Annual Address to the Ladies’ National Association
November 14, 1871 — Annual Meeting, Ladies’ Association, Liverpool, England
FRIENDS AND FELLOW-WORKERS,
The conflict deepens! That we are, and have been all along, contending for more than the mere repeal of these unjust and unholy Acts of Parliament, is proved by certain signs, which are becoming more and more clear and frequent. We were, perhaps, ourselves unconscious, some of us are probably yet unconscious, how great is the undertaking upon which we have entered. It only very gradually dawned with perfect clearness on my own mind, that it is the old, the inveterate, the deeply-rooted evil of prostitution itself against which we are destined to make war. Had some one arisen in 1863, or at any time before this legislation was enacted, and called upon us to arise and join in a great crusade against this national, and socially-sanctioned abomination, we should scarcely have responded. Few, at least, would have had courage to respond. It would have appeared too herculean a task to dream of. God knew that He should not then find faith on the earth to this extent; and the way for the preparation of the needful faith and energy was opened up by the permission of an evil, terrible in itself, but out of which good will arise. The Contagious Diseases Acts were enacted; the fact became public; it was the harsh grating of the closing prison door which was to shut us in, as a nation, to our present state of moral wretchedness; it was the clank of the chain, dexterously fastened upon the prisoner, while as yet he had scarcely realized his own captivity. It woke us up. Still blind to the vast issues and meaning of the conflict for which we were arming ourselves, we arose, and demanded that, however sunk in depravity our nation might be, its depravity should at least not be sealed with the seal of legal sanction and State approval. We have been educated by the labours of the last two years. In opposing this legislation, we have gained enlightenment, faith, and courage. We perceive that the repeal of these Acts is the key to our future work, as our opposition to them has been the needful training for that work. We now see that all things are possible with God; that nothing can resist the progressive force of a pure principle, and the aroused conscience of a great nation; and we are led on, step by step, to contemplate a victory far beyond the defeat of this unholy law — i.e, the overthrow of that permitted, systematic vice in the midst of us, which necessitates a permitted and systematic sacrifice to destruction of a section of the community for whom Christ died.
“What!” some will ask, “are we to believe that there will ever be a time when sexual vice will be put down; when that which has been from the beginning shall cease to be?” In reply I should wish to shew you that I do not indulge in any utopian dream. The perfectibility of the human race, in the sense in which some regard it, appears to me in the light of a utopian dream. I believe that the same tendencies will continue to exist in human nature which have existed in it from the beginning of the struggle between good and evil. “He that letteth, will let, until he be taken out of the way.” Men and women will lapse into error, into sin. I believe that the conflict between good and evil, so far from dying out, will become keener and fiercer as time goes on; but that the faithful and uninterrupted efforts of the servants of God to establish the supremacy of conscience, and to bring every impulse of man’s lower nature into subjection to God’s laws, will be finally-crowned by an act of the Divine will, whereby the original principle of evil itself will be expelled from the earth, and the reign of righteousness will be established.
Elijah, the companion of God, was a “man of like passions” with the rest of his fellow-men. He had within him that which, by the simple acknowledgment of another ruler within his own breast, might have transformed him from the ardent apostle of holiness into a fiery zealot in crime. In him, the whole man was under the dominion of the divinely enlightened conscience, yet the passions of the man were not extinct. What is possible for an individual is possible for a nation. There have been times when the lower passions among a people have obtained complete mastery. There have been times when the enlightened conscience of a nation has reigned supreme, holding in check all the baser forces. Between these extremes history presents an infinite variety of degrees.
The assertion, that “prostitution has existed ever since the world began,” upon which is based the assumption that it must for ever exist, has gone forth unchallenged. It requires to be examined, That the world has never been free from sexual irregularity, in some form and degree, I allow; but I know enough of history to be aware that there have been times in the world, countries in the world where prostitution, as an allowed, a recognised, and an encouraged evil, has been unknown. Some will aver, that grosser or more secret evils must have prevailed where such was the case. Not so. Those periods to which I refer were marked by a general simplicity of life and purity of manners, and by the exhibition of manly and womanly virtues; and I must observe, in passing, that such periods were ever distinguished by this one mark — the mark of a common standard of purity, and an equal judgment of the sin of impurity for both sexes alike; of a just severity towards the man as towards the woman, of Christian forbearance and tenderness towards the woman as towards the man. Nevertheless, if this could be disproved, and the dedication of a portion of female society to the service of the lusts of men could be proved to have been an institution established in each succeeding nation and generation, in one unbroken chain, I would not suffer such proof, for one moment, as an argument on which to base the assertion that the chain must still continue unbroken; rather, I will undertake to argue from this very ground, to the overthrow of this wickedness — to prove to you that, simply because the shameful thing had existed since the world began, therefore it shall no longer exist.
