Charges of Blasphemous Libel
July 8, 1822 — Defence against blasphemous libel charges, Court of King’s Bench, Guildhall, London, England
Gentlemen of the Jury, I have anticipated all the stale and common-place logic which you have heard from my opponent in wig and robes, and as I could have almost told you to a letter what would have been urged against me from that quarter, I shall not answer the nonsense of my very mild, very tolerant, and very liberal accuser, but endeavour to stifle it by a little plain truth and common sense. What you have heard against me, Gentlemen, you ought to attend to with as much gravity as you would if you had heard a parrot repeat as much jargon: by discipline and lure a parrot might be made to say as much and with just the same feeling, and gold is the lure which has purchased declamation against me. You must not imagine for a moment, Gentlemen, that any thing that has been said against me by my hired and well paid opponent, has proceeded from any thing like conscientious feeling, or from any honester source than the hypocrisy of that disposition which will support any side or opinions for a fee.
I challenge my accusers to shew, that I have any sinister motives or lucrative ideas in this affair. No, Gentlemen, I have not. I am a married woman and a mother. I live on terms of affection and conjugal fidelity with my husband, whose earnings are regular and fully competent to make us comfortable; besides this, I have myself been bred to a genteel employ, as a lace-mender, and an embroiderer, at which I could earn double the wages that I have received from Mr. Carlile. I might almost say, that I have served him gratuitously, for I have received no more than the additional expence which has accrued from my absence, from home, and from my putting out my child to the care of a nurse. I have stood forward in this righteous cause, by and with the consent and advice of my husband. I am not related to Mr. Carlile in the most distant degree. I am scarcely known to him farther than as a customer who has regularly called for his publications. I have imbibed his principles, and I stand forward this day to defend them, and to say to you, Gentlemen, that I am so far proud of them; I am so far convinced they are virtuous, to the very extreme of virtue, that with a better heart and motives than the Christian Martyrs of old, who fell as ignorant and fanatical victims to Pagan persecution, I shall submit with pleasure and with joy to any pains and penalties, that may fall upon me from this worse than Pagan persecution. Worse, because it is hypocritical, and because, the pretended suppressors of vice are the actual suppressors of moral virtue!
But do not imagine, Gentlemen, that I anticipate a verdict of Guilty. I do not. I know it is a matter of chance, and not of law or justice, and as such my conscience makes me careless about your verdict. I know well, that if there be one honest, intelligent, and conscientious man among you, Gentlemen of the Jury, and I hope you are all such, you will never find me guilty of publishing, with a wicked intention, the pamphlets which have given rise to this Indictment. I know that all verdicts in such cases are regulated by the previous opinions and prejudices of the persons called on the Jury; and I know that the influence of my persecutors, in selecting a Jury of their own opinions, turns the chance of acquittal ten to one against me. But I fear not; I know my own heart, and I know that a dungeon cannot damp it.
I declare before God and my country that I have no malicious motive in publishing these pamphlets. Malice or wickedness never entered my bosom. I declare before God and my country that my motive is not gain. My chief ambition, and I glory in it, has been to serve and obtain the esteem of Mr. Carlile, his family, and the honest part of the public, and to annoy their robbers.
Standing before you, Gentlemen, in this state of mind, I feel, that I have a claim on your peculiar attention; for since I challenge my persecutors to shew, that my principles and motives are any thing but honest, pure and conscientious, I shall defend myself freely, and in the same spirit, hoping that my defence may please all, but not caring about whom it may offend.
I do not mean to deny that I did sell the two pamphlets which form the subject of this Indictment: I have no wish to put in such a defence. I did sell them to all enquirers whilst I was in Mr. Carlile’s shop, and had it not been for the risk of forfeiting my recognizances, I would have continued the sale to this day: however, it has been continued by others to my great joy and satisfaction. I have read every thing that Mr. Carlile has written and published, and I never read any of his publications but I would defend, and if further martyrdom be necessary for the propagation of principles, here I stand both ready and willing to fill the gap made by persecution.
