The Bishop of Exeter
rose to present a petition, very numerously signed, by 4,000 of the clergy, magistrates, merchants, and traders of the town of Birmingham, on the subject of the system of Socialism. It was proper to observe, that the petition contained the profession and place of residence of every gentleman by whom it was signed; and, large as was the town of Birmingham, their Lordships would find that the signatures comprised a large proportion of those who might be considered the most respectable in that town. The petition was of so important a nature, that, with their Lordships' permission, he should beg leave to have it read at length. [It stated that the people's morals were endangered by the spread of the system denomined "Socialism," which was greatly increased by the exertions of Mr. Robert Owen; and prayed their Lordships to take such steps as they might deem necessary, in order to check the growing evil.] In moving that this petition be permitted to lie on their Lordships' table, should, he feared, feel himself obliged to address their Lordships for a longer time than was usual on the presentation of a petition; but the vast importance of the subject to which the petition related, he trusted, would be received as his excuse. He had done anything but court the office that had been cast on him. It was the most distasteful office that could be imposed on any man. Involving, as it did, the statement of doctrines that were hostile to the interests of morality and religion, he could not approach the subject without feelings akin to horror; and, looking to the peculiar position which he held, their Lordships would readily conceive that such considerations must press most grievously and most painfully on his mind. When he came down to the House the other night, this petition being then in his possession, he thought it right to ask the noble Marquess at the head of the Home Department, what her Majesty's Ministers meant to do with respect to the proceedings of a body called "Socialists!" He had supposed 511 that her Majesty would have been advised to give directions to the magistrates or others to whom the preservation of the peace was intrusted, to take proper notice of what occurred, that appeared to be illegal in the course of the meetings at which those people, the Socialists, assembled. To his utter astonishment, however, he heard that her Majesty's Government had done nothing of the kind; had issued no instructions; had taken no notice of these proceedings; because, as the noble Marquess said, "the Socialists had not offended against the law," and the noble Marquess added, "that when the Socialists offended against the law, her Majesty's Ministers would be ready to proceed against them, as they would against any other parties who violated the law." His astonishment was so great, that, plain and explicit as was the language of the noble Marquess, still he thought it but fair to the noble Marquess, as well as to himself, to ascertain particularly what he really said and meant. He therefore stated to the noble Marquess what he understood to be the effect of his answer —namely, that "her Majesty's Government did not interfere, because those Socialists had not offended against the law." The noble Marquess did not state that he himself knew nothing of those persons having offended against the law; but he had boldly stated, that they had not done anything contrary to the law. Now, he did not mean to hold the noble Marquess to that point. He did not suppose that the noble Marquess was acquainted with all the proceedings of the Socialists, and could therefore say, of his own knowledge, that they had done nothing that was unlawful. He was very far from supposing any such thing. But he put this construction on the words of the noble Marquess, and he did not know that he could put a fairer construction on them—namely, that the noble Marquess was generally informed—and only generally informed—of the existence of this class of persons; because he was sure that no man holding so high a situation in the state, whose office pointed him out as the guardian of the peace and morals of the country, would let the system to which he alluded proceed for a series of years, without instituting some inquiry into the subject. He could not, therefore, conceive how a Minister of the Crown could, in that House, and in answer to his question, admit the legality of the proceedings of those parties, without any previous inquiry having been instituted as to the nature and object of 512 those proceedings. His astonishment was, indeed, overwhelming, when he was told that these Socialists, in the judgment of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had done nothing of an illegal character; but that when they did anything illegal. Government would be ready to proceed against them. He was not aware, he did not believe, that any person could for a moment suppose that either the noble Marquess, or any other member of her Majesty's Government, could have any fellow-feeling for those parties. He could not imagine that any idea of political aid, or of expediency, or any other motive of such a nature, could have appeared to her Majesty's Government to afford to them such a reason as should induce them not to proceed fearlessly and manfully to an investigation of the proceedings of the parties to whom the petition alluded. He should now proceed to touch upon the legality of the proceedings of the Socialists, and in doing so, he was rejoiced to see two noble and learned Lords present, who could correct him if he stated that which was erroneous.
rose. He said it was almost the only time he had ever entered the House after its sitting had commenced. But it was proper that the right rev. Prelate should know that he was charged with four petitions from the persons against whom the petition of the right rev. Prelate was directed; and he thought it was better that he should present these petitions before the right rev. Prelate had made his statement. The noble and learned Lord then presented a petition from the officers of the central board of the Society of Rational Religionists, vulgarly called Socialists. It was signed by Mr. Owen and others, and prayed for a full inquiry into their system.
wished to present the petitions now, because, if he took a different course, it would have the effect of dividing the discussion. The noble and learned Lord then presented similar petitions from Huddersfield, and two other places, having a similar prayer for full inquiry, in order that the effect and object of the society should be known, and that the public might be enabled to judge really of its merits.
The Bishop of Exeter said
, he now rejoiced at this interruption, whether it were regular or not. He had abstained from 513 praying that a full inquiry should be instituted into this subject, and he should state to their Lordships the reason, and the only reason, that induced him so to abstain. He had done so, because he felt that the result of such an inquiry naturally must be, that the Government would direct a prosecution against these parties, who were charged by him with crimes against the peace and welfare of society; and he did not wish that the parties so charged should have their case prejudiced by evidence taken on oath before that House, which might afterwards be used against them, and which evidence, in the first instance, they could not meet by cross-examination. On that account alone he had determined not to adopt that course, to which he was originally inclined. But now he told the noble and learned Lord, that he was rejoiced to find that the parties implicated called for a full and complete inquiry; and, if the noble and learned Lord moved for such an inquiry, be should strenuously support it, because this prayer of the petitioners had removed all the objections that he had previously entertained against adopting that particular course. He should now return to the point to which he was calling their Lordship's attention, when the noble and learned Lord introduced those petitions. He was then going to say, that he should undertake, with all humility, but still with honest confidence, to prove that the noble Marquess, in stating that these parties had not violated the law, had stated that which was not borne out by the fact. When he pointed out the real facts of the case, he had no doubt that their Lordships would see that a great, nay, a grievous violation of the law had been committed by the Socialists. And first, he would ask, what was this society? It was an organized society, having its branches and its various leaders and correspondents, and such a society the law of England did not recognize. Whatever the law might tolerate, with reference to the expression of individual opinion, either on religious or other topics, it did not tolerate such a system as this. If bodies of men combined together in different parts of the kingdom, and called into operation societies in various quarters, for the special purpose of altering the common law of the land, and of effecting an irreligious and immoral object, could such proceedings be considered in any other light than as a grievous infraction of the law? But the society to which he called their Lordships' attention was not merely an English so- 514 ciety. No; it was an universal society. It professed its determination to extend itself all over the world; but at present he believed it had not gone beyond France. At this moment its influence was felt in England, perhaps he should rather say in the British isles, to a very great extent. According to its code, Great Britain was divided into fourteen principal districts. A congress met annually, which assumed to itself legislative power for directing the whole proceedings of the general body. That congress assembled, he believed, at different points in different years. Two delegates were sent from all the places where there were charter-branches of the society, not amounting to less than sixty-one. There was besides an executive body— the Central Court. He did not know how often that met; but he believed it was in a constant state and capacity of meeting. That body superintended the formation of associations throughout the land, and appointed missionaries to each of the fourteen districts into which the United Kingdom was divided by the society. There were no fewer than 350 towns regularly visited by those missionaries. Very small sums were individually contributed for their support. Twopence, three pence, and even less, was contributed by each member. But such was their number, that the subscription afforded those missionaries not less than 30s. per week, which, with other incidental advantages, made the situation a matter of importance to persons in their situation