blasphemous; but as to direct and indecent attacks on the truths of the Christian religion, on which the whole constitution of the state was founded, they were severely and justly punishable by the law as it stood, and ought to be most rigorously enforced. The poor man surrounded by his children crying for bread, when he had none to give them, would have no other consolation than by looking forward to the hope which Christianity afforded. How cruel, then, how intolerably 1193 wicked, to disturb such pious faith, and to disqualify the people for the performance of their duty to the state. He would support, nay, go before his Majesty's ministers in putting down such pernicious publications; nor was there the smallest difficulty in accomplishing it. This was most clearly proved in the total suppression of another species of libel, formerly most destructively prevalent, and equally injurious to morals as blasphemy itself. When he came first to the bar, obscene publications, ruinous to youth of both sexes, were as openly exposed to sale in London as at the Palais Royal in Paris; but a private society, without even the aid of the great resources of the Crown, completely succeeded in putting down this odious nuisance. The existing laws he himself had found triumphant against them, when he represented that body in the Court of King's Bench, and they were now never seen and scarcely ever heard of."*The noble Marquess (Lansdowne) near him, also gave to the debate the benefit of his authority. His LordshipComplained that they were called upon to pass this bill without any information of the inefficiency of the existing law—nay, on the contrary, the documents laid on the table proved, that not merely no extraordinary energy, but that not even common steps had been taken to check the shocking licentiousness that had tainted the press; and that it was not until December, 1818, that any steps had been taken at all."†These sentiments were delivered, not merely in the excitement of debate, but were embodied in a protest against the second reading of the bill, and the first reason of that protest was as follows:—Because we believe that by a seasonable exertion of the laws, as they at present exist, the press cannot be abused to any bad purpose, without incurring suitable punishment.‡This protest was signed, among others, by Lords Grey, Erskine, Vassall, Holland, Minto, and Lansdowne. In the House of Commons the objections to the bill were mainly founded in "the want of due energy of the Crown officers in exerting the existing laws." He need not remind their Lordships that these, were the sentiments of Sir J. Mackintosh, of Sir S. Romilly, and all the great friends of the liberty of the press. He would appeal to another and more recent authority. In a debate which took place in the other* Hansard, vol. xli. p. 708.† Ibid. p. 713.‡ Ibid. p. 747.1194 House, on last Friday, Lord John Russell was reported to have said, thatNo complaints of the disturbed state of the country had been made last session, when he was employed day by day in providing against the dangers that then threatened it He was inclined to ascribe those dangers to the existence of a large and uneducated population in those great cities, which had sprung up within the last 100 years, exposed to the temptations of an advanced state of society, and the violent language of an inflammatory press. It was difficult, then, to stop the excitement created by large meetings and an inflammatory press.After speaking of the six bills of 1819, he added, thatHe had been bred in a different school; he had been imbued with the principle slated by Mr. Fox—that on the recurrence of such disorders it was necessary to put the law in force, to proceed against the parties amenable to law; and that there was something in the strength of the law, and the vigour of the constitution under which we lived, sufficient to meet these disorders without violence to the liberties of the country. In that belief he had proceeded; he had followed the views of Mr. Fox, Sir S. Romilly, and Sir J. Macintosh.He was glad to find that the Attorney-general in this country still had power and the Crown still possessed some prerogative. An ex officio information had been filed last term against an individual for a libel, and such being the case, he was sure that if the learned Attorney-general were to see the slightest portion of those sentiments which he had found in these books, and part of which he had read to their Lordships, that learned person would feel it his duty to proceed against the authors of them—he was sure that the learned Gentleman would not be permitted to proceed against Mr. Feargus O'Connor, and to leave unnoticed the detestable and impious libels which were now put in circulation by means of this society. He (the Bishop of Exeter) had stated to their Lordships great authorities in support of his views; he had still great authority to offer—the authority of experience, which shewed that the adoption of measures by the Government would be successful, and that the discussion of the subject in their Lordships' House was not without its utility. On Sunday, January 26th, a Mr. Hawkes Smith, a lecturer of this society, who had given 50l. in aid of its funds, had addressed, a meeting of the body in terms of 1195 warning and caution, in consequence of the notice which had been excited to their proceedings; and on Sunday evening last, in another meeting, as he had been told, on the authority of a person who was present, the lecturer spoke with more than usual caution, and gave notice that the lecture on Sunday evening was illegal and would be discontinued in future. Having said so much, he thought he had shewn, on the highest grounds of reason, of the authority of the greatest men, and of experience, the propriety and necessity of the course he advocated; for as the slightest apprehension of the execution of the law was sufficient, as he had shown, to check the mischief, so the due execution of the law would certainly put an end to it. He had in his hand the first act of her present Majesty's reign—the proclamation for the encouragement of piety and virtue, and for the preventing and punishing of vice, profaneness, and immorality. It ran thus:—Victoria Regina.—We, most seriously and religiously considering that it is an indispensable duty on us to be careful above all other things to preserve and advance the honour and service of Almighty God, and to discourage and suppress all vice, profaneness, debauchery, and immorality, which are so highly displeasing to God, so great a reproach to our religion and Government, and (by means of the frequent ill examples of the practices thereof) have so fatal a tendency to the corruption of our loving subjects, otherwise religiously and virtuously disposed, and which, if not timely remedied, may justly draw down the Divine vengeance on us and our kingdom; we also, humbly acknowledging that we cannot expect the blessing and goodness of Almighty God (by whom kings and queens reign, and on whom we entirely rely) to make our reign happy and prosperous to ourselves and our people, without a religious observance of God's holy laws—to the intent, therefore, that religion, piety, and good manners may (according to our most hearty desire) flourish and increase under our administration and government, we have thought fit, by the advice of our Privy Council, to issue this our royal proclamation, and do hereby declare, &c.; and we do expect and require that all persons of honour, or in place of authority, will give good example by their own virtue and piety, and to their utmost contribute to the discountenancing persons of dissolute and debauched lives, &c; and for the more effectual reforming all such persons who, by reason of their dissolute lives and conversations, are a scandal to our kingdom, our further pleasure is, and we do hereby strictly charge and command all our judges, mayors; 1196 sheriffs, justices of the peace, and all our other officers and ministers, both ecclesiastical and civil, and all other our subjects whom it may concern, to be very vigilant and strict in the discovery and the effectual prosecution and punishment of all persons who shall be guilty of excessive drinking, blasphemy, profane swearing and cursing, lewdness, profanation of the Lord's day, and other dissolute, immoral, or disorderly practices.This was the first act of her reign, done by the Queen, with the advice of the noble Viscount, and he (the Bishop of Exeter) now called upon the noble Viscount to take those steps which he then advised his Sovereign to command himself and all other officers of her Majesty to put in force. The right rev. Prelate concluded by moving that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty in the terms which the right rev. Prelate stated at the beginning of his speech.