Having said thus much, Gentlemen of the Jury, that you might have a full view of the disposition and character, as well as of the person before you, for I protest that I do not wish to deceive you on any one point, nor to make any thing like a hypocritical defence, I shall proceed minutely to examine the contents of my Indictment.
It first charges me with being an evil disposed and wicked person, disregarding the Laws and Religion of this realm, and wickedly and profanely devising and intending to bring the Christian Religion into disbelief and contempt among the people of this kingdom, and that I did sell and utter certain impious, blasphemous, and profane pamphlets, of which this Indictment sets forth extracts.
Now, Gentlemen, I answer, that I have no desire either to bring the religion or the laws of this country into contempt, although I am a believer in no kind of religion whatever, nor do I like the laws under which I live; but all I wish for on the score of religion is, that it be brought to the touchstone of free discussion, and that there shall be no persecution for matters of opinion.
This certainly cannot be deemed a bringing it into contempt: but the conduct of my persecutors is that which brings their religion into contempt, by proclaiming to the people of these realms, through these persecutions, that it cannot stand the test of examination and free discussion. If it be founded in truth, I wish to get at it, to know it, and to have a firm faith and belief in it, to have it exposed to all the attacks and scrutinies of free discussion, that there may be no longer doubt remaining about it, as is now the case throughout what is called Christendom itself: but whilst I see those who are well paid for it, interested only in supporting it by the strong arm of power and brute force, I am reluctantly compelled to doubt its truth, I am an infidel to it from a disagreeable necessity which I wish to see removed. It is a moral impossibility that truth can be brought into contempt by ever so strict a scrutiny, or by sarcasm, or ridicule, however poignant. The more you examine it, the more brilliant it appears. It has all the properties of the diamond, and one more, fire cannot destroy it, nor the lapse of time make it decay. It may be buried in falsehood, sophistry, and ignorance, but it is indestructible and will be continually rising to human view. It cannot be subverted by logic or rhetoric, nor defaced by declamation and abuse. It is persecution by brute force alone that can impede its progress upon the human mind: to that my persecutors resort to shelter their religion from examination and free discussion, and that strengthens my infidelity towards it.
So, Gentlemen, look which’ way you will, you will find that it is my persecutors, and you, if you support them, who will bring the religion of the country into contempt, and not I, who wish to have its truth made apparent to every mind, if there be any connected with it.
As to my disregarding the laws, and wishing to bring them into contempt: the charge is ridiculous! If they are just, what could a female do in regard to bringing them into contempt? I have said that I do not like the laws under which I live, and the reason why I do not like them is, because, they are not made by the consent of the people, through their representatives; from whence, in my opinion, all laws should emanate to be just and impartial. But, however, I might dislike or have disregarded them, I will shew you, Gentlemen, that I have violated no known law, and I will call upon you to dismiss this Indictment on the rground [sic] that it is founded upon no known law whatever. I must however reserve this point until the last, as I know it will not be a very pleasant one to the lawyers, and I have no wish to be condemned unheard as was lately the case of Mary-Ann Carlile.
The Indictment goes on to say, that I did sell a certain scandalous, impious, blasphemous, and profane libel, of and concerning the Christian Religion. Mark, Gentlemen, it does not say a word about its being false, and all the other charges amount to nothing, and admit of no other construction than the prejudices of different persons might put upon them. The word false has of late been purposely and most corruptly omitted from these Indictments, because, it would if inserted, authorize the defendant to shew the truth of a publication, and our present lawyers and rulers look at truth as the bigotted Catholic looks at heresy, they would burn its votaries without remorse and even with extacy. But do not lend yourselves, Gentlemen, to the horrid practice of the day, to pronounce truth a scandalous libel, and a punishable crime: — Denounce this infamous practice, and give the triumph to virtuous truth, in preference to vicious falsehood. Shew yourselves moral men, and do not support these corrupt and wicked purposes of the lawyers.
Scandalous, impious, blasphemous, and profane, are adjectives that mean nothing at all, in a legal point of view; and are epithets adapted solely to the vocabulary of violent scolds, in their seldom serious quarrels. Is it true or false, ought to be the questions for your consideration, for this alone can be the criterion to decide upon matters of opinion..