of life. When he spoke of persons in their situation of life, he merely meant to allude to their rank and situation, for he had known many men in their station who were gifted, not only with great natural capacity, but who were also distinguished by considerable attainments. And what he had read and seen as coming from some of these missionaries, proved that they possessed shrewdness and ability, however it had been perverted and misdirected. Indeed, he understood that those who were deemed fitted to be sent forth as missionaries, underwent, in the first place, a regular examination. The society also had a Tract Committee, by whom a large number of tracts were published—as many, he was informed, as 1000 in Manchester every Saturday. They had also established a paper which was denominated the New Moral World. It was prepared by themselves, and was extensively circulated. Now, he was sure that if the noble Marquess was in the habit, by himself or by others, of looking 515 into the state of the periodical press, and if he or his assistants had taken even a passing view of that publication, he never would have permitted himself to have said, that those Socialists had done nothing offensive to the laws of the country. On the statement which he had made—a statement which he was sure could be proved —he would contend, with confidence, (if wrong he could be corrected), but he would contend, with some confidence, that a society, thus organized, was per se decidedly illegal. It was illegal under the 57th of George 3rd, which declared any society sending forth a representative or representatives, misionary or missionaries, for the purpose of meeting other bodies, should be deemed guilty of unlawful combination within the meaning of the Act of the 53rd of George 3rd., for putting down societies meeting for treasonable purposes and for preventing sedition. He therefore, contended that, looking to the facts which he had stated, a grievous offence against the law had been committed by this society as such, for its very existence was an offence against the law. He had given to their Lordships the title of the Socialist paper. That title very plainly expressed one object—the great object of this society —which evidently was to put an end to all the ancient institutions of this country, and he might justly add, of the world at large. The society wished to introduce a new course of what they called "moral institutions," from which religion was to be excluded; or in the constitution of which, if any semblance of religion was allowed, there was, at all events, to be no regard to anything like the immortal spirit. The New Moral World was to place us in an entirely new situation, such as he believed was never contemplated before Under that system there was to be no private property—no marriages—no religion. Now, there could be no doubt that any attempt to introduce such a system—that any at-attempt to overthrow and remove the whole frame of society in this country— was an offence, and a great offence, against the common law of the land. The object of the society evidently and avowedly was to destroy and subvert the existing frame of society, religious and moral, in this land. It was an illegal object—and this society, in pursuing it, acted most illegally. The great foundation stone on which this society was built was the doctrine of "the irresponsibility of man." In their published "laws and constitution" it is thus laid down:— 516That the feelings and convictions of man are formed for him by the action of external objects on his organization—and that therefore man has not been created to be a responsible being; that there ought to be 'no praise or blame, reward or punishment, for any conduct whatever;' that, in those characters which now exhibit crime the fault is obviously not in the individual.In order to shew that these were not mere words of course, he should state, that when Bolam's case (the case of a man who was tried at Newcastle) was before the public, one of their lecturers declared at Liverpool, that—The murderer ought not to be punished, because he could not help it.This was notorious. It was also declared in the Socialists'-hall at Huddersfield, a few weeks ago, that—A man detected in the very act of theft ought not to be treated as a thief, because he could not help it.Therefore, it was contended, that we ought not to enforce on him the penalty of what we called law. With respect to Mr. Owen, who appeared to be at the head of his society, he might be permitted to say a few words. He believed that Mr. Owen was a man now threescore and ten years of age, who had been before the world for nearly half a century. Now he wished it to be observed, that in his remarks he did not mean to speak especially of him. His observations went to the system; but in order more fully to elucidate the nature of that system, he should quote certain published statements of Mr. Owen. In a public discussion between Mr. Owen and the Rev. J. H. Roebuck on "the irresponsibility of man," that discussion having been undertaken at the request of the society, in order to shew that man was not responsible for his character, faith, or actions to God or man, Mr. Owen proceeded thus:—It is my intention to prove that society can derive superficial and temporary advantages only from making man so formed, to be considered a responsible being; also that there are endless disadvantages arising from training man in the belief that he is responsible for the character which God and society alone have formed for him.This struck at once at all human laws, which under such a system, must be considered glaringly unjust. But if such a doctrine were to prevail, how pitiable would be the situation of humanity ! Prin- 517 ciples like these struck at the very root of our moral and religious system. That being so, and it could not be controverted, those who endeavoured to introduce them here, and such was the design of this society, acted, he would contend, most illegally. Mr. Owen went on to say—I will then shew the inestimable advantages which will arise when individual man shall not be made responsible for the character which God and society have compelled him to acquire—show the justice and necessity of making man irresponsible for that which is formed solely by God, and demonstrate that man is, to an illimitable extent, the creature of the external objects, animate and inanimate, by which he is surrounded.Speaking of those who opposed his views Mr. Owen said—It is a contest between those who believe that it is for their individual interest and happiness that man should continue to be kept in ignorance, and be governed as heretofore (meaning that he was responsible) by force and fraud, and those who are convinced that for his happiness he should be henceforward governed by truth and justice only. It will be obvious, even to children thus rationally educated, that all human laws must either be unnecessary or in opposition to nature's laws— that they must create disunion, produce crime incessantly, and involve all transactions in inextricable confusion." "All human laws are opposed to nature's laws; and therefore discordant, disunited and perplexed, and always produce more evil than good." "As soon as man shall be thus regenerated, he will discover that the present classification of society into the various grades of the aristocracy, professions, trades, and occupations, is fit only for man in his irrational or first state of existence; for the existing classification can form only fools and knaves, the oppressors and the oppressed.He would do Mr. Owen the justice to say that, far from being a bloody-minded man, he had always appeared to be the advocate of peace. Until he came to the passage which he wag about to read, he had believed Mr. Owen to be a man rather disposed to peaceable measures, and who really wished to effect his object in a quiet manner. But he was sorry to say, that in his discussion with the Rev. Mr. Roebuck he adopted a style and manner not usual with him, for he went so far as to threaten the Government. He said,It is the interest of every individual of the family of man that this great and glorious change should now be commenced; and that all Governments should lend their aid to perfect it, that it may be produced without force, 518 peaceably and by reason. But should the Governments now decline, from ignorance of their present position, to take the lead in this great work, then will the people of necessity undertake and accomplish it for themselves and for the Governments.This was as much as to say, that our present institutions should be destroyed, peaceably, if possible, but destroyed at all events. If the Government did it themselves, why, well and good; but if not, the people were to secure that state of things which Mr. Owen had described; and how, in that case, it would be secured, he need not explain to their Lordships. Looking at the whole organization of this society, marking the publications which they had sent forth, he could not view it in any other light than as an illegal community—a community banded together for illegal purposes, against the existence of which the Government ought long since to have wielded the power of the law. He now came to another and a very important part of the subject, which the Socialists had brought before the public in a variety of ways. Their Lordships must, he thought, have heard of the frequent denunciations of that sacred tie, that holy bond, on which the welfare, and happiness, and moral rectitude of man, under God, depended more than on any other institution whatsoever—he meant marriage. But what did the Socialists say of that bond? Why, marriage was held up to scorn and detestation by those people as a "Satanic institution," an "accursed thing," a "cunningly devised fable of the priesthood;" and they declared "that it should be abolished both in principle and practice;" for that "nature alone ought to direct the association of the sexes in man as in other animals." On this subject he should quote one or two passages from Mr. Owen's New Moral World. He selected those passages because they were more fit for their Lordship's ears than others which he might quote. Mr. Owen, speaking on this subject, said,In my previous lectures I hastily glanced at some of the leading evils necessarily arising from the priesthood, the laws and magistracy, and the military. I now proceed to notice, in the same hasty manner, some of the remainder of these Satanic institutions, or institutions of moral evil; and first of the unnatural or artificial union of the sexes.That unnatural union, as Mr. Owen called it, was "marriage."There is no hope for you," Mr. Owen continued, "until you acquire sufficient 519 strength of mind to overcome this