Where, in all God’s word, do we find any warrant for believing that impure institutions and depraved societies must continue to exist, simply because they have existed? The history of the world, on the contrary, recorded by both the sacred and profane historian, presents to us a constantly repeated destruction of all institutions, social or political, which have become ripe in evil. All evil things are self-destructive; they totter and fall, each in their turn. State after state having filled up the measure of its follies and sins, falls much more through its own miserable weakness, than through blows dealt from without. Take the case of American slavery — and I do not apologise for the frequent allusion I shall make to it, inasmuch as it affords, in many points, so instructive an analogy with the events of the present hour — before that national iniquity had had time to paralyze the inmost heart of the people, the national conscience in America had pronounced its doom, and declared that it should exist no longer. Yet in the end it too perished suicidally. The moral force of the abolitionists had done its work; but the resistance was still strong, and it was needful that the slaveholding oligarchy should itself deal the last blow at its cherished institution, by rushing upon that war which brought the whole fabric of iniquity crashing to the ground. Similarly, in the warfare in which we are engaged, it is the awakened conscience of the nation which must do the work; yet it may be that that work also will not be completed until the prostitution-upholding section of the community has committed some strange, wild, suicidal act, on the nature of which we cannot speculate, but which will hasten to its end the vicious system which it is their desire to perpetuate under certain conditions prescribed by themselves.
When speaking of the future, and of possible agencies which may be needful to complete our victory, yet of which we ourselves would not have made choice, I have sometimes been misunderstood. It has been supposed that I aimed at some popular movement other than that which rests upon moral suasion alone; that I would “set class against class,” and encourage some revolution very different from that silent revolution in the thoughts and sentiments of the people for which we are labouring. I should like to say here emphatically that such things are very far from my thoughts; and that I believe that, if we were to begin to base our hopes and endeavours on anything else except the force of the awakened conscience of the people, from that hour we should cease to advance: failure would mark all our projects. With all my heart and with the deepest faith in the invisible forces upon which alone I rely, I endorse the noble words of the American abolitionists, (and we too are contending for the abolition of slavery in its most hideous form,) “ When the necessary revolution in the mind of the people is completed, that in the institutions of the country will follow as the day the night. Although we cannot foresee the exact time, nor the precise way in which slavery will be abolished, we know that its doom is sealed, for we believe that God is just. The abolition of slavery we recognise as the great task assigned to this generation in this country. We accept it as our appointed work, and are grateful to be permitted to assist in the evolution of this magnificent event. The scorn of the world, the anathemas of the Church, the sacrifice of all vulgar objects of ambition, may be well endured for the promotion of a cause, in the issues of which are involved the deliverance of the slave, the redemption of the country, and the progress of the race.”
Nor do I the less fervently endorse the admonition which accompanied the above; “It is our business to give them (the defenders of slavery) no peace in their wickedness, to set their sins for ever in order before them, to demonstrate to them the folly of their crimes.” Loving and desiring peace, yet we are well content to excite the displeasure of those who continually wonder at us, because, instead of being content to live at peace with our neighbours, we insist on plunging into perpetual strife. The advent of the Prince of Peace proclaimed “peace on earth and good will to men;” yet the same Son of God declared, “I am not come to bring peace on earth but a sword.” The antagonism of principles as opposite as heaven and hell, implies conflict — war without truce until one side is victorious; then, and not till then, can there be a peace worthy of the name. I hope I shall be pardoned by my friends, especially those belonging to the Society of Friends — themselves ever in the van of opposition to all social evils — if I have made use of strong expressions, such as are instinctively used by those who are engaged in what may be called a hand to hand conflict.