Now, Gentlemen, we come to the pith of the Indictment. It is necessary I should state to you, that it contains extracts from two twopenny pamphlets, which are filled with correspondences between Mr. Carlile aud his friends on the one hand, and his opponent, the Rev. William Wait of Bristol on the other. With two exceptions, and those extracts from the letter of a friend to Mr. Carlile, and one from him to a friend, the Indictment is filled with passages selected from Mr. Carlile’s answers to this Rev. William Wait, and I think it not a little disingenuous, that a clergyman, wallowing in luxury, amidst the rich pastures of his flock, is to pour forth his vituperations upon the motives and conduct of Mr. Carlile, and that whenever the latter attempts to give him a becoming answer, he finds either his wife, or some member of his family prosecuted and imprisoned for it. It should be recollected too, that this Parson Wait was the first to challenge this controversy; both his person and his name were alike strange to Mr. Carlile, and it becomes scandalous indeed to shut the mouth of a man in prison, whilst a host of interested and hypocritical priests are pouring forth their invectives upon him, both from their pulpits and their closets.
Our persecutors wish him to bear the abuse of every hireling priest and scribe, and not to answer without incurring further pains and penalties. But we will not suffer these dastards to pass unanswered. We will have free discussion; if on our side it leads to a dungeon; and if it be to be carried on from a dungeon. These are my feelings on this subject and occasion, and this my motive for braving persecution.
It will be your duty, Gentlemen, to examine the Letters as a whole, both the challenges and the reply, and not to rest on garbled extracts, some of which are but members of sentences, taken out in the most unfair manner: it is my duty to proceed to give you the best comment upon them I am able.
The first sentence selected is thus, from Mr. Carlile’s reply to some invectives from Parson Wait to him: “You are either an impostor as a Priest, or an idolator as a believer and worshipper in what is called the Christian Religion, but which I deem to be a mythology, as ridiculous in its present state, as it has been gross and cruel in its origin and progress.” Now, Gentlemen, what is to be made of this, or how can a malicious motive be attributed to me in publishing such a sentence. It is notorious that Mr. Carlile is not a Christian, and I wish it to be as notorious that I am not.” This view of the case being taken, Gentlemen, the case is seen in a very different light to what the Indictment alleges. A Jew, a Mahometan, or a Brahmin, would support the assertion of Mr. Carlile: but we view the matter in a different light from any of them: we do not feel, see, and act upon sectarian prejudices: we do not wish to set up one sort of religion against another: we view the whole as a mythology of the same character, only exhibited in various ways, and after different customs and manners.
How, or in what manner, you will say do you call all religion mythological? You shall have Mr. Carlile’s explanation from the same letter whence the sentence is taken.
Chief Justice: We do not want Mr. Carlile’s explanation here. I cannot admit it. (Mrs. Wright kept on not noticing him.)
He says, to this Parson Wait: “You, Sir, I verily believe, have not for a moment contemplated the omnipotent power which gives laws to nature. Whether we call this power God, or not, is of very little consequence, we can no more fathom it than the smallest animalcule, or even the vegetable, can fathom and be conscious of the cause and object of its own existence.” This, Gentlemen, is the ground upon which Mr. Carlile calls the Priest an Idolator: “ He looks through Nature up to Nature’s God,” which no Priest has ever done, and does not borrow his ideas of the Deity from books, which paint him in the most fantastic, and, I might add, blasphemous shapes and characters; for really, Gentlemen, if any person can claim a right to use the term blasphemous when contemplating the Deity, it must be he who does it upon scientific principles, and condemns as blasphemous those descriptions of the Deity in antiquated books, composed when the grossest. superstition raged among the human race, and when every species of science was either unknown or condemned as the work of what was called the Devil!
The man of Science is the only man who can have just pretence to speak of or to describe the Deity. He who is conversant in the sciences of Chemistry and Astronomy, and who has taken a deep view of the operations and varieties of nature, he alone, can justly pretend to speak of Deity or to form an idea of omnipotence. Nearly all professors of religion use the phrase Almighty God with just the same feelings and ideas as they have when they call an earthly monarch his most gracious Majesty.