The Marquess of Normanby
thought it perfectly consistent with those feelings of disgust which he expressed on a former occasion, at many of the circumstances and much of the language introduced to their notice by the right rev. Prelate, and which expressions of disgust he then repeated—he thought it perfectly consistent with those feelings of disgust, if he endeavoured to convince their Lordships that the right rev. Prelate had stated no grounds for the very extraordinary step which he had called upon their Lordships to take on this occasion. The right rev. Prelate founded this proceeding upon what he called doubt and distrust of the conduct of Government on this subject, and he thought he should be able to prove, that the right rev. Prelate, in the few isolated statements from letters, which he called evidence, which had been adduced, had made out no case, and had stated no grounds for this proceeding. The right rev. Prelate had, he would not say perverted, but certainly misrepresented, although, no doubt, unintentionally, the language which he had addressed to their Lordships on a former occasion. The right rev. Prelate stated, that he had concluded by saying, that he did not think it probable that he should feel himself called upon to take those steps which the right rev. Prelate had recommended. Now, he begged their Lordships to recollect what was the tone of the right rev. Prelate on that occasion, and what were the steps recommended. There was no question for their Lordships to decide as to what Government ought to do when illegal acts 1197 committed by this body were brought to their notice, for, on the very first occasion he gave the most distinct assurance that Government would take proceedings when such illegal acts were brought to their notice. But the right rev. Prelate called upon their Lordships to proceed against these societies, as being illegally constituted. The right rev. Prelate admitted, that as far as the constitution of the society in question was concerned, as far as their known rules and regulations were concerned, that society was not illegal. [The Bishop of Exeter: No, no !] Their Lordships would recollect the strong horror and detestation which he expressed, and which he felt at the doctrines of Socialism, as they had been described by the right rev. Prelate, and he had also stated that the attention of the Government should be directed to the subject; but, at the same time, he explained that the Government of this country was not a government of centralization, that these things might occur in distant parts of the country without their necessarily coming to his notice; and he further added, that he considered that it was the duty of the local authorities, of those who were intrusted with the local government and with the preservation of the peace of their districts, to warn the Government of what took place, and to represent the nature of such publications as those described by the right rev. Prelate. The right rev. Prelate stated, that at the conclusion of his observations on the last occasion, his tone was altered. He utterly denied, that his tone had altered from beginning to the end of the discussion. His tone might vary according to the different parts of the subject; but it had never altered upon any occasion as to the feelings which he entertained with regard to the doctrines of the Socialists, and the necessity of putting them down, provided their doctrines went to the extent which the right rev. Prelate had represented. But he admitted he might have used a different tone as to the wisdom of the course pursued by the right rev. Prelate, in the manner in which he brought this matter before the House; and he might have addressed himself in a still more different tone as to the accuracy of the right rev. Prelate's information, the fairness of his inferences and the charity of the imputations which he had thrown out. The right rev. Prelate had alluded, as a proof of the indifference of Government on this subject, to the statement of a person of the name of Fleming, 1198 made at Sheffield. If a delegate at Sheffield chose to address a meeting, and for the purpose of advancing an object, stated what there was no foundation for, was that a ground upon which this motion of the right rev. Prelate was to be justified? The right rev. Prelate charged the Government with having received an address from Newcastle. The right rev. Prelate did not read the answer. All he would say was, that if such an address had ever been received from such a body, there was merely a formal acknowledgment, as otherwise the matter must have come before him. The right rev. Prelate also stated, that because a prompt acknowledgment had not been returned to a letter from a clergyman on this subject, by his noble Friend at the head of the Government, that that was a proof of the way in which the clergy would be received if they followed the course, which, on a former occasion, he had recommended. He should have something more to say upon the subject of that clergyman, with reference to whom that recommendation had been made, as his reason for repeating his opinion, that that reverend gentleman would have best done his duty, if he had represented these circumstances to the Home-office at the time they occurred, instead of withholding them for six months for the use of the right rev. Prelate. He begged here to refer to the case of Mr. Pare. He had stated on the last occasion, that Mr. Pare had been appointed by the registrar-general to the office of superintendent registrar of Birmingham, before he had any ostensible connection with the Socialists, and before he held any office under that body. He understood that Mr. Pare had been recommended to the registrar-general by a majority of the guardians of the poor by 64 out of 93, he had been recommended by several most respectable persons, of all political parties, and, amongst the rest, by the two Members for Birmingham. Mr. Pare having been called to town in consequence of what had occurred in that House, he had put three questions to him—questions naturally arising out of the circumstances that had occurred. He asked Mr. Pare whether he had been present at any meeting when the question discussed was the existence of a God—whether the truth of the Bible had ever been a question at issue at any such meeting, and whether he had heard the circumstances alluded to by the right rev. Prelate, namely, that one of the ques- 1199 tions discussed and put to a division was the responsibility of the murderers of Lord Norbury, and the answer was, that they were not responsible. To all these points, Mr. Pare gave a distinct and specific denial. He told Mr. Pare, that although his answer tended to clear his moral character, yet that it should not influence his decision on the ultimate question, as to whether he could permit a person holding the office of, superintendent registrar, also to take upon himself the office of vice-president of such an association. He told Mr. Pare, that without entering into the question as to whether