evil (marriage), and openly denounce it both in principle and practice.This expounder of Socialism thus proceeded:—What! not speak of the marriage state and its endless crimes? Why, what absurdity yet remains in the public mind, not to speak and expose the greatest of the practical sources of vice and misery!" Again he said, "I resume the subject of marriage, because it is the source of more demoralization, crimes, and misery, than any other single cause, with the exception of religion and private property.And then he explained in these words the course to be taken before the foundation of the new moral world was laid:—When (said he) we shall have explained, in future lectures, the direful effects on human nature of the other two great sources of crime and misery in the old immoral world, viz., private property, and what the priesthood has heretofore called religion, we shall be prepared to lay the foundation, and build up the new moral world.If the noble Marquess ever read anything so light as a newspaper, if he ever turned his attention to the minor periodicals of the day, he might have seen these revolting doctrines promulgated—promulgated by those individuals who, he asserted, had done nothing contrary to the law. The noble Marquess lived in the world, he walked through the streets, he knew what was done in this our world, or if he did not he was not fit for the high and responsible situation which he held. If the noble Marquess deigned to notice what he said, if he thought tit to give any answer to his observations, he was perfectly sure that the noble Marquess would not deny the fact, that he did know that such as he described them were the doctrines of the Socialists. What, then, were they to think of a public functionary to whom her Majesty had intrusted the important duty of watching over and preserving the morals of the land, and who had suffered such objects and principles to be openly avowed, without appealing to the powers of the law to check so monstrous an evil? The noble Marquess had declared that these tremendous notions were not contrary to the law of England. He was astonished at such an assertion from a minister intrusted with the morals of the land. It was ridiculous for him to quote any authority to prove that these proceedings were against the law; but, as he had an authority, he would quote it:—The Court of King's Bench has cognizance 520 of all offences against the public morals, under which head may be comprehended representations, whether by writing, picture, sign, or substitute, tending to vitiate and corrupt the minds and morals of the people.That was a passage from Russell's work on crime. He believed that book was one of considerable authority; but it really required no book of any sort, but one's own plain common sense, to know that this must be the law of the land. Religion, he grieved to say, was also made a point of attack in the principles of Socialism. Mr. Owen has declaredThat the truths of revelation are 'diabolical falsehoods invented by man;' that 'all religion is founded in error;' that 'there is neither God nor Devil, heaven nor hell.'The Socialists have accordingly published a pamphlet, entitled Community the only Salvation for Man; in which it is also declared thatthis world is the only heaven man has to enjoy.A few weeks ago the walls of Manchester were placarded with the following announcement:—Just published, The Holy Scriptures Analyzed, or Extracts from the Bible, showing its Contradictions, Absurdities, and Immoralities, by Robert Cooper,' who is a Socialist lecturer.These placards and this work, together with Mr. Owen's works, had been extensively circulated in Manchester—a town inferior in population only to London. The Book of the New Moral World, by Robert Owen, said,The religions founded under the name of Jewish, Budh, Jehovah, God or Christ, Mahomet, or any others, are all composed of human laws in opposition to nature's eternal laws; and when these laws are analyzed they amount only to three absurdities.After stating as a law,That each individual is so organized that his will is formed for him by his feelings or convictions, or both; and thus his whole character, physical, mental, and moral, is formed independently of himself.The book thus proceeds:—The error respecting the law of human nature has led men to create a personal Deity author of all good, and a personal Devil, the author of all evil." "All the mythologies of the ancients, and all the religions of the moderns, are mere fanciful notions of men, whose imaginations have been cultivated to accord with existing prejudices, and whose judgments 521 have been systematically destroyed from their birth." "It follows that, as all religions and codes of laws are founded in the error that there is merit or demerit in belief and in feeling, religions and laws must have originated in some error of the imagination, similar to the j universal error, maintained through unnumbered ages, that the earth was flat, immoveable, and the centre of the universe.With regard to death and a future state of existence, he said—At dissolution each particular organization returns to the same general elements, to give new life to new compounds, death itself being considered simply as a change of one organization for others.The practical result was thus drawn by E. D. Owen, son of Mr. Owen:—He lives for this world, because he knows nothing of any other; he doubts all revelations from heaven, because they appear to him improbable and inconsistent; lie desires to see the thoughts and efforts of mankind directed solely to the improvement of their own and their fellow-creatures' condition on this earth, and to see men's wishes bounded by what they see and know: because he is convinced that they would thus become more contented, more practically benevolent, and more permanently happy, than any dreams of futurity can make them.Now, this was the language of Mr. R. D. Owen, the son. The wretched father had in his discussion with Mr. Roebuck thus stated his own view of his own state:What is it to me what becomes of an existence so insignificant as I am?However insignificant that individual might deem his own existence to be, he trusted there might he, that in his case which in judgment was infallible, and which might save him from the tremendous state in which he professed himself to be. He earnestly and sincerely hoped that, at all events, while he believed he yet was permitted to live, he might live long enough to know how infinite was the value of that existence which Mr. Owen said was so insignificant. It was not regarded as insignificant by Him who gave it Mr. Owen, and it was not regarded as insignificant, thank God, by Him who had died for that unhappy man—who died to save sinners, and who even now would receive him to salvation, and convince him beyond all that his imagination could conceive, of the immense value of that being of which he was so careless, that compared with it all the objects of this world, which alone seemed to be his care, compared with his 522 own individual existence, all the wealth and all the enjoyments of the world, were absolutely as nothing. He wished that this individual, as well as others, had been content that there should be simply irreligion charged to him, that there should not be even worse charged to him blasphemies of the worst description. Mr. Owen said in his discussion with the Rev. J. H. Roebuck,The Christians and Jews have made their imagined Supreme Being the most inconsistent capricious, unjust, and cruel monster, that the deranged or irrational faculties of human nature could combine into an imaginary existence. I do not hesitate now to say to the audience, and to let it go forth to the world, that if the Deity, as described in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, be a true description of any being existing in the universe, it is one of the most ignorant, inconsistent, cruel, and unjust beings that the human imagination can conceive.On being accused of atheism, Mr. Owen said,Mr. Roebuck said he would prove from my writings and my speeches that my principles were atheistical. On this point I have only to remark, that I do not know what he means by atheistical. But my principles are true, if there be truth in fact; and if truth be atheism, then I will submit to be so considered.Now it might be said that this was only the statement of an individual in an extraordinary state of mind; and if on a jury he should feel it probably to be his duty, on trying him for any offence, to give him the benefits of a doubt as to his rationality. But their Lordships would permit him to remind them, that this book of Mr. Owen's, which he held in his hand, was the very book to which the whole community of this new society said that they looked, as containing the direct expression of their sentiments, and that whatever had been put forth by Mr. Robert Owen contained their principles; and he said, therefore, that that society which made such an avowal was an illegal society, which ought to be put down by the strong hand of power, if there was one in this country. Let it not be supposed that this was the only individual who spoke or wrote in this manner: this he grieved to say was not the case. The society had hired lecturers and missionaries, whose business it was to preach these doctrines in the 350 places which he had mentioned, and in them to sow the seeds of these tremendous errors. An individual who was present for many hours at one of their meetings had given him a long list of blasphemies and horrid immoralities 523 which he bad heard there. He would not go through them all, but he had got two specimens which he would quote. The individual was quite ready to testify the accuracy of these statements before any committee that the noble Lord might move for. [Lord Brougham.