It is in this view of the case that Mr. Carlile calls Parson Wait an idolator, or an impostor, because, in the letter wbich he answered, he convicts the Parson of gross ignorance in the science of Astronomy; in referring to passages in the Apocalypse which represent stars falling to the earth, as if they were but as ripe or blighted fruit falling from the branches of a tree; whereas, Astronomy, by the aid of the telescope, has taught us, that these stars are suns of stupenduous [sic] magnitude, each forming the centre of a solar system, such as that of which we are a portion, and in comparison to which, the earth we inhabit, and on which this book called the Bible says they are to fall, is but as a pebble.
Here then is proof that Mr. Carlile was justified in saying this Parson Wait was an idolator or an impostor. If his ignorance in the science of Astronomy was as great as his letter would seem to show, he was evidently an idolator from that ignorant state of mind, and if he knew more on the subject than his letter represented, he was evidently a hypocrite or an impostor, in endeavouring to give countenance to such nonsense as that of stars falling to the earth like a fig-tree casteth her untimely fruit! and about the heavens being rolled up like a scroll! The Parson may take which character he pleases, both he cannot avoid; but you, Gentlemen, cannot justly find me guilty of a malicious motive in publishing such a sentence.
The next extract in the Indictment is taken from the conclusion of the same letter, and if you are suprised [sic] at the impropriety of indicting such a sentence as the last, that surprise will be increased when you hear the next; it is thus:—
“Religion has been the chief source of war, and has vied with every other power and plague in inflicting misery and destruction on the human race. If you wish for universal and constant peace in preference to all other objects, you must advocate the Representative System of Government, the abolition of religion established by law, or the laws relating to it.” This, Gentlemen, I have called a sentence, but it is only a fragment of a sentence: to finish it should be added the words ” and the mutual toleration of all opinions.” This omission, Gentlemen, is the very pith of the sentence, for the next says: “ No other basis for universal and constant peace can be found.” But, methinks, I hear my persecutors of the Vice Society saying: we must not have a word about the mutual toleration of opinions: such notions make no part of our scheme.”
What then I would ask, Gentlemen, can be deemed blasphemous or profane in this sentence? The idea and expression is strictly moral and humane, and breathes nothing but a desire for universal and constant peace. Is it become a blasphemy and profaneness to wish for universal and constant peace among the human race, or to point out the means of attaining it? Is it blasphemy and profaneness to the sight and the hearing of my persecutors to recommend that best of all charities, a mutual toleration of opinions? Gentlemen, we are not the masters of our opinions any more than we were of bringing ourselves into existence. The former depends upon the organization of our frames as much as the latter. We can neither controul or regulate them by any standard, for their shades and differences are as infinite as are the organizations of mankind; and where shall we look for two human beings who so nearly resemble each other that we cannot distinguish them? I have met with none such, and I do not think that either of you have, Gentlemen. Then, I repeat it as an incontrovertible axiom, that there must be a mutual toleration of all opinions before there can be constant and universal peace.
But how, I may be asked, has religion been the chief source of war; and how has it contributed towards the misery and destruction of the human race? I will answer, Gentlemen, without speaking in disparagement of any particular sect or people, or any particular religion; that it is upon the pretence of supporting one kind of religion against the innovation of another, that has been the chief excuse for war. — Protect your altars and your religions, has been the cry of Priests in all ages and of all sects: for it is an axiom that a Priest is a Priest all the world over: it matters not to what religion he ministers, there is an universal sameness in their motives; to live in splendour and luxury without performing any productive labour: to demand the homage, and even the worship of the labouring and cheated multitude!
Chief Justice. — I cannot sit here to hear the Clergy abused in this manner. (Mrs. Wright proceeded without noticing this interruption.)