the system of such a society tended to upset and destroy the frame-work of society or not, his opinion was, that a person who was ostensibly put forward as associated with others in the propagation of such opinions as appeared to be entertained by that society, was not a proper person to be employed by those who were determined to maintain the existing order of Government. He would come back to the question respecting this clergyman, to whom the right rev. Prelate had alluded, and he must repeat, that he did not think that that reverend clergyman had done his duty. Why did not that gentleman communicate with his diocesan, or with the Government, if he were present upon those occasions to which he had alluded, and cognizant of the proceedings that had taken place? He was sure, that all their Lordships who had heard the right rev. Prelate's defence of that clergyman, would have imagined that he was a person of the most retiring habits—a minister of the gospel who had been dragged unwillingly forward on this occasion—one who had felt it his duty to watch in secret—and one who would feel that he was risking utter destruction if he exposed himself to the vengeance of those Socialists whose proceedings he denounced. What would their Lordships say when he said, in the face of the right rev. Prelate, and without fear of contradiction, that this very clergyman was the opponent lecturer of Mr. Pare on the occasion to which he referred. [The Bishop of Exeter: Mr. Pare presided.] He was the opponent of Mr. Murphy, but the terms of the contest were arranged between the clergyman, Mr. Foy, and Mr. Pare, and what was more, Mr. Pare was actually invited upon that occasion, to take the chair by Mr. Murphy and a friend of Mr. Foy. He did not defend the conduct of Mr. Pare, he thought such conduct was most improper in a person holding his office, but he did say, that he 1200 considered that he was justified in the observations he made on a former night, that Mr. Foy would in the first place have done his duty by abstaining from taking part in such proceedings; and in the next place, that it was his duty to have communicated at once to the Government such facts as it now appeared had then come to his knowledge. It was not to to be said, that clergymen were to turn police, or to act as spies, but he did not see, that it would be more unbecoming in Mr. Foy to do so, than to act as he had done; first to take part in the proceedings of those persons, and then withholding information from the Government, to pursue the course which he had thought proper to adopt. He conceived that Mr. Foy had been a party in the scene which he himself condemned—he had joined in the exhibition which was got up between him and another person, and he had consented to take a part in it. The right rev. Prelate had condemned the Government for not having information upon those subjects, because he said they were to be found in stamped newspapers. [The Bishop of Exeter: No, no!] The obvious meaning of what the right rev. Prelate had said was, that the Government must have known what was in these papers, because they went to the stamp-office. [The Bishop of Exeter had distinctly said they were not stamped.] He left it to the right rev. Prelate to explain what was precisely his charge against the Government upon this point. Although he thought that there was exaggeration with respect to the doctrines of the Socialists, yet upon the most mitigated view of them, it must be admitted, that they were such as no one could look upon without horror and disgust. They appeared to be so even by the documents which had been placed in his hands, for his justification by Mr. Pare and he must say of them that they were such as called for the serious attention of the Government. He found amongst those documents a "Report of the proceedings of the Fourth Congress, held at Birmingham." That was given as a justification of Mr. Pare, and though it was true, that there was nothing insulting to religion reported in the publication, yet there were sentiments put forth with respect to the established faith which he said were not proper, and that the person entertaining such sentiments should not be countenanced by the Government. The question proposed at this congress was to the effect, whether hereafter there should be admitted into the commu- 1201 nity of national religionists persons who did not profess its principles, though, they acted up to much of its practice. A long debate ensued, in which Mr. Pare took a part, and by which it appeared that Mr. Pare was against admitting persons belonging to the Christian religion. It appeared by the same report that Mr. Owen was more inclined to admit persons professing the Christian religion than Mr. Pare. Although the language was not that which would at once shock the reader, yet the entire report showed that the principles of the society were such, as that the persons who maintained them should be marked, at least so far as to be discountenanced by a Government, which wished to uphold the established religion, the existing faith, and the social relations of life. Where doctrines such as the right rev. Prelate had described were promulgated in the different parts of the country, he recommended that the persons in authority there should act in pursuance of the excellent advice which had been given by the noble Duke opposite to his neighbours in the county which had the good fortune to have him as Lord-lieutenant. The right rev. Prelate had stated, and it was to be hoped erroneously, that the system was likely to make great progress. He did not think so. It had been a great length of time promulgated in this country, and it had not made that advance which the right rev. Prelate had apprehended. The right rev. Prelate was very likely to be misled, if he took his authority from the books of the disciples and propagators of this system, to exaggerrate their influence and progress had been their constant and uniform practice. It would be found in the book of the New Moral World, that as long ago as 1836 there had been an address from Mr. Owen to King William 4th., in which the prosperity of the society was much boasted of. That was the language of Mr. Owen, who was very sanguine, though as he believed there were as little grounds for his being sanguine as for the paper which had been put into his hand yesterday, which was called a manifesto of Mr. Owen's principles. In that manifesto it was stated by Mr. Owen, that great encouragement to his plans had been given by the late Sir Robert Peel, and it was also stated, which ought to be mentioned in justice to the present inheritor of the name, that upon Mr. Owen spending a day with the late Sir Robert Peel, that gentleman suggested that they would see what impression would 1202 be made upon the present Sir Robert "after dinner," and Mr. Owen afterwards admitted that the present Sir Robert had not sufficient experience to compass such a subject. He might quote the authority of the present Sir Robert Peel in favour of the course pursued by the