—I am not going to move for a committee.] The noble Lord was too wise a man, and it would be the height of injustice for him (the Bishop of Exeter) to say, that he was particeps criminis with the individual who put a paper in his hand; but he thought it possible, that he would have moved, that the prayer of the petition which he had presented should be granted—namely, that there should be inquiry. He thought it a very fair demand. But he would quote to their Lordships what his informant had heard at Birmingham:—At the Socialist place of meeting, Birmingham, only so late as Sunday evening last, the 19th of January, the Socialist missionary stationed there thus spoke of God—' What a monstrous God ! Who would call him a just God? I say he is a bloody and barbarous God, and we will not serve him.' On Sunday evening, Nov. 25, 1839, the same missionary at the same place said—' Neither he nor the Socialists, acknowledged that vindictive Being called the Lord of Hosts! Preserve us from such a Lord of Hosts!'He was sure he had done enough; but he had done no more than his duty, painful as it was to his own feelings to deal with these things; he had yet felt it to be his duty to produce some of them. He assured their Lordships, that he had not produced the worst specimens. The blasphemies written by some of these unhappy men were so horridly mixed up with obscenity, applied to the most sacred subjects, that he could not, even to carry the point of convincing the noble Marquess of the necessity of not permitting such things, even if it depended on the production of a single specimen, he could not and would not, do it. Their Lordships might well believe, that matters such as these, when addressed to bodies of persons assembled to hear them by missionaries who endeavoured to entangle their hearers in the meshes of a most specious sophistry, when the passions of men were engaged on the same side, and unhappily this particular part of the country (to the shame of the country and to the Government—not only to the present Government, but to the Governments of the last half-century) had been abandoned to ignorance, and left without the least instruction 524 that there was a God; that to such men as these, these horrid blasphemies, mixed up with the statements he had mentioned, could not fail to produce effects. These statements had produced effects, and cases of suicide, under circumstances of the most dreadful suffering, had occurred, which had been brought about by these pernicious doctrines. More than one instance had been brought to light where this had been the case. But there had just been brought to his notice that day a rather striking instance of this, which had occurred at Wolverhampton. Mr. Parke, a most respectable inhabitant of that town, had an apprentice, who had been in the habit of attending Socialist meetings, and hearing their lectures. He purchased all their publications, and his master's shop not being of that kind to furnish them, he was obliged to go elsewhere to obtain them. He would read the remainder of the narrative for their Lordships:—The peculiar circumstances of his death I think you well know. He dined and drank tea with Mr. Parke, as usual, on the Sunday, and left after tea to attend St. George's Church, which he did. Not coming home at the usual hour, Mr. Parke sat up for him till twelve o'clock, when, as he had not returned, he concluded his relations had detained him. He was, however, found dead in a sort of lumber-room the next morning. Two bottles of poison were lying by his side; the one which occasioned his death contained prussic acid, the other nux vomica. And now we come to the gist of the matter. Near him were lying four letters, one addressed to his father, another to Mr. Parke, a third to the jury, and a fourth containing his creed, in all of which, I believe, he expressed his disbelief in the Bible, considering it 'the most dangerous book that was ever written,' and if ever such a person as Jesus Christ lived, he was 'the weakest man ever heard of.' lie stated in one of his letters that he had been nurtured in superstition (meaning, that he had been brought up a member of the Church of England), and that when he read Owen's works he 'shuddered at their common sense.' He denied all belief in a future state of retribution, and, as he considered apprenticeship a slate of slavery, he thought it the wiser plan to suffer pain for a moment than to endure six years' servitude. He earnestly entreated the jury not to return a verdict of 'Insanity,' as he assured them he was in full possession of his faculties, he therefore hoped they would return a verdict of ' Felo de se.' He was about sixteen years of age, of excellent, indeed superior talents, great vivacity and cheerfulness of manner. His uncle, after the verdict had been returned, declared aloud, before a crowded room, in a most vehement manner, that, were he in the presence of 525 the Queen, he would proclaim Owen as the murderer of his nephew.He ventured to say, that any one of those gentlemen who sat on the jury would neglect their duty to her Majesty if they forbore to tell her Majesty what had been the ascertained result of the writings of a man who had been presented to her Majesty. Upon that presentation to her Majesty he should have a few words to say presently; he recollected that a proper notice had been given on that subject, and he should therefore be ashamed to enter on any pre-statements. He had now gone through all that he thought was necessary, though he had not stated anything like even a fiftieth part of the case—anything like a fiftieth degree of the monstrosity of the case. He had now, however, gone through all that he thought necessary to prove, that this community of Socialists was an illegal body, and that it ought to be known to be illegal by her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department. And if all these things had been going on for years, they had been going on for years, they had been much aggravated during the last three months, and these proceedings had become greatly worse since the noble Marquess had been in office. It was a matter merely of time; he did not believe the noble Marquess intended to encourage it; but if these individuals had thought, that the noble Marquess was likely to be negligent of these matters, and that from what had appeared, of the conduct of the noble Marquess in another country he would be negligent of their proceedings, they had not thought wrong, because he (the noble Marquess) had told them three evenings ago, that he knew nothing of their proceedings, though this community of Socialists were living in the open violation of God's most sacred laws. It was said, that this was one of the innumerable forms that vice and folly would assume. That he must say, did not at all square with the declaration of the noble Marquess the other night; that ground was now struck from under him, for the noble Marquess said, he knew what these bodies were doing — that they were doing nothing illegal. But the assertion of that noble Secretary of State, that he had not ordered the laws to be put in force against these people, because the laws had not been broken; implied that he had made an inquiry into what they had done. If he had not made inquiry into what had taken place, as 526 Home Secretary, he would ask, was there any part of his duty so stringent as this? It was the duty of the noble Marquess, to interfere, and he called upon the noble Marquess, in his place, to state whether he would make inquiries into the subject, and having made the inquiries, whether he persisted in the declaration he had made on Monday night. The noble Marquess and the House were in great error, if they supposed this matter was of little moment in the country, or that these were the efforts of obscure individuals: on the contrary, the system had not only a wide range, but was in a most flourishing state. From their own newspaper—a weekly journal, called the New Moral World — and he could easily produce other proofs of the same kind, he could prove that fact. In their journal of the date of the 9th March, 1839, in order to show the extension, diffusion, and progress of that system, they stated:—We are glad to find that the necessity for united exertions in the building of Social institutions is now extensively felt. Our Sheffield brethren, who have been the first to act, and have raised a beautiful building for their lectures, last week called upon their fellow-members in the other branches to assist them. Our friends at Leeds, who at present have one of the largest and most beautiful rooms in that populous town—Walton's Musical Saloon —find it necessary to swarm to a larger hive. In Liverpool, Birmingham, Halifax, Macclesfield and other places, subscriptions are also raising for the erection of buildings.These erections had gone on to a very considerable extent. At Liverpool an individual had guaranteed the expense of a building to a very large amount, and at Manchester, four individuals had contributed 5,000l. for building, what they chose to call a Hall of Science for Socialists: that building they had located in an extraordinary place—in one of the squares of that town, in which stood one of the churches; there, on the fourth side of the square, they had at a cost of 5,000l. erected their "Hall of Science." In the proceedings of the fourth conference they had given a certain account of their pecuniary means, and from that it appeared that they were anxious to get possessed of estates in the country upon which to carry out their views of colonization, or rather of common property, into effect, and that they were in treaty for the purchase of an estate at a cost of 22,000l. That sum, it appeared, was too much for them to pay down, but not too much for them to find securities for. 527 Two individuals were ready to produce 10,000l. each; another offered 2,000l.; others, again, smaller sums from 150l. downwards. All these things were stated in the proceedings of the fourth conference of this most innocent and harmless association. Their Lordships, therefore, would not fail to see that the system was not confined to the lowest branches of society in this country; let their Lordships but read their proceedings, and they could not but observe that among the Socialists there must be men of education and of considerable talent. The proceedings of the conference were as methodical as those of a House which the noble and learned Lord near him (Lord Brougham) and he knew very well; the whole course of those proceedings evinced a good deal of intellect and station in society. There were also persons concerned in this system who from their official stations, would not be expected to be so concerned. There was among the Socialists one public officer who had been appointed to his situation by the Government; that individual held the office of superintend-ant registrar of births, marriages, and deaths for the Birmingham district, a district which extended over a very large portion of the neighbourhood, and until very lately, he was the vice-president of the central board of Socialists. This individual, Mr. Pare, did not think the last station interfered with the decency of his office, but absolutely boasted of, and avowed it, and painted it on a board over his office door. The rooms held by Mr. Pare, as offices for registration, were also the publicly advertised offices of the Socialists, and all the charters for Socialist branches were signed by Mr. Pare officially and dated and subscribed there. He hoped, that the noble Marquess, at the head of the Home Department, knew nothing of the circumstance, for if cognizant of it the noble Marquess would have deserted