Can there be a question raised about this fragment of a sentence in the Indictment. Shall I call your attentions to the persecutions of the present day, in which you are actually engaged, and to which my persecutors call you to minister for their gratification? Shall I lead you back to the proscription of the Dissenters from the present established Church of this country, when to dissent was a crime, a crime which filled the gaols of England, and actually depopulated many parts of Scotland, a crime which has kept Ireland as a barren desert and a howling waste, whilst her inhabitants have been treated as beasts of prey; but such a crime as persecution could not, nor ever will put down, whilst, in this Island, it is now considered meritorious to dissent, and almost the only proof of the person being in reality a Christian? Shall I call attention to the time when the present established Church began to dissent from the then established Church of Rome, to the burnings and the tortures practised upon those who were then denominated heretics, for the same purpose as we are now called blasphemers, because we differ in opinion?
Where is the town in this Island that has not lighted the faggot to burn the bodies and save the souls of such heretics? Think of this, Gentlemen. Look back and ask yourselves the question, Whether, you could have given over the bodies of those abused heretics to the flames? You will say no: then mark me well, the present persecution of persons falsely called blasphemers, and the former persecution of heretics, will be viewed alike by the next generation. A few short months will put a stop to these persecutions upon the pretence of blasphemy, the parties now suffering persecution see their triumph close at hand, they glory in their career, and are full of bold determination to proceed.
Have I need to explain any further the evils of these persecutions, and to shew how the wars among mankind have been the wars of religion? Shall I shew you how the civil wars in the time of the first Charles and of Cromwell were strictly speaking religious wars? What shall we say of all the wars, rebellions, and famines in Ireland for three centuries past? What has caused them but a difference in opinion about matters of religion? It has been carried to such excess in that oppressed country, that now, the peasantry from despair, are set against every thing that is termed religious, and the torch of civil war and resistance to religious oppression is again blazing forth, whilst they have the wishes of all but tyrants, that their unity and courage may lead them, with the similarly situated Greeks, to emancipation and to independence.
Shall I take you back to the Crusades of the Christians against the Mahometans, and shew you the alternate triumph of the cross and the crescent, whilst millions of human beings were its victims, and it became the mere turn of a battle in France that prevented the Mahometans overrunning the whole of Europe? Read your own Holy Bible, read the History of the Jews, and say how far this indicted fragment is .consistent with truth. Read the history of the Courts of Inquisition on the Continent, or the wars of the Hugonots and Papists in France. What did the Christian Spaniards and Portuguese in taking and keeping possession of South America ? What millions of human sacrifices have they there made to the Christian Gods? But there is an end to their power; and liberty, glorious liberty, shall pervade that delightful Continent, in spite of the tyranny of Kings and Priests combined.
I call upon my persecutors, or their Counsel, to show us, to point out to us, the religion, that does not owe its power and propagation to the sword. I know, of none. History shews us none such since the word religion has made part of human language and human action: and we may trace the word religion from place to place, and from time to time, until we come to the conclusion that it is synonymous with war, misery, and destruction.
The Christian Religion has been called the religion of peace: but where shall we look for the practical part of the assertion? In this persecution ? Shall we look into Dorchester Gaol for it, and see a whole family immured for calling it in question, and for wishing to have it examined? — Where, where is the peace among Christians? When, when was it, or when shall it be? Let it begin now, Gentlemen. Discountenance this persecution. Tolerate the opinions which may differ from yours, and you shall find peace. There will be no peace until you do so, and experience teaches us that every persecuted opinion destroys its persecutors.
Now, Gentlemen, I presume we have found nothing like blasphemy or profaneness yet; let us proceed further and examine the next extract. It is not of Mr. Carlile’s writing: it is from the letter of a friend to him, written from Manchester, in which it is stated, that the writer admires the conduct and opinions of Mr. Carlile, but to avoid persecution he does as his neighbours do, goes to Church and repeats the Christian Creed, as loud as any of them. Such conduct is by no means singular: it-bas long been the practice of persons in office, and those we denominate the aristocracy. It is a case in point that these persecutions are immoral and mischievous: they make hypocrites from the terror they excite in weak and fickle minds, but they never make conscientious proselytes.