Government. That right hon. Gentleman had said very lately he would not prosecute Mr. Owen; that is, Mr. Owen not doing an illegal act, he did not feel disposed to prosecute him for the extravagant opinions which he was promulgating. He did not, then, see any probability of any Government being successful if induced to take the course which the right rev. Prelate recommended, of a general prosecution of the society for its illegal constitution. He found that there was some little difficulty in tracing out the connection of one publication of the Socialists with another. He held in his hand a tract, in which the abominations of Socialism were exposed. It was written by a Mr. Barker, who had taken every opportunity of opposing these persons, and from his pamphlet this consolation was to be derived—that Socialism was not on the increase. So lately as last December, Mr. Barker said that all their plans had failed, and that all who had joined in them were losers by them. In London he himself believed that Socialism was decidedly on the decline; although, since the right rev. Prelate had addressed their Lordships, the meetings of the Socialists had been more numerously attended. He had received this information from very competent authority—that of the police. The meetings were more frequently held than they were some years ago; yet the whole number of Socialists was not so great as it had been at that period. When the right rev. Prelate gave himself credit for having given a check to the Socialists, it must be admitted that he had also given them very much importance, as the meeting at Manchester proved. In a letter read there, it was stated that if they had books on Socialism at hand, it was requested they should be sent up to the writer, as no doubt there would be a great demand for them, in consequence of the speech of the right rev. the Bishop of Exeter. Such was the opinion of the Socialists themselves. He must add that at the office at which he was at the head, there had been no reports received from clergymen or magistrates, to show that there had been an increase of Socialism throughout the country. He ought to add that he had received from the chairman of 1203 a quarter-sessions, which perhaps it would not be convenient at that moment to mention-—a parcel of tracts addressed to clergymen of all denominations, containing gross and ribald attacks upon the Christian religion, and all creeds. He had at once referred them to the professional authorities; and he had now to add, that these blasphemous libels were under the consideration of the law officers of the Crown. That was the first official information that had come to the Home-office of the prevalence of publications of this kind, and such were the steps that had been taken in consequence. Such steps, too, would be taken as often as the occasion required; and such the Government was prepared to pursue. Under the circumstances, however, he did not conceive that the right rev. Prelate had made a special ground for any extraordinary interference on the part of their Lordships. The motion of the right rev. Prelate, he perceived, had been altered from a direction to proceed with a prosecution into one of enquiry. If they had a committee, these parties should appear before them to defend their doctrines. He entreated them, then, to leave the case of these persons to be dealt with according to law. If those persons violated the law, they would be prosecuted. If they did not violate the law no inquiry that they might institute would have any other effect than long discussion, to give too much publicity to doctrines that were most objectionable, and which never could meet with encouragement from any portion of an enlightened population.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
had no intention of entering into a discussion of this question that night, and at that late hour, as he was sensible that nothing he could say, could add to the force of that very clear and very full statement which had been made by his right rev. Friend, or that he could add to any of the arguments in the statement which was so powerfully illustrated by his more than usual eloquence; nor should he endeavour to add to the horror with which their Lordships must have heard that statement; but he should think himself wanting in his duty if he could suffer that opportunity to pass without expressing his thanks to the right rev. Prelate for the exposure of those doctrines. The right rev. Prelate was certainly entitled to the thanks of the country, for the eloquence and the ability with which he had called their Lordships' attention to this most important subject, for most important he did maintain it 1204 was. He said so, whatever might be the smallness of the numbers of this society. He admitted that their numbers were small, as compared with the population; but they were not small as compared with their beginnings a few years ago. At the beginning of their proceedings was the individual whose name had been so often mentioned that night. That individual he was sure, entertained the very same sentiments then which he did now; but he did not go so far in developing them. Many were then convinced that he was influenced by disinterested motives; but then he carried his opinions so far, though they did not go the length taken by the Socialists, that it was evident the tendency of his doctrines was to subvert the existing order of things, and all the institutions of society. The ideas of that individual appeared to be so absurd and extravagant that no one thought they could be carried into execution. They were considered as the extravagant speculations of an individual, which never could obtain any number of followers or converts. Yet, now, in what situation did they see him? There was a speculative enthusiast, who stood almost alone and unsupported but a few years ago, and who was now able to carry his schemes into execution. He stood at the head of an association, which was formidable from its principles, if not from its numbers, and which threatened to overthrow religion, and to spread its moral pestilence over the country. That speculative enthusiast had become the leader of an association that possessed means for purchasing estates in Hampshire and other places—that had money at command, not only to hire, but to erect suitable buildings for delivering their doctrines—which was able to establish itself in country places, and to infect the largest towns with its pestilent notions; and not only that, but which had missionaries that were of course remunerated, for they were employed in going over the country disseminating its pernicious tenets. That society, too, had a general congress, which met every year, at which all its preachers, to the number of fifty or sixty attended, made up their accounts, and reported all that took place in different parts of the country. If such had been the progress of the society or association, or whatever it was termed, in the course of a few years, how was it possible to assert that it would have no