It would be unwise to shrink from the contemplation of all the possible consequences of the “moral uprising” in which we are taking part. All evil things, I have said, are suicidal. We may endeavor to slay any particular evil quietly and gently, or we may desire that it should silently wither away before the breath of the Spirit of God. But how can we look back on history, or study the progress and completion of any great moral reform, without being struck by the fact that the upholders of any abuse, in their effort to retain their position and privileges, have again and again plunged the whole of the society in which the struggle was maintained, into woes which the reformers neither created nor foresaw? May it not be so again? It may be that those who rebel against moral restraints, and the stern purity required by Christ, who secretly desire the continuance of a social system which would secure license to those who desire license; — it may be that this now powerful section of society will prove so strong in its opposition that, refusing to yield to moral pressure and the demands of those who shall attempt to embody a purer morality in purer laws, they will so act as to bring down vengeance, in one form or another, not only on their own heads, but on the whole country, on ourselves and on our children. Partakers of the outward woe we will be, if God so wills; but never, even to save our country from temporary, necessary, and purifying calamity, will we consent to be partakers of their inward corruption, or to cease to charge them openly with their evil deeds. We pray God that these evils may be averted, and that our national sins may not have to be washed out in blood; and trusting in His arm alone, we never will consent to accept the aid of any arm of flesh: but it is well not to be unprepared for all that we may yet live to see; and those are mistaken in their judgment of us who call us revolutionary when we speak thus, and when we think it right to remind you how repeatedly the words have been fulfilled in the history of the world, which God spake through the mouth of the Jewish prophet, — “Therefore thus saith the Lord; ye have not hearkened unto me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour; behold, therefore, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine.”
This movement has awakened echoes in distant parts of the earth. In many countries besides our own, there is a sound of the restless shaking of long-worn chains. It is a movement, as I said, far, far beyond the obtaining of the repeal of certain Acts of Parliament passed by the English House of Commons. Great and noble things are about to be accomplished, and the more surely, the longer and more agonizing is our struggle. The heart and mind of a nation are never stirred from their foundations without manifold good fruits. “Whatever happens in the world has its sign which precedes it. When the sun is about to rise, the horizon assumes an infinite gradation of colours, and the East seems on fire. When the tempest is coming, a hollow sound is heard on the shore, and the waves heave as if stirred by some strange impulse. The innumerable and diversified thoughts which conflict and mingle on the horizon of the spiritual world, are the sign announcing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. The confused murmur and the internal movement of peoples aroused, is the heralding sign of the tempest destined soon to pass over trembling nations. Hold yourselves ready, for the time approaches.”
I said that the far reaching character of our agitation is indicated by certain signs, which at the first were lacking, but have now become evident. Of one such sign I cannot speak without sadness. Some men who worked with us at the beginning, shocked with the cruelty and illegality of the Acts, fall off when they understand the thoroughness of our crusade, and that it is directed not only against a chance cruel result of vice, but against the tacit permission — the indisputable right, as some have learned to regard it — granted to men to be impure at all. The touchstone of the central principle of our movement is too severe a test for such men, and they fall away. Let them leave us! Sad as such defection is, the cause we labour for is worth a double and a treble sifting of the means and forces employed in it.
The increased anger of our opponents — which finds expression in a portion of the Press of this country — is another sign of the recognition that it is not only against unjust and immoral legislation that we are at war, but against the guilt of society at large, in permitting and conniving at the regular and constant sacrifice of a multitude of women to the basest and most shameful uses.
The recent paroxysm of wrath which we have witnessed in some of the London newspapers is, to my mind, a very reassuring and encouraging symptom in relation to the progress of our cause. We read in the Gospel history that when our Lord cured any one who was the subject of demoniacal possession, the moment of exorcism was marked by a shriek of pain from the dislodged inmate. “The unclean spirit,” we read, threw its victim upon the ground, “tore him, and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” The national exorcism has begun. Already the pangs of severance from the society which has miserably harboured them till now, causes the unclean spirits which torment us as a people, to cry out in a voice of mingled rage and terror. Is not this an occasion for joy; a reason why we should take heart? The disciples of our Lord came to him, with great joy, and said, “ Lord, even the devils are subject unto us in thy name.” “What a word is this,” it was spoken also of Him, for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.” Again he said, “This sign shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils.” Historians of the early Christian times record how the Christians triumphed over wicked and obscene spirits; how they insulted and baffled the evil one wherever they found him, forcing him to remove his lodgings from the souls and bodies of men, “by a writ of ejectment in the name of Jesus Christ;” and how “Christians of the meaner sort” even, did, without any ceremony, but only by calling on the name of Christ, what was beyond the power of all the heathen sorcerers, with their Ephesian letters and magical incantations; how, not from persons alone, but from every temple wherein they were enshrined as gods, the evil spirits were cast out. Their shrines were overturned, principalities were spoiled, false deities dethroned, and the false lights quenched by the true. “Apollo staggers senseless, stunned by the name of Christ.”