It is notorious that those who are denominated the higher class or the aristocracy throughout Europe, have boasted of an infidelity towards all religion for more than a century past, and it is only within these few years, since the labouring useful classes have begun to have their eyes opened about the matter, that the clamour about blasphemy and profaneness has been raised by the hypocrites. Infidelity has been viewed as a luxury by this pretended higher order of beings, and which, like all other luxuries, they wish to keep from the useful and productive class of mankind.
This, Gentlemen, is the comment I offer upon this extract; you have heard it read, and as it contains nothing more than a description of the Christian Creed, and as there is some little indelicacy connected with that creed, I forbear to comment further upon it; but in the extract before you there is nothing misstated, and if there be blasphemy and profaneness connected with it, which I deny, the same terms must be applied to your own creed. It is nothing more than a plain recital of the Christian Creed.
This, Gentlemen, concludes my defence to the first count and the first pamphlet, and I am sure that here you can see nothing like blasphemy, profaneness, or impiety, and recollect, that this is the whole of the charge against me. I am not charged with publishing any thing seditious or false, the charge is that of impiety, blasphemy and profaneness, published by me with a wicked intention, and you must see, Gentlemen, that the extracts in the first count of the indictment do not support the charge, but are the very reverse. The indictment is impious, blasphemous, and profane, because it is false and founded in falsehood, but not the extracts, from my publications, nor the publications altogether.
The second count of the indictment is a repetition of a portion of the first, consequently, does not require any observations from me; but the third count opens with extracts from another pamphlet, and why it was thought necessary to make the indictment embrace two pamphlets I am at a loss to conceive, because, if they are not separately blasphemous and profane, they cannot be so jointly. Perhaps the object was to deter Mr. Carlile from further publication of his writings or correspondence, by showing him that the two Prosecuting Societies, the Bridge Street Gang, and the Essex Street Gang, were determined between them to prosecute every thing that he writes and publishes from his shop. But I can tell the members of these societies, that it is Mr. Carlile’s pride and pleasure to have his sentiments discussed and examined, and he knows well it cannot be more effectually done any where than in this Court. These prosecutions can please or serve no one more than. Mr. Carlile, and therefore, as his agent here, I challenge his enemies to proceed and do their worst. He will never want persons to stand in this Court and defend his publications; therefore, no prosecutions, no fines, no imprisonments, will deter him, or make him shrink for a moment, from a straight forward assertion of the right of free discussion on all subjects.
The first extract in the third count of the indictment, is taken from a letter from Mr. Carlile to the inhabitants of Glodwick, a village near Manchester, in answer to one written to him, which noticed the glorious progress of revolution in both America and Europe, and the hourly decay, and the certain speedy dissolution, of the feudal system of government. In noticing the advantages arising from a Representative System of Government, Mr. Carlile observes: “A Representative System of Government would soon see the propriety of turning our Churches and Chapels into Temples of Science, and in protecting (not perfecting, it is a misprint) and cherishing the Philosopher instead of the Priest. Kingcraft and Priestcraft I hold to be the bane of society and to entail all those miseries which are now and have been constantly felt by the great body of mankind; those two evils operate jointly against the welfare both of the body and mind, and to palliate our miseries in this life, the latter endeavours to bamboozle us with a hope of eternal happiness! A frail and ridiculous notion!”
Now, Gentlemen, it requires very different optics and ideas from mine to perceive any thing like blasphemy and profaneness in this paragraph. No writer on political economy — no writer on polemics would excite the least interest, or get the least attention paid to him, if he took the other inside of this question. The case stands thus: The great body of the people are removing the film from their eyes which has so long kept them in a state of darkness and misery, and they will no longer be bamboozled with any further sophistry and delusion upon the points noticed in this paragraph. The whole of them are become points of general discussion throughout Europe and America; our opponents can find no argument but brute force, no reason but that such evils do exist, to meet the overwhelming attacks we make upon them; therefore, vain will be all prosecution, — vain will be all verdicts against them, — vain will be all fines and imprisonments, for where it is possible to excite discussion, truth will triumph, and in this country discussion cannot be stayed, neither by corrupt laws, nor a corrupt administration of laws-one single printing press that is free, is a sufficient buttress for truth against the assaults of a thousand that are hired and corrupt. The press is our weapon and our defence; the verdicts of juries on matters of opinion are as indifferent as they are preposterous in our sight.