his duty, by permitting the office of registration to be polluted by such a person. In consequence of the strong indignation of the public at this outrage of common decency, Mr. Pare was obliged to give up the vice-presidentship, but not the place of superintendent registrar of births, marriages, and deaths; that place he still occupied, and he continued, though less openly, an active agent of Socialism. He regretted to have to mention that Mr. Pare was not a solitary instance—other persons holding high offices were charged with giving open, avowed, and pecuniary support to 528 the system. At Coventry, the use of the Guildhall had been granted by the mayor to a Socialist missionary or lecturer for lectures to be delivered in that place. This was obtained on the application of a most important individual in Coventry, and an active leader of the Socialists—the collector of the market tolls, an office to which he was appointed by the mayor and corporation. Such was the reformed corporation of Coventry. It had always been his misfortune to think that the Municipal Corporation Reform bill was a most disgraceful measure, and these transactions at Coventry had not altered his opinion. The mayor of Coventry, who had granted the use of the Guildhall to the Socialists, was afterwards applied to by a most respectable gentleman, of the name of Brindley, who had, in the most exemplary manner, and with rare ability, gone about delivering lectures with a view to the exposure of the horrors of the Socialist system. The mayor (to his credit be it spoken) without hesitation granted the rooms to Mr. Brindley. Now, the lecturer in favour of Socialism, had held the rooms for several nights, and Mr. Brindley anticipated that he was to have the same extent of permission, but the collector of market tolls found that Mr. Brindley was opening the eyes of the people of Coventry, and that it was time for him to stop his proceedings; he therefore called upon the mayor, and desired him to put an end to them. The mayor, a most accommodating personage, who had agreed to grant the rooms for lectures, both for and against Socialism, turned round, and at the solicitation of the toll-collector, absolutely refused to allow Mr. Brindley to lecture there any longer, and Mr. Brindley was obliged to have recourse to the theatre. He mentioned these facts to show the dangers of the system—that it did not operate only upon the lowest orders, but that it had influence upon high functionaries of the new municipal corporations. He (the Bishop of Exeter) ought to have stated that a requisition, headed by all the clergy and Dissenting ministers, begging that Mr. Brindley might be allowed to proceed, had been rejected by the Mayor of that time, who, he had been assured—nay, the fact had been boasted of by the Socialists, had since actually given money to the Socialists. He wished that Coventry was the only place of which the mayor had so acted, but he regretted to say there was another city where he had been assured the mayor had, in like 529 manner, very recently given permission for the Guildhall to be made—he would not say the arena, but the theatre, in which one of the most violent of the lecturers in favour of Socialism had held meetings. He would not name the city, because his information was not derived, as in the former instance, from a person who knew the fact. [The Bishop of London.—"It was Lincoln."] He thanked his right rev. Friend; it seemed the other city had been named; it was Lincoln. He had already stated, that the Socialists had a newspaper of their own, having a very wide circulation. It, however, was nothing compared with the circulation of their tenets by another newspaper, which he was told had the widest circulation of any weekly journal published. He alluded to the Weekly Dispatch—a paper which advocated the principles and cause of Socialism. This showed the extent to which those principles were driven before the eyes of the people, and he would read an extract from a letter under the signature of "Publicola," published in the Dispatch of February 24, 1839, which had been quoted by the New Moral World, to prove that the doctrines of the Socialists were becoming popular: —In my last letter I adverted to the cruel notions that prevail respecting the necessity of a true faith to salvation. A man, with respect to a future state, is no more responsible for his faith than lie is for the length of his nose, or the width of his mouth. For a Deity to judge of a man by his faith, would be as preposterous as to decide his eternal life in the extremes of misery or bliss by the colour of his eyes, the paring of his nails, or the name of his tailor." "A restraint upon faith has ever been of the most mischievous consequences; but let us not attach her to national education." "At this incipiency of a system of national education, it behoves the country to assume a manhood, to exercise a vigour of intellect, and claim the right of private conscience. Let the people beard and defy priestcraft to its teeth, whether it be Protestant or Catholic, or whether it come under the name or authority of Talmud, Koran, Mahomet, Vishnoo, Bramah, Zoroaster, Pope, or Satan.Thus had the doctrines of Socialists been upheld—thus had they had the benefits of the widely-circulated journal to which he had alluded. But this was not all. He had already told their Lordships that the Socialists had been desirous of possessing property on which persons were to live according to the scheme they were anxious to adopt. Though they could not buy such a property, still they had taken on a lease for 530 99 years a farm of 500 acres at no great distance from the town of Southampton. A clergyman, with whom he (the Bishop of Exeter) was acquainted, and who was allied to one of the greatest families of the country, discovered with horror that a large portion of the property was situated in his own parish, and from his curate a letter had to-day been received by a gentleman, who had put it into his hands, from which the following was an extract:—A Socialist community is now forming on a large scale in Hampshire, and the following notice has been issued by the Socialist leaders stationed there: A lecture will be delivered at 2 o'clock every Sunday; after which, if the weather will not permit them to return to their labour, there will be music, dancing, and singing.' The clergyman of the parish expresses his very great alarm at the fearful consequences that will ensue, if allowed to continue. Already the number of attendants extends 500 at these Sunday meetings.Now, he did not believe that in any agricultural district there could be found 500 individuals ready to give themselves up to such a demoniacal system as Socialism, but still it created dangers of a most fearful kind, which ought to rouse the apprehensions of those who had voluntarily taken on themselves the responsibility of guarding the morals of the people of England. There was now only one other point upon which he should say a word. The petitioners lamented the great impetus which had been given to Socialism by the presentation to Her Majesty at her court of Robert Owen last year. He alluded to this first, because it was specially mentioned in the petition, and secondly, because it had a bearing on that part of the case to which he had addressed himself. Such an incident could not be indifferent to the operations of the Socialists. He would not anticipate anything that was likely to be said on this subject on another occasion, but he must say this, that when the first Minister of the Crown took so very unusual a part as to present to his Sovereign, at her Court, an individual in the position of Mr. Owen, for the purpose of presenting an address from a society which appeared under so very questionable a title, that even if the noble Viscount had not had time to acquaint himself with its objects, still its title ought to have excited his attention. It was the address of the Congress of the Delegates of the Universal Society of Rational Religionists. That title, he contended, ought to have alarmed the noble Viscount. The no- 531 ble Viscount ought to have seen that it was not a matter of every day's occurrence; it ought not to have been a matter of chance, or idle, careless good nature, to present the individual charged with an address bearing such a title—a title which should have told him it was his duty to inform himself who the individual was, and who were those he represented. But the address of the Rational Religionists did not contain one word about religion. He would not inflict upon their Lordships the reading of it, but would merely say it gave a vague description of the views of the society. Now, he, (the Bishop of Exeter) stated, that the effect of this proceeding was, as the petitioners truly said, to give an important impetus to the system, and of that fact he had the following testimony contained in their own newspaper:—It has long been the fashion for the opponents of Socialism to stigmatize it and its professors as alike despicable and non-respectable. They have tried to wink at its progress.He did not believe that the country had done so, though her Majesty's Government had.But the self-delusion will endure no longer. In the presence of its founder at the Court of his Sovereign—in the claim of his disciples to be heard on the important question of human regeneration—they read clearly the onward progress of our views, and their ultimate triumph over every obstacle which ignorance may lay in their path.Such was the practical result of the most unhappy presentation of that unhappy man. What was to be done in the case was a question on which he was not at the moment prepared to give a definite opinion. He hoped, however, that their Lordships would hear from those who ought to act in such a case, that all impulse from others was unnecessary now that the facts had been brought to their notice, and that, at last, they would redeem their past oversight, and would assert the injured dignity of the law. He trusted the House would not again be told that this body, with their proclaimed objects—objects pursued with talent and energy—was to be disregarded. He defied the noble Matquess at the head of the Home Department to forbear proceeding, and he called upon him in the face of that House, the sanctuary of the justice of the country, to give their Lord, ships an assurance that night, that he would inquire into these facts now brought under his notice, and if, on inquiry, he found them to be anything like true, he would 532 not expose his Sovereign and himself to the reproach of having abandoned the best, the most sacred, and the most holy interests of mankind. The right rev. Prelate concluded by moving, that the petition be laid upon the table.