See the signs of terror in these writers of the present day! At first they said we were a despicable little clique, whose crotchet would soon be laughed to the winds. Now they are telling to the world our “extraordinary success,” and that we “have roused every town and village in the land.” Falling from one extreme to another, in neither case do they speak precisely within the bounds of truth. I could mention a few villages in the land which have not yet been roused; but fear suggests to them the sound of gathering forces on every hand, and the approach of an invincible foe — and truly we are an invincible foe. But the source of our power is hidden from them; they are perplexed, amazed; they seek hither and thither for the cause of our success, but cannot perceive it. How, indeed, should they perceive or understand it — men without faith? for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual, invisible, impalpable, and mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. How should they read the secrets of God, or rejoice in the steady and awful progression of a moral idea, which has taken root in the conscience of the mass of the people? We may say, equally with the social reformer I have already quoted; “the truth that we utter is impalpable, yet real; it cannot be thrust down by brute force, nor pierced with a dagger, nor bribed with gold;” nor can it be silenced by angry speech, invective, or calumny, nor yet by the silencing of our own voices in death.
To incur dislike and scorn, to be arraigned before the public as evil doers or as fools, is to some natures scarcely a trial at all: with Garrison they would feel that “a shower of brickbats had a remarkably tonic effect, materially strengthening to the backbone;” but there are some to whom the personal attacks, to which we have been and shall be subjected, are exceedingly painful. Themselves full of goodwill to all, they desire the goodwill of all in return, and are grieved when they find that they cannot serve God and have the universal goodwill of man.
It is true that there is a peculiarity both in the work to which we are called, and in the weapons used against us, as women, by our opponents, which imparts a special sting to the pain which must be endured. The charge of immodesty is, perhaps, harder for us to bear than many other imputations. The pitiful appeal of some of the Christian martyrs who shared the fate of the gentle St. Agnes, is one which we can well understand. They could endure any description of torture rather than an outrage on modesty. “Give us up to the wild beasts,” they said, “or to death by slow burning, or famine, or the rack, but leave us our garments.” The enemy has found the vulnerable point, as he supposes, for his attacks on Christian ladies: he directs his arrows, pointed with the words “indecent, prurient, shameless,” straight at the clefts in our armour. But we are not going to die of these wounds. On the contrary, their poison is converted into healing, and we rise again for the combat stronger than before.
I suppose that in every trial, the tried person is quick to perceive some special bitterness peculiar to that form of trial imposed upon himself. Yet when I read of what the promoters of great reforms have had to suffer in past times, it seems to me as if we had had as yet, nothing, positively nothing, to suffer, worth speaking of, from the outside; (of the heart’s secret bitterness, which only the heart itself knows, 1 do not dare to speak.) There is amongst us now, in our land, one who is helping us and following with her whole soul our present movement, who could bear testimony to sufferings endured in a noble cause. One fearful night her husband’s house — in Boston, New England — was fired by the enemies of emancipation; one of her children was destroyed, and another scarcely saved. She herself rose from her bed with her infant of a fortnight old, to be removed to a place of safety; but Boston streets on a winter night were no place for new-born infants, and the baby died. There are other living witnesses to the fact that the days of persecution have not passed away before the progress of civilization; and many who have left this earthly scene, rise to my memory, who were hung without trial, or tom to pieces by mobs, for the crime of advocating freedom for every child of man. One such, a youth, was deprived of all his earthly goods, even his books and clothes, and was sentenced to the “moderate” penalty of receiving twenty lashes in the market place; and there “by torchlight, just as the chimes were ushering in the Sabbath morning, this brutal punishment was inflicted. Fearlessly he bore the suffering; but at the close he uttered a word of thanks-giving, which was rudely overborne by oaths and cries of ‘Stop his praying!’” A stranger dragged him into his house and dressed his wounds; he left the place on foot, but never obtained redress, nor were his books and property ever restored to him. “The time would fail me” — to speak of even a fraction of that and of other noble bands, who resembled the faithful of old, and whom, by God’s grace, we ourselves shall follow — “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
I am sorry to observe — not among our associated workers, but in some among that outside fringe of those who have helped and supported us — a waning zeal and a failing courage on the occasion of every fresh attack made upon us by the public journals. It is very plain that there are many who cannot even for a principle, of the soundness of which they are convinced, brook the frown of the tyrant “society.” Their courage melts away, their high standard is imperceptibly lowered, in drawing rooms where this crusade must not be spoken of even in whispers, and in the presence of respectabilities, official, ecclesiastical, or social, whose conventional propriety would be impaired by appearing to know of the existence of persons engaged in so “unsavoury” a work.