The opinions we support by argument and fair discussion, and to which our enemies give us no answer but in the shape of brute-force persecution, are spreading throughout the seminaries of literature in Europe, and even throughout despotic Germany we find both professors of the arts and sciences and students, are Republicans and Deists. Similar indications begin to display themselves in Russia, and we hear of professors removed because they inculcate what my persecutors, and all other despots, call dangerous opinions, but which are spreading in a ratio with the violence of the opposition made to them.
If you, Gentlemen, to day, say, that I have published what is blasphemous and profane, you will be despised for it to-morrow. Opinions must no longer be subject to persecution. It will not do, Gentlemen, and if I am to be a victim to such persecutions, I have no fear that I shall not survive them, and live to reap a reward in the triumph of reason and free discussion.
As to the assertion in the paragraph now under notice, that it is a frail and ridiculous notion to hope for eternal life; it is sufficient that I say, the sciences of Astronomy and Chemistry have annihilated every hope of the kind with those who have examined and who understand them.
I come now, Gentlemen, to the last extract, which is longer than any of the former, but upon which I shall have but very little to say, as it consists of private matter which passed between the aforesaid Parson Wait and Mr. Carlile, and forms part of an answer to one of the Parson’s letters, and to some of his denunciations and invectives.
Really, Gentlemen of the Jury, it is not to be borne, that such a man as an interested priest should pour forth his denunciations and invectives against a man of opposite opinions, and that the latter. cannot reply to him without dooming some member of his family to a dungeon. Is this fair play? Call you this toleration? Is this a land of liberty? Or I would ask on which side does the licentiousness lie in this case ? Parson Wait began the correspondence, by challenging the opinions of Mr. Carlile, after he was confined in Dorchester Gaol, in the most domineering and insolent manner; and what man of spirit would sit quietly under such impudence and insult? Mrs. Carlile is now doomed to two years imprisonment merely for selling one of her husband’s letters to this old hypocrite, which was an answer imperatively called for by the infamous insinuations in the Parson’s letter.
Chief Justice. — I cannot suffer such language to be used here. (Mrs. Wright still persisted as if he had not spoken.) This is what is called hearing both sides of the question! Go on, ye hypocrites of the Vice Society! Go on, all ye public robbers of whatever gang! — We will brave and defy your persecutions, and triumph over you at last! We will have free discussion! We will brave the dungeon or the faggot — the torture, or the scaffold, like the sturdy martyrs of old, and vain shall be all your persecutions! As the blood of the Christian martyrs became the seed of the Christian Church, so shall our sufferings become the seed of free discussion, and in those very sufferings we will triumph over you!
Let it not be thought, Gentlemen, there is any thing in this last extract that I shrink from defending. There is no word of it that conveys an opinion but coincides with mine, and I only forbear quoting and invesitgating [sic] the whole of it, because, Mr. Carlile has expressed his contempt for the Parson’s religious tracts by a figure, which though not proper for me to notice to you, contains nothing that can bear out the charge of the indictment against me.
He says, in one part, he would not put the Bible as a whole into the hands of his children, because it abounds in fictions and obscenities. He certainly, as a father, has a right to preserve the morals of his children from every thing that can contaminate them, and if the latter part of the sentence was false, why was it not charged as a false libel? Why has not the Counsel for the prosecution contradicted the phrase ? There is a reason why, because, in truth, he could not.
Mr. Carlile says, he would put the Book of Proverbs into the hands of his children, because every one knows, that, with a few exceptions, it is an admirable compendium of morality, which it would well become my persecutors to study and to practice.
As to that part of the extract where Mr. Carlile says, he considers the Jewish and Christian Religion to be a mythology of the same description as the Paganism of old, it is only expressed as an opinion which he holds, and I will add which I hold, and which is held by millions in Europe. He does not go out of the way to lug in any comparisons, but says, Jehovah is the Jupiter of the Jews; and certain it is, that the Jews never held such sublime notions of their Jehovah, as the Grecians and Romans did of their Jupiter. If the latter was worshipped in statues made of metal, wood, or stone, the former was ever considered by the Jews, as a local deity, and ever present in the ark, the tabernacle, or the temple. The Jews had no idea of an omnipotent or an omnipresent God. A contemptible idol was all that ever they worshipped. Of the God of Nature they had no conception; for it is evident that they attributed every kind of whim, caprice, and passion to their Deity, such as they had seen in the character of different chieftains.