said, that having been so personally alluded to by the right rev. Prelate, he hoped their Lordships would excuse his rising to state that he had no intention whatever of making a motion so ill judged as, in his apprehension, would be any motion which should have the effect of calling for evidence on this subject. It was fair to these persons to say, that he never saw one of them, except Mr. Owen, before to-day, when one of them had waited upon him to put into his hands the petition which he had just presented. As for Mr. Owen, he had known him long, and had often held communications with him, as he believed he might say most Members of Parliament could say, for he believed that there was no one more known among Members of Parliament, or who was more known to Ministers of State, or, he might say, to various heads of the church, than was Mr. Owen. Having known him so long, he had thought it his bounden duty to present his petition to-night, stating what was the fact as to his not holding those opinions which were imputed to him, and stating other particulars respecting his manner of life, which he denied, and which all who knew him denied. With respect to those opinions, he knew what Mr. Wilberforce thought of Mr. Owen. Mr. Wilberforce knew him well, and when Mr. Canning, on occasion of presenting a petition from certain Socialists, which he had only done after having assured them of his dissent from their doctrines, went into a lengthened and deliberate discussion of the subject in the other House of Parliament, Mr. Wilberforce bore his valuable testimony to the high respectability, though he did not agree any more than Mr. Canning with the doctrines, of Mr. Owen. Mr. Wilberforce having expressed that opinion, it was hardly necessary for him to express, his dissent from the opinions, religious and moral, of those persons, if they bore the slightest resemblance to what had been stated by the right rev. Prelate to-night. But though he had heard much, and read much, concerning these opinions, and though he had heard them fully stated by Mr. Canning in his usual luminous and 533 felicitous manner, he had never heard till that night one word either of the moral or religious part of those opinions, if opinions they could be called, which were attributed to these persons by the right rev. Prelate. But the fact was, that Mr. Owen himself and all the Socialists were very willing, and, indeed, expressed the greatest anxiety, to have a full and thorough investigation of all the charges which had been brought against them. For his part, he would say, that after all his intercourse with persons of this denomination, they had never attempted to instill into his mind any such opinions as their Lordships had heard to-night; possibly it might be from the knowledge that he was inveterately attached to the contrary opinions, but they had never attempted to convince him that religion was an evil, or that marriage was a curse, or that the institution of property was an abuse. If, however, any man could hold that such doctrines as the right rev. Prelate had mentioned were likely to meet with success in this country, he (Lord Brougham) should consider such an expectation most chimerical. He might overrate the character of his countrymen for wisdom and practical good sense, but he had no apprehension that such opinions had any chance of making progress here, provided—provided, he said, that they were left to themselves. But he considered, that if any attempt were made to put them down by force, a different result might possibly follow. He might have overrated the force of truth, he might have overrated the feebleness of error, he might have overrated the character for good sense of his fellow-citizens, but from all his own experience, and from all the experience of all ages and all countries, he was convinced that he did not overrate the power of persecution to inculcate doctrines, of which nothing else could overcome the intrinsic rottenness, and which nothing else could be successful in inculcating.
The Marquess of Normanby
, before he proceeded to address a few words to their Lordships on the attack which the right rev. Prelate had made on her Majesty's Government in general, and especially upon the administration of that department over which he had the honour to preside, must declare that he, for one, had listened to many of the quotations which the right rev. Prelate had made with unmixed disgust. If the opinions of those, whose opinions the right rev. Prelate had under- 534 taken to state, were correctly represented, then he begged to say that he considered such opinions and such doctrines to be most objectionable, and if he could believe so ill of his countrymen as to think such doctrines had any chance of success among them, he should say that they must be destructive, not only of the individual happiness of those who imbibed their poison, but, in the end, of the best interests of the country at large. The right rev. Prelate had commented upon an answer which the right rev. Prelate supposed him to have given on a former occasion, but the right rev. Prelate had not quite correctly, though he was sure the incorrectness was unintentional, represented that answer. He had stated that no proceedings against the Socialists had been taken by her Majesty's Government, but that, as to any illegal acts that might be committed by those persons, Government would not shrink from their duty whenever they were brought before them. He could not be supposed, in stating that, to put forward any opinion that the Socialists had been guilty of no illegal acts, but he merely stated that none such had come to the knowledge of the Government. To the right rev. Prelate's address he had listened with great attention, abounding as that address did in sarcasm, and rising sometimes into the highest flights of solemnity, and sometimes descending to the weakest and smallest of puns; but, whatever impression that address might make on their Lordships, they would, he trusted, feel that the Government were right in leaving to the good sense of the country the correction of those errors. He, for one, deeply lamented that the right rev. Prelate had thought proper, as he had done, no doubt with the best intentions, to bring forward this subject; for, whatever were the intentions of the right rev. Prelate, he did not think that the effect of this discussion could be any other than to promulgate more widely and more notoriously the opinions and doctrines which were thus attributed to the Socialists. With respect to the Socialist newspaper which the right rev. Prelate had introduced to the notice of their Lordships, he must plead guilty to never having read it. This was the first time he had ever heard of the New Moral World; but did not their Lordships think that the circulation of that print would be more materially promoted, and, that many more persons 535 would read it than before, in consequence of the notice that it had received to night? As to the opinions themselves, as represented by the right rev. Prelate, if the right rev. Prelate had been correctly informed, he held them to be perfectly harmless from their absurdity, he held them to be such, as it was impossible that the well informed people of England would ever be found to tolerate. In the endeavours of the right rev. Prelate to fix the whole blame due to the existence of this system upon him alone, the right rev. Prelate had let a most material fact escape him—namely, that this system of Socialism had been in existence long before he came into the Home Department, and, in fact, for years. This, indeed, the right rev. Prelate had himself in part shewn by reading from a newspaper, published a year ago, certain statements respecting the popularity of the system. Why did the right rev. Prelate attempt therefore to accumulate the whole blame of the existence of this system upon him. The right rev. Prelate had also seemed to insinuate, that there was something in his conduct in the government of Ireland which seemed to give promise that he would probably be more inclined than most persons to favour the principles of this society, but he begged to tell the right rev. Prelate, that if he drew any such conclusion, he did so directly in the teeth of the evidence adduced before their Lordships' committee last Session, and in contradiction to the universal acknowledgment of their Lordships on that occasion. With respect to Mr. Owen, he had no acquaintance with that person, he only remembered what he had heard long ago, that he had a character for very great, perhaps excessive benevolence, but as to the doctrines which the right rev. Prelate attributed to Mr. Owen, he had no means of knowledge, whether they were acknowledged by Mr. Owen or not. At all events, the Social system, in some form or other, had for many years been more or less in operation. It was well known to their Lordships, that Mr. Owen had attempted long ago to establish such a society in America, but never, by all accounts, was there so signal a failure. In short, he considered, that there never was a more chimerical system, and he thought it was impossible, such was his firm faith in the good sense and strong religious feelings pf his fellow-countrymen, that any such 536 system could spread among them by any other means than those glanced at by his noble and learned Friend. He believed, that the power of persecution might give currency to these doctrines, while nothing else could. The Socialists, as represented by the right rev. Prelate, held no doctrine which was not directly adverse to some of the best established feelings of human nature. Nothing so absurd as an equality of property could ever become established here, the idea that equality of possession should confer equality of happiness could never prevail in this country, where the strongest feelings implanted in the breasts of all were those of individual affections, and individual ties. This he held therefore to lie totally impossible, and the apprehension of the success of doctrines so false was to him perfectly new. The right rev. Prelate asked why the Government did not take some steps in the matter, such as writing circulars to the magistracy, but he was not aware, that it formed any part of his duty, as Secretary of State for the Home Department, to adopt so novel a course.
The Bishop of Exeter
disclaimed having urged this, but said, that he had no objection to state, that he thought it would be a right course.
The Marquess of Normanby
It was not the usual course to send circulars to the magistrates. In cases of difficulty, they were accustomed to apply to the Secretary of State for advice, but no such appeals on the subject of Socialism had been hitherto made to the Home office. For his part, he should conceive, that the first persons whose notice would be drawn to this extraordinary state of things, if it were to any great extent to become prevalent, would be the clergy of the Church of England. They, he should expect, would be able to meet such a moral evil with the most effectual weapons. But if any points of information on the subject had met the eyes of the clergy, all he could say was, they had not come to his knowledge. Since the right rev. Prelate had given notice of his intention to bring forward this subject to-night, he had referred to the only sources of information respecting it which he had time to consult; he had referred to the reports of certain meetings of Socialists which had been held in the metropolis, and he must say, that he believed, that at this moment they were as far as ever from being a nu- 537 merous body. However pernicious those doctrines might be, there was something consolatory in the reflection that the mischief must have its natural effect, and that, like all such doctrines, they would, if let alone, destroy their own progress. He confessed his own opinion was, that Socialism was on the decline, but as to what the Government might think proper to do, in case the contrary, as the right rev. Prelate slated, turned out to be correct, it was not necessary on that occasion to explain. He would only say, that believing, as he did, that these schemes were wholly visionary, he also believed, that nothing was more likely to give them a substantial form, and practical influence, than persecution. Regretting, therefore, that the right rev. Prelate had thought fit to pursue this course, he had nothing more to add than his assurance to their Lordships, that the attention of Government had been called to the subject, and that he should certainly institute the proper inquiries into the subject, but that 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.