further exten- 1205 sion, more especially when they considered what the doctrines of the society were, and that the missionaries were active, and, in many instances, intelligent—persons by no means deficient in intellectual cultivation; and then the doctrines they preached appealed to the passions. There was to be a community of property, and a community of women, and every moral obligation was dissolved—there was to be no such thing as duty; everything was to be influenced by necessity; and every motive that could influence the heart of man, by his having a belief in future rewards and punishments, was to be put an end to. How were they to limit the evil that had been done? How were they to stay the evil that it might produce? Let them consider what must be, the effect that must be produced on unlearned and ignorant men, when they were told to despise all those instructions which were most calculated to influence the human mind. They did not know how many converts had been, or might be, obtained, not only amongst the lower, but perhaps amongst the higher classes of society; and then they were to bear in mind, that every convert made by these persons was a man lost to all those considerations which could make him a useful member of the state, and that he was deprived of all that could make him happy here, or insure his happiness hereafter. It did appear to him, by the admission of the noble Lord who had spoken last, that all the doctrines attributed to the society were proved. He desired no better evidence than what the noble Marquess stated, although it was given in softened language. The admission of the noble Marquess showed that no injustice had been done to the persons who were the subject of the present discussion. When such as these were the general principles of the society, and when they saw it already established in so many large towns, it was enough to strike one with horror; for instance, to hear that a petition Was presented from 8,000 persons in Birmingham, avowing these principles. What stronger argument could be produced by the noble and learned Lord who presented that petition, and which, purporting to be a defence of the case, and intending to do away prejudices, yet showed that a number of respectable men had joined the society? The noble Marquess had admitted that the doctrines of 1206 the society were detestable and obnoxious, and the increase of them was to be looked on as a very great evil. But the question was, how were they to put a stop to it? What was to be done? He said, by the most merciful execution of the law. And for the course which the noble Marquess told them he had adopted in the one case, he was entitled to the thanks of the country. But then, at the same time, it was said that the publicity given to these matters, was rather calculated to do harm than good. He did not agree in that proposition. When an obscene person published a blasphemous or obscene work, the prosecution of him might draw notice towards him, and produce a sale for his book, which would repay him for the punishment he suffered. Such was not the case here, where he conceived, the exposure of the doctrines themselves would be useful, by exciting horror against them; for,Vice is a monster of such hideous mien, That to be hated needs but to be seen.There was no father of a family, nor any right-minded citizen, who considered Christianity as the basis of the prosperity of the country, who did not join in the reprobation of these doctrines. He believed, then, that the exposure that had taken place, though it might occasion a few meetings to be more numerously attended than usual—for whatever was the subject of discussion, it attracted curiosity for the moment—yet he still believed that the exposure itself would be the cause of general good. But so, it had been said, that it ought to be followed up by a due administration of the law, with respect to the publications of the character described by the noble Marquess; that was an opinion in which he coincided. Then, an objection had been made to prosecutions—that they created sympathy for those who suffered—that when a man was prosecuted, and suffered the penalties of the law, the people of the country would pity him. He agreed in that; for if a man were prosecuted for mere speculative opinions, or for private discussions—for instance, discussions between rival sects, or on religion itself, and that it was followed up with any animosity, and that it assumed the character of persecution—then it would be justly and deservedly hateful in the eyes of the people of this country. But in the present case he believed that, if 1207 they proceeded justly, lawfully, and with moderation, their proceedings would be approved of by the great body of the people, and all the sympathies of the people would go with the authorities who brought such persons to justice. With respect to the forbearance that had hitherto been exercised, he said nothing. He could only repeat what he had said before, that he thought the right rev. Prelate was entitled to the thanks of their Lordships and of the country, for the exposure he had made of the principles and proceedings of this association; and also for the very able observations he had made upon the course which he thought the Government ought to pursue.
The Bishop of Llandaff
should not have taken any part in this debate, but for the allusion which the noble Marquess had made to the presence of a clergyman of the Church of England at the meeting of the Socialists at Birmingham, where the most impious and horrible doctrines were proposed for discussion, and openly maintained. That clergyman was described by the noble Marquess as being a party to the transaction. Indeed the construction which the noble Marquess seemed to put upon the conduct of the rev. gentleman was, that he was a particeps criminis in the misdoings of the meeting. Nothing could be more opposite to the rev. gentleman's conduct; because, instead of appearing to take part with the meeting, or to agree with them, or to act as a spy upon their proceedings, with the view of privately giving information where he thought it might tell against them, he openly and boldly opposed their doctrines upon the spot, and did the utmost in his power to resist the evil they were calculated to engender. He would only add, that if argument and reason were not sufficient to prevent the inculcation of such odious and dangerous doctrines, he hoped the law would be put in force.
The Marquess of Normanby
begged to explain. All that he had stated of the clergyman to whom the right rev. Prelate referred was, that he was a party to the discussion. He was informed that the rev. gentleman had arranged the form and manner of the discussion. He was, undoubtedly, opposed to the principles of the Socialists, but he came forward to argue against them. He took a prominent and conspicuous part in the proceedings. Mr. Murphy was the chief on the one 1208 side; this rev. gentleman the chief on the other; and it was at the request of both, that Mr. Pare took the chair.