As to the charge of the Christian Religion being a mythology, it is only necessary to define its elements to come to that conclusion. The wife of a carpenter is called the mother of a Christian God, but, although the woman is married, it is asserted, that the husband is not the father of the child. Surely this is the most ridiculous of all the mythologies that ever existed. If there be any thing harsh in these words, Gentlemen, it is no fault of mine; you all know that such is the import of the two Gospels of Matthew, and Luke. I have no wish to make any unpleasant remarks upon the subject, and I am sure when you coolly weigh all the passages selected into my indictment, and compare them with the context, and the correspondence which gave rise to them, you will find there is not a blasphemous or profane expression, but such as fairly and naturally grew out of the matter of discussion; and if that matter of discussion be improper, recollect. Gentlemen, that it was the well-fed priest who first provoked it.
I have already said, that the manner in which the indictment is drawn up is blasphemous and profane, because, it applies epithets which are false, and allusions which are profane; at the conclusion of each count it repeats, that the extracts selected into the indictment are to the high displeasure of Almighty God. Now this is abominably blasphemous, because it makes the Deity a party to these prosecutions, and upon the same principle he has been made a party to all the prosecutions for matters of religious opinions, for his name has been used in every indictment from the first burning of heretics in this country, down to the present prosecution. This is blasphemy indeed! here is a definable blasphemy, which is not the case in the charge against me; and, Gentlemen, if you are conscientious, and act conscientiously upon the call of my opponent in wig and robes, you will express your abhorrence of this blasphemous indictment, and not of my harmless and moral publications. It is making the almighty a puppet to support the wicked pretensions of my persecutors, and to din your ears with some horrible expressions for the sole purpose of exciting any latent prejudices which they hope to find in your bosoms.
Even to this day, in certain indictments, it is still the practice to say, that the accused has been instigated by the Devil, whilst throughout this Island, there is not one in ten who believe any such nonsense, or in any such an animal as the Devil is represented to be with his horns, his saucer-eyes, his tail, and his cloven feet. It is shameful that such practices should be tolerated in our courts of law, which should rather lead the public mind forward to improvement than attempt to foster and retain all the antiquated and horrible prejudices and ignorances of former generations. It has been well observed, that lawyers are like mile-stones, they are stationary indexes, which denote the advanced distance of the public mind.
I shall beg leave, though without having obtained or even solicited his permission, to avail myself of the assistance of a very able writer, whose exertions in the cause, in which I am engaged, ought not to drop unnoticed into silence, but merit a conspicuous place in EVERY trial of this kind. This is a person of respectability as a private, and celebrity, as a public man, he has not thought it unworthy of himself to step forward in the sacred cause of liberty, in advocating the propriety of a conscientious assertion, as well as profession of sceptical principles, he maintaining the right of publishing as well as of thinking, conceives probably, that, if an individual is punishable for the former, he ought to be punishable for the latter. He is, moreover, a minister of that very religion, which is attacked in some of the works printed at Mr. Carlile’s; and, he thinks, no doubt, with Bishop Watson, that “ The Bible, having withstood the learning of Porphyry, and the power of Julian; having resisted the genius of Bolingbroke, and the Wit of Voltaire, will not fall by the force” of such publications. This gentleman is the Rev. Mr. Fox. I now beg leave to submit his observations to your serious attention, Gentlemen of the Jury, and to read them publicly before you.
Source: Report of the Trial of Mrs. Susannah Wright, For Publishing, in His Shop, the Writings and Correspondences of R. Carlile; Before Chief Justice Abbott, and a Special Jury, in the Court of King’s Bench, Guildhall, London, on Monday, July 8, 1822 (London: R. Carlile) 1822, pp. 9-25.