The Bishop of London
did not rise to discuss the question whether the noble Marquess had or had not discharged his duty with respect to this body of persons; he would only mention one or two points on which he did not assent to what had been advanced by the noble and learned Lord and by the noble Marquess, in order to prove that it was not the duty of the Government, or for the interests of the country, to take any steps towards the repression of this evil. He thought with the noble and learned Lord, that the divine force of truth would and must ultimately prevail; and it was perfectly true, too, he was convinced, that upon the more intelligent, and the more enlightened, and with the well-educated, these doctrines could not for any length of time maintain any considerable hold; but they were not the classes for whom he had fears, and in defence of whom, lest they should imbibe these errors, every precaution ought to be taken. The Government, as a Christian Government, were called upon, he held, in the exercise of their parental functions, to interpose a shield between these pernicious doctrines and the minds of those who were more than the rest of society liable to the dominion of passion; 538 they ought to do this, and they ought to do something, also, to prevent, if not adoption, yet at least propagation of these doctrines by those who, instead of being, as they ought to be, from their station, the protectors of society, became, by lending their aid to the advancement of such errors, its destroyers. For his part, far from depreciating the magnitude of this evil, he deemed the whole subject so important as to deserve the immediate attention of her Majesty's Government. He was very much inclined to think that when the noble Marquess said these opinions and doctrines were too absurd to succeed, he laid a fluttering unction to his soul in a way which would not be found to be justified. With those classes of society to which these doctrines were especially directed, the question was not whether they were absurd or no; but, provided the doctrines held out a prospect of gratification to those passions and appetites, which all the motives and restraints of religion were required to keep in order, and which nothing else but religion could control, he very much feared it was too probable that the doctrines would be swallowed and acted upon, however flagrant might be their absurdity. Some fewyears ago (he could not speak with accuracy as to the precise period) when the first place of meeting for the propagation of Social doctrines was opened in London, having made himself master of the facts, he thought it his duty to call the attention of Government to it by a private communication to the Home office. That communication was referred to the Attorney-general, and the result was, that the Government did not think that at that time they could interfere with success. There was then only one meeting of the kind in London; at present, however, he believed he was not outstripping the truth in stating that there were twelve or thirteen meetings of persons of this persuasion, who selected, of all others, the Lord's-day for the propagation of their poisonous doctrines. This did not look like the decline of Socialism, which the noble Marquess believed in. He feared that Socialism was steadily progressing. The publication of a newspaper showed that the resources of the body were not insignificant, at least that they were not on the decline. A case had been mentioned by the right rev. Prelate where a farm had been taken for the purpose of carrying into practice these doctrines; but it was not only in one county that a great amount of property was thus shown to be at the disposal of the body, but 539 in two or three counties the same was the case. He was aware of one instance in the island of Ely, where a farm had been taken, and buildings were in the course of erection for the accommodation of a Socialist community. Funds had been furnished by persons who were not moving in the lowest ranks of society; the possession of those funds showed, as it had been alleged, that this society was abetted and supported by many, he was going to say, respectable persons; but he asked, was any man in truth respectable who devoted his means to the purpose of poisoning the principles and morals of his fellow-creatures? Such a man might observe the forms of decorum, and control his passions for the purpose of obtaining a greater degree of influence in society; but there was no security for the respectability of any one who thus did his best to set at nought all the ties of morality, and all the rules of order. The fact of such contributions having been made by persons of wealth was unquestionable, he believed; and if so, he asked, were these symptoms of a declining society? Unless the Government interposed in some way or other— what should be the particular mode it was not his duty to point out—in the exercise of its parental functions—for he never should cease to hold, that every Christian Government was bound to exercise the functions of a parent towards its subjects—to save the lower orders from the progress of these mischievous doctrines, he feared that much evil must ensue. It was a laudable mode, it was the most salutary mode, of exercising the parental functions of Government, to diffuse more widely the principles of morality and order through the Established Church; to that they must look ultimately for the cure, under the blessing of God, of this and other evils which were now pressing upon the nation; but in the mean time, something, he was of opinion, ought to be done, and effectual steps taken, which some men might, indeed, brand with the name of persecution, but which, if guided by a sincere desire of correcting a great evil, would, under the blessing of God, on which alone the prosperity of the country depended, command the obedience, and deserve the gratitude of the nation at large. He had not spoken with the purpose of reflecting on the conduct of Government, or of any member of it; he only said, let them honestly pursue that course which might seem best adapted to put down this evil, negligent of what might be said of them by those who brand as persecution 540 every measure necessary for stopping the progress of opinions which, if actually disseminated, must sap the very foundations of society, and which, therefore, ought assuredly to be coerced. Before he sat down, he must not omit to mention a circumstance which had lately come to his knowledge. To the erection of a Socialist meeting-house in Coventry, two sums of money had been subscribed by the Members of Parliament for that city.
The Bishop of Exeter
said, that having heard this stated, he had written to those Gentlemen, apprising them that he should probably allude to the circumstance in the course of this discussion. One of those Gentlemen, the right hon. Member for the city, had gone out of town, but from the other hon. Member he learned that the statement was not correct.
The Bishop of London
resumed by saying, that he was glad that it was not true. He had been misled then by a statement in the last weekly publication of the Socialists, to the effect that 20l. had been subscribed for the purpose he had mentioned by the Members for the city. He must say, that when he read it he hardly thought it could be so.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, the personal observations which had been indulged in by the right rev. Prelate, rendered it necessary that he should address a few words to their lordships, particularly as circumstances which were not generally made the subjects of discussion in Parliament had been introduced into the debate, and it had been pointedly noticed that he was the individual who performed the formal office of presenting Mr. Owen at Court, at a levee, which he attended for the purpose of presenting to her Majesty a petition, which was signed by a large number of his fellow-countrymen. Now, he protested against the conclusion being drawn by their lordships which had, as it appeared, been drawn out of doors, that he was in any respect responsible for any opinions which might be held by those whom at any time he might formally present at a levee; he wished to disclaim all responsibility, not only for the opinions of Mr. Owen, whatever they were, but for the opinions of any other person for whom he might be called upon to perform the office of presenting him at Court. He could not admit that he, by such presentation, was indentified with the opinions of that person. In presenting Mr. Owen 541 as he had done, he had only performed a formal office. But while he said this, he begged to add, that in his opinion there was no reason why Mr. Owen should not attend a court for the purpose of discharging a constitutional duty. Mr. Owen had wailed on him in the summer, for the purpose of pressing on him the propriety of the enforcement of some great scheme for the universal redress of grievances, and the regeneration of society. He mentioned that he had an address which he wished to present to Her Majesty, and lie asked him how he was to present it. He told him that he must go to a levee and present it there. Upon that Mr. Owen had asked him to present him. He in reply said, somewhat imprudently perhaps that he would. He did not see anything in the character of Mr. Owen or in his situation which was to preclude him from that right which he enjoyed in common with every other of her Majesty's subjects. The right rev. Prelate had stated a very strong charge against the Government— namely, that they were not for the repression and suppression of these opinions, which, according to the right rev. Prelate's statement, were so unfortunately prevalent in the country. Those opinions he regarded as in the highest degree pernicious. He did not think them without danger because they were wild or absurd. The right rev. Prelate had stated, that in the end truth would prevail, and that that which was false could not last long, and he remembered that the noble Duke opposite had last session expressed a sentiment of great regard for the power of truth, and declared that he thought that truth must ever ultimately vindicate itself by its own power. This was a noble and generous and magnanimous sentiment, proceeding as it did from the noble Duke, particularly at his period of life, experienced in business as he was, and conversant as he had been with men of all ranks and all the nations of mankind. But he must own that he felt somewhat differently; he was less generous, less magnanimous perhaps, but living, as he did, in an atmosphere of calumny and misrepresentation, he felt the great power that was given to falsehood; he knew that falsehood was often permitted to be very strong for a considerable time, particularly when assisted by the active endeavours of those who were accustomed to abet its cause, and who could only live in 542 an atmosphere of calumny and malignity. Still, in the