§ Viscount Melbourne
having fully expressed his opinion upon this subject on a former occasion, should not have felt it necessary to trespass again for one moment on their Lordships' time, but for one or two allusions that had been made to him in the course of the debate of that evening. The right rev. Prelate, as an additional reason for charging the Government with neglect upon this subject, had referred to a very brief reply which he had given to a clergyman who had sent a letter to him, enclosing the title of one of Mr. Owen's pamphlets. He had answered that letter according to his usual custom, and if the charge of discourtesy could be maintained in this instance, he feared it would equally obtain in many others. But he wished it to be understood that when he replied to letters of this description, it was not to be supposed that previous to his reply he had taken full cognizance of the matter to which such letters might relate. In this instance, after all that had occurred, he did not know that he could blame himself for not having departed from his usual practice; because it would seem that if he had answered the letter more fully his reply would have been used by the reverend gentleman to whom it was addressed, and very probably have been brought against him in that House. With whatever justice he might be accused of having acted discourteously, he certainly did not think he could be charged with having acted unwisely, in the answer he had given. What had occurred would certainly teach him additional caution in his correspondence with gentlemen of that character. With respect to the general question, he had only to say, as he had stated on a former occasion, that he thought these opinions of the Socialists in the highest degree dangerous, and every way deserving the most serious attention of the Government. The right rev. Prelate, however, had a great advantage over the Government in bringing the subject forward; because the Government could not argue the question without appearing to sanction the system, and the man by whom it was propounded. This they had no intention of doing. The doctrines of this Mr. Owen, as far as they related to religion, were improper, licentious, and, 1209 dangerous; he hardly knew whether they were illegal. When the most most rev. Prelate said that Mr. Owen and his disciples told the people, "You are all in a state of the most helpless misery, because our system is not adopted," he begged to remind the most rev. Prelate, that Mr. Owen, in addressing the people in that manner, was pursuing only the same course as every other person who had a favourite doctrine to advance. Mr. Attwood attributed all the ills of the country to the metallic currency. Mr. Attwood said to the people, "You are all in a state of wretchedness and misery, because you won't adopt my system of paper money. Rouse yourselves, therefore, and determine to act with me." Mr. Oastler again ascribed all the distress and degradation of the poor to the operation of the new Poor-law Bill. He told the people that that Act was an act of injustice, and that, therefore, they had a right to resist it. It was the fault of the present day that people would lay down a remedy for every 'grievance, and then, by every means in their power, endeavour to force it upon the Government. That was the evil of the present day; and the Socialists, in that respect, were not more chargeable than other persons, and other sets that had sprung up in the country. He (Lord Melbourne) was not now arguing the subject, nor did he mean to hold that the doctrines of Socialism were not, in the highest degree, dangerous. Neither did he mean to say that they ought not to be seriously attended to; but he doubted the wisdom and prudence of the course which their Lordships were now invited to pursue. Upon that point he entirely agreed with his noble Friend the Secretary of State. He thought that their Lordships, by the course they were pursuing, were encouraging these men—encouraging the system—and promoting the views of its authors. He could not conceive anything which more than this notice would act as a greater encouragement to them. He was said to have given a great impulse to the system by introducing Mr. Owen at court. He certainly very much regretted that he had ever done so—it was an imprudent act. But what were their Lordships about to do? Why they were going to introduce Mr. Owen at court a second time. They were going to bring Mr. Owen before the court again, and in a manner which they might depend upon it 1210 would give him and his sect a much, greater and stronger encouragement than any that he had given them. Their Lordships' address asked for inquiry. Why, that was the very thing that the Socialists themselves asked for. All their petitions asked for inquiry: inquiry was all they desired. Their Lordships, by agreeing to this address, were exactly answering the purpose of the Socialists, and promoting their ends. If their Lordships, by the word "inquiry" meant only that the attention of the Government should be directed to the subject, no great harm could result from the address; but if they meant anything like issuing a commission, he could only assure them that they would be playing directly into the hands of the Socialists, since there was nothing that that sect more desired. It would give them a better opportunity than they could by any other means obtain, of expounding their doctrines, and making them known to the whole world. Therefore, he was strongly of opinion that the course which their Lordships were pursuing, was an unwise and impolitic course, and calculated only to give strength to the party whom it was sought to put down. At the same time, if the right rev. Prelate should persist in his motion, and their Lordships should seem inclined to support him, he should not take the sense of the House upon it.