apprehensions which the right rev. Prelate had expressed, and in which he was no doubt sincere, he did not altogether concur. That societies were formed for the propagation of these opinions did not, in his opinion, afford cause for peculiar apprehension in this case; for how many societies had they seen formed in this country, not for the propagation of those opinions which the right rev. Prelate decribed only, not for the advancement of the opinions of Mr. Owen only, but of every species of opinions, whether moral, religious, or political — opinions of the wildest kind, which had not always the safety of those of Mr. Owen, arising from the extremity of absurdity which invested them. The right rev. Prelate had said that this society was an illegal one because it was formed in violation of the act of Parliament which prohibited branch societies and affiliations. But if this society was in reality so organized as to be within the act, let it be remembered how many other societies there were, instituted for the best and most pious purposes, which were in the same case. How was it possible, then, to carry that act into effect? Indeed, he believed it never had been carried into effect. If it had any effect at all, he thought it operated solely by means of terror. Numerous societies had branches, which were formed for purposes of the most laudable and pious kind, and therefore he must doubt whether the statute, if it could be called into operation, would be found at all effectual for the purpose to which the right rev. Prelate desired it to be applied. But then the right rev. Prelate said, that the object of the Socialists and Mr.Owen was to alter the whole framework of society and the whole framework of property, and therefore that their society was an illegal one. Possibly this was illegal. But it was not an illegality that could be made practical at the present day. What he would like to know that was established, that was sacred, was there, for the express purpose of destroying which there was not a society formed? Had they not, for instance, a society, with many respectable names attached to it, for doing away with all church establishments? But he did not know that the pursuing that object made that society illegal. Yet, if a society for altering the whole of our polity were, as the right rev. Prelate assumed, illegal, so also must be 543 one for altering any part of that polity. If a prosecution were to be instituted against every society which advocated any great political, moral, or religious change, he very much doubted whether such a prosecution would be effective. At the same time he should be most reluctant to say any thing to encourage these wild opinions: there was nothing he dreaded so much as the spread of them. Other persons might have had communications for many years with those who held these schemes; they might have listened to them; but, for himself, he must say that he always thought them to be the very wildest nonsense. He did not like the doctrine better because it came in the guise of a refined philanthropy and concern for the general interests of mankind. It did not appear to him less dangerous on that account; because it had often been found that those who professed the greatest and tenderest regard and compassion for mankind, became, in the course of events, the most ruthless and bloody. He did not rely either to any great extent on the absurdity of the doctrine as a means of safety. It was one of the observations made during the progress of the French revolution, that it was always that which was most absurd which led to that which was most sanguinary. He should, consequently, be very sorry to have one word to say which could palliate or excuse these doctrines, of which he deeply lamented the existence; but the question was, what was the prudent mode of dealing with them? For many years it had been the practice, not of this Government or of that which preceded it alone, but of many Governments before them, to abstain altogether from prosecutions on these subjects. Things of this kind had been allowed to go on unchecked and uncontrolled. This course was acted upon by a noble and learned Lord, not then in his place, both when he was Attorney-general, and when he was Solicitor-general. Prosecutions had been found to fail in their object, and therefore they were dropped. It was thought very doubtful whether they did not increase that which they were meant to repress; therefore societies of various kinds were in those days left unrestrained and uncontrolled. But for his part he must say he thought that a great and doubtful experiment; he thought it very doubtful whether that was the best course; he thought it very doubtful 544 whether the public mind could long bear the perversion of truth which was made by those who never stated anything but with an object of their own, and who were versed in the arts of calumny. He agreed sincerely with the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London), that the subject was one which demanded the very serious attention of the Government, which demanded that they should carefully watch it, and consider whether means might not be found for arresting the progress of the poison which was said to be making its way in the country, but which, he trusted, had not gone far as yet. In fact, he thought these wild schemes naturally spawned by the state of society in which we lived—by the distress in which great numbers lived at present—by the operation on the minds of those persons of the consideration that they might be better off than they are, and by their constant straining after a perfection which was unnatural, which we were nowhere told to expect, and which we had no authority for thinking to be possible, but which these persons urged on the pursuit after, with all that turbulent zeal and extremity of conduct which belonged to the present times.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
expressed his surprise that the Prime Minister should have been so ready to present such a person as Mr. Owen to her Majesty. The noble Lord read an extract from a letter which had been received in town from Sheffield, written by a Socialist, and who, speaking of Mr. Owen, said—"More recently he has been presented to the Queen; and this was a free-will offering on the part of Lord Melbourne, as Mr. Owen did not solicit it."
§ The Duke of Wellington
felt bound to return his thanks to the right rev. Prelate for having drawn the attention of the House with so much ability, to the system which had formed the subject of their consideration on that evening. That system, he feared, prevailed to a much greater extent than noble Lords at all supposed, and certainly to a much greater extent than he had himself imagined before he heard the speech of the right rev. Prelate. He had expected to hear that in some parts of the country the society prevailed to a serious degree, but he was not prepared to learn that in the rural districts its progress had proved so alarming. He at length rejoiced to find that the motion 545 of the right rev. Prelate had drawn from all parts of the House a declaration expressive of the disapprobation with which their Lordships regarded the doctrines and opinions which Mr. Owen and his disciples laboured to propagate. He quite agreed with the noble Viscount opposite, that it was an extremely difficult matter to determine what course it would be most expedient to take under the circumstances to which this system gave rise. It was no easy matter to say how it should be met —how it should be dealt with. He thought the thanks of the country were due to the right rev. Prelate for having proved, so clearly, that the societies called into existence by Mr. Owen were illegal associations. At the same time he doubted whether it would be possible or expedient for her Majesty's Government to prosecute the members of those associations under the acts of Parliament to which the right rev. Prelate had adverted; but some measure, short of directly proceeding against such a system, might be adopted. Without actually resorting to prosecutions, the Queen's Government might mark its sense of the atrocious objects which those associations pursued. Facts had that night been stated which showed, beyond a shadow of doubt, that some measures in reference to Mr. Owen's associations, some notice of them ought to be taken by the executive authority of this country, and mainly on account of the errors into which it was obvious the magistrates had fallen. It appeared that in a large manufacturing town they had committed themselves by a course of conduct in which the opponents of Socialism had not had fair play. Those disposed to uphold the institutions of the country by argument and reasoning, were denied opportunities of meeting the members of these illegal associations. Magistrates had granted the Guildhall of a large manufacturing town for the meeting of one party, and refused it to the other; they refused a similar permission to persons employed by the clergy and members of the Established Church to defend its doctrines and principles. The right rev. Prelate had also stated very serious cases in which attempts were made lo decoy persons from attending divine service, and induce them to visit dances and other entertainments of that nature; but if attention had been drawn by the Secretary of State to the subjects, it would have 546 warned magistrates of the illegal and atrocious character of such associations. That course would have been legal and constitutional, and not an unusual practice for Government to pursue. It would, he thought, now be desirable that some such measure should be taken. With these observations, he felt that he should now content himself. He did not desire to carry the discussion further, the more especially as the noble Viscount had acknowledged that he had committed an indiscretion which might as well have been avoided. That House might not, perhaps, be the proper place for discussing matters of court etiquette, but he believed the rule was, that no gentleman should present another unless acquainted with him. Now, it appeared that the noble Viscount was not only not acquainted with Mr. Owen's doctrines, but did not know his person.
§ The Duke of Wellington
was not aware that the noble Viscount had ever seen Mr. Owen. This misfortune, however, having occurred during the existence of these societies, it became still more desirable that Government should, in some form or other, indicate its disapprobation of the objects which they proposed to themselves, and the means, by which they sought to accomplish those objects.
§ The Earl of Galloway
observed, that the noble Viscount opposite had admitted that he knew Mr. Owen, and that that individual had entered into a detail of his doctrines and designs; he must, therefore, know the objects which Mr. Owen had in view, and could not be considered excusable in allowing Mr. Owen to use his name.
§ Subject at an end.