§ The Duke of Wellington
till lately had known nothing whatever about these Socialists. His attention was first directed to them by a petition which was sent to him to present to their Lordships' House having reference to the presentation of of Mr. Owen at court by the noble Viscount at the head of the Government. He declined to present the petition, because he knew nothing about the matter, and did not choose to embark himself in the support or discussion of a subject of which he had no knowledge. Having intimated this to the petitioner, he received a communication in reply, containing a full statement of what Socialism was. By this means he obtained a knowledge of the system; he saw some of the books published by the society, and became aware of the doctrines they advanced; and, having obtained this information upon the subject, he must say that the right rev. Prelate had not in any way exaggerated the viciousness of the system. It appeared to have spread itself over a 1211 great part of the country; and, upon inquiry, he found that it had taken root rather extensively in the county in which he resided. In Hampshire they had purchased 800 acres of land, and established a large institution. In reference to that institution, he had that day presented a petition to their Lordships which contained statements regarding blasphemy, regarding the Holy Scriptures, regarding God Almighty, regarding all the great points of our belief, which in his estimation demanded a most serious inquiry. When he read that petition, which he did as soon as it was placed in his hands, he felt it to be his duty as the Lord-lieutenant of the county, to call the attention of the county magistrates to the facts which it set forth. In the same way he maintained that it was the duty of the House of Lords and of the Government, now that the facts were brought before them, to take some steps in the matter. The doctrines of Socialism were rapidly gaining strength— were rapidly spreading themselves over the whole of the country—they had got beyond the point at which one could say "the thing will fall to pieces: take no notice of it." That was one way of treating an affair, but Socialism had got beyond that point. Some step must be taken. The people must be made to understand that neither the legislature nor the Government looked upon this institution in any other way than with disfavour —that they were determined to discountenance it—and that wherever, in the promulgation of its doctrines, there should be a breach of the law, that breach of the law should be punished. If the Government would undertake the matter, and institute such an inquiry as they thought fit, he should be willing to leave it in their hands; at the same time saying that, as a magistrate, a public man, and a Lord-lieutenant of a county, he would do every thing in his power to assist them in carrying on their inquiries, in order to bring this system to an end.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
was induced, upon the ground stated by the noble Duke, not to oppose this motion. He thought that these discussions had come to a pass that made it expedient that some inquiry should take place; he thought that they had come to such a pass that it would operate mischievously upon the country, if it were supposed that the vices of the system of Socialism had 1212 been brought under the attention of the Legislature, and that the Legislature had turned an indifferent ear to them; more especially if there were persons in the country who might be found capable of asserting that the motive of the Legislature, in turning an indifferent ear to the detail of those vices, was founded in a disposition to afford any countenance to the abominations, which, with the noble Duke, he freely owned the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Exeter) had not overstated. But when he said this, he begged it to be understood that he acquiesced in this inquiry solely upon the ground of others having taken upon themselves the responsibility of giving a degree of publicity to these proceedings, which he thought it would have been most desirable that they should never have acquired. He believed that in other countries systems no less atrocious, no less deserving of condemnation, had, by the pursuit of a totally different policy, been allowed to die away, and had died away more rapidly than he was inclined to apprehend would be the case under what he might call a more active mode of treatment. He did not know whether the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Exeter) had polluted himself with respect to the doctrines of other sects, as from conscientious motives he declared he had polluted himself in studying the doctrines of Socialism; but he could tell the right rev. Prelate that if he had studied the doctrines of St. Simonism— [The Bishop of Exeter: I have not.] The right rev. Prelate shook his head and said, that he had not. He did not profess any particular learning in those doctrines, but he knew sufficient of the opinions, very widely propagated for two or three years in France, to be aware that the doctrines of St. Simonism went the full length of the doctrines which the right rev. Prelate had now so justly stigmatized. Those doctrines were widely promulgated in France for several years, but no interposition was made on the part of the law: and at the present moment if the sect existed at all in France, it had fallen to the lowest possible ebb. Nay, the very doctrines which the right rev. Prelate now condemned—those very doctrines under the direction of Mr. Owen himself—under the impulse of that mischievous activity which carried that individual to the United States of America—fell in the course of a very few years into the greatest disre- 1213 pute. So much so, that they were now hardly to be found in the northern states of the union, and in the southern states they were not to be found at all. In short, there was that in the experience of this, and of many other such abominable delusions which occasionally infected society, and exercised a momentary influence upon it, that might well occasion all men in their capacity as legislators and citizens to pause, before they resorted to active measures and attempted the repression of that, which from the effort at repression, was often found to gather additional strength. He thought that any act on the part of the Government which tended to create an opinion in the public mind that there was a class of persons marked out by the law as fit objects for punishment, if by any chance they could be found tripping, very often produced a reaction in favour of those persons, and enabled them to prosecute their views with greater effect. He said, therefore, that there was room for much consideration upon this subject before any active steps were resorted to. With respect to the particular instances which had been adverted to by the right rev. Prelate and the noble Duke (Wellington), in which this particular doctrine of Socialism had assumed in one sense of the word a more formidable shape by the occupation of land and formation of a colony, he could only say that he was aware that such attempts had been made. There was no doubt that a colony, founded upon these highly objectionable and improper doctrines, had been founded upon the borders of the two counties of Wiltshire and Hampshire. Having the honour of being the Lord-lieutenant of the county of Wilts, he had thought it his duty to institute an inquiry as to the existence of such a colony, and he found that it really existed. But he had the satisfaction of stating that it did not at present consist of more than thirty or forty persons; and he understood that the condition of admission to the colony was, that each individual should pay a sum of 20l— a very good mode, he thought, of preventing a too rapid increase of the members of the colony. And he rather apprehended that, when a short time had been allowed to elapse, and the poor persons who had been duped into paying their 20l. into the hands of some artful and designing individual, found that they had lost their money, and obtained no substantial good to compen- 1214 sate them for the loss of it, they would be more effectually cured of Socialism than they could ever have been by any proceeding on the part of the Attorney-general. He confessed that when he saw persons professing these abominable, wicked, and impious, but fortunately impracticable doctrines—when he saw such persons placing themselves in a position by which their doctrines were brought into public view—a position in which the unsound-ness and fallacy of those doctrines became manifest, not only to their neighbours and to the rest of the world, but ultimately to the eyes of the deluded members of the sect themselves—when he saw this, he owned he rather rejoiced that Socialism had selected a spot of earth for its establishment, and thus put itself in a position to convince, by an unsuccessful experiment, not only its authors but all mankind, of the impossibility of modelling society in any principle so odious and abominable. He did not regard these Socialist colonies, therefore, with the apprehension that seemed to be entertained by the right rev. Prelate and the noble Duke. He thought that they were more likely to expose the fallacy of the system, and to break it down more effectually and more completely than any step that could be taken, either by their Lordships or the Government. Conceiving, however, that it was important that the Legislature should not be understood to exhibit anything like indifference to the existence of such opinions as those professed by the Socialists, but on the contrary, that it should mark by any act in its power its utter detestation and reprobation of them, he was led upon that ground, and that ground alone, to acquiesce in the motion of the right rev. Prelate.
The Bishop of London
was anxious to say a very few words in reference to a misapprehension which seemed to obtain in the mind of the noble Marquess (Normanby), with respect to the publicity which he conceived would be given to the mischievous doctrines of Socialism by the discussion of them in that House. It was perfectly true that that effect would follow to a certain extent and in certain classes of society. One consequence of these debates in their Lordships' House, particularly of the eloquent and luminous exposition made by his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of Exeter) of the principles and practice of Socialism, undoubtedly 1215 would be, or he should rather say had already been, that those doctrines would be better known to the upper and middle classes of society than they had hitherto been. He (the Bishop of London) was far from considering that an evil. On the contrary, he conceived it to be a most beneficial effect, resulting from the debates which had taken place in that House and elsewhere upon the subject; because he was convinced that there was as yet so much of good in the heart of this country, that, if once the well-educated classes of society—those who possessed a just influence upon public opinion—combined together to express their detestation of certain mischievous doctrines, those doctrines could not long obtain. Therefore, if no other good were to result from the able and eloquent exposition of his right rev. Friend, this would be one for which their Lordships and the country ought to be grateful. But there was another kind of publicity to the augmentation of which these discussions in Parliament did not tend, and which in itself was widely different to the publicity to which he had just been adverting. He was afraid that these pernicious doctrines enjoyed the worst kind of publicity. They were well known and often canvassed by the great bulk of the public—not those who were commonly called the public, but those whose numbers were greater than any other class of the community, and upon whose good principles, and correct views and feelings, the safety of society mainly depended. The Socialists had an authorized publication of their own, of which upwards of two thousand were distributed through the country, lint they had also other organs not professing to be in their pay—periodical publications not professing to emanate from the press of the Socialists, which yet exercised a most baneful influence upon the community. There was one weekly publication which he believed enjoyed a more extensive circulation than any other now issuing from the press in this kingdom; and he grieved to say that, if common report spoke true, the joint proprietor, if not the active editor of the paper, was a magistrate of no inconsiderable influence in the metropolis. The doctrines advanced in that paper with a malignant activity against everything good and virtuous, were of the most infamous character. It was a paper which he would venture to say could not have escaped the 1216 notice of the Attorney-general, and which he asserted without hesitation ought to have been over and over again the subject of prosecution. This was only one of the periodical papers, not ostensibly connected with the Socialists, which were conspiring to diffuse their pernicious principles and practices throughout the country. He was convinced, however, that this kind of publicity, instead of encouragement, would receive a very salutary check from discussions such as that which had taken place that evening. The lower orders of the community in this country—he used the term in. its ordinary sense—were not yet so far fallen into the delusions which had been spread for them as to be insensible to the great weight and influence of the united opinion of all the learned, and wise, and pious in the land. He would, therefore, beg to remind the noble Marquess, that if the Address now moved should be presented to her Majesty, the effect produced would not so much depend upon the Address itself as upon the answer that might be returned to it. The manifest concurrence of the majority of their Lordships' House in the principles laid down by his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of Exeter) would of itself be a noble and effective testimony to the people of this country, and particularly to the deluded multitudes who were the victims of that sect—that the highest branch of the Legislature, he might say the Queen's Majesty herself, for her Majesty spoke in that House through the voice of her Ministers—would not longer sit quiet to witness the promulgation of doctrines so infamous, so pernicious, so abominable; but that they would stretch the shield with which the arm of justice was furnished—for he would always rather speak of the shield than the sword of justice—to protect the uneducated, the unenlightened, and, therefore, possibly the misguided portion of the community from the worst enemies that could assail them. He could not resume his seat without alluding, for a moment, to what had fallen from the noble Marquess respecting the danger of adopting any course that, in the estimation of the people, should assume an appearance of persecution towards a particular sect. He could only say that if that argument were good for anything, it would apply with equal force to every kind of prosecution for every kind of offence. Were their Lordships to be told 1217 that there were no criminal acts, no offences against society but sedition, and treason, and blasphemy. He had been taught by the authors whom he had read upon the constitution of England, that immoral, scandalous publications were equally liable to prosecution with publications that were seditious and treasonable. That doctrine at least was held by Blackstone, and at a more subsequent period by Sir James Mackintosh, who observed that the fault of the day was, the not making a sufficient distinction between seditious and treasonable publications, and those which were blasphemous and indecent. If no other result should follow from the discussion of that evening than the knowledge of the opinion, he sincerely trusted he might say the unanimous opinion, which that august assembly entertained upon the subject, it would have a most beneficial effect upon the country, and he trusted would lead to the desired result of stemming and turning the tide of indecency and blasphemy which now threatened to inundate the country.
The Bishop of Exeter
would not detain their Lordships by any reply. He would only say, in justice to the clergyman that had been alluded to in the debate, that so far from having supplied him (the Bishop of Exeter) with information at the proper time for his political purposes, that rev. and most respectable person had not supplied any information until directly applied to. He had heard of Mr. Pare and his proceedings, but, as authority was of course necessary, he had made the application. That respectable clergyman otherwise would not have come forward. He would only add, that the inquiry now sought for was different to that asked for by the Socialists themselves—it was to inquire in the first place into the diffusion of blasphemous and immoral publications—not whether they were right or wrong, but into the facts, that the Government might do their duty.
§ Address agreed to.