These weak friends to our cause belong to the class of those who are capable of receiving good seed, but who, when tribulation or persecution arise, fall away. To stand well with their fellow-creatures all round, seems to be the sum and end of their ambition. But in a time like the present, that end can scarcely be attained by those who are true to themselves and to God; for there are periods, and this is one, when we seem to hear the charge uttered with more than usual solemnity — “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Observing the feeble, wavering conduct of some whom 1 had been accustomed to respect, and of whom I know that they are convinced we are right, I feel that the best that I can desire for them is that, while they are carefully seeking to please all and to displease none, they may escape the woe which hovers on the other side; “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!”
“I must disclaim,” Garrison said, at the close of his long labours, “with all sincerity of soul, any praise for anything I have done. I have simply tried to maintain the integrity of my soul before God, and to do my duty. I have refused to go with the multitude to do evil. I have endeavoured to save my country from ruin — Of course we are glad when at last our reproach is taken away, for it is ever desirable, if possible, to have the good opinions of our fellow-men; but if to secure these we must sell our manhood and sully our own souls, then their bad opinion of us ought to be coveted instead.”
The favourable opinion which certain good men — ministers of religion, and active philanthropists —entertain of the Contagious Diseases Acts is a stumbling-block to some. Those who are unable themselves to exercise the “intuitive decision of a keen-edged intellect” enabling them to separate the base from the noble, and who lack the true and uncorrupted instinct which pronounces at once and without recourse to statistics or argument, an unfaltering verdict in a question of honour and dishonour, (which this question preeminently is,) study lists of names, and hold their judgment ever balancing in a position of unstable equilibrium, leaning now to this side and now to that, as the voice of some one respected in the church or in society causes the scale to rise or fall.
If we turn once more to the past struggle in America, we shall see that the faith of the opponents of slavery was sufficiently tried in this respect, and that it did not fail. The Church in America was at one time the bulwark of slavery. Slaves were sold for the support of missions to the heathen; theological seminaries were endowed by legacies in slaves, and men quoted Scripture for the deed. The Rev. T.S. Witherspoon said, “I draw my warrant from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to hold the slave in bondage: the principle of holding the heathen in bondage is recognised by God.” The Rev. Robert Anderson wrote to his brethren of the West Hanover Presbyter — “Now, dear Christian brethren, I humbly express it as my earnest wish that you quit yourselves like men. If there be any stray goat of a minister among you tainted with the bloodhound principles of abolitionism, let him be ferreted out, silenced, excommunicated, and left to the public to dispose of him in other respects. Your affectionate brother in the Lord.” The Right Rev. Bishop Hopkins, of Vermont, in a lecture in 1850, speaks in a tone not unlike that of some of our clergy in England when dealing with the subject of prostitution: — “From its inherent nature,” he says, “slavery has been a curse and a blight to the nation which cherished it, yet it is warranted by the Bible. What effect had the gospel in doing away with slavery? None whatever. Therefore, as it is expressly permitted by the Bible, it does not involve any sin: every Christian is authorized by the divine law to own slaves, provided they are not treated with unnecessary cruelty.”
The leaders of the cause of freedom did not weakly quarrel with, and reject the Author of our religion because of the gross inconsistencies of those who called themselves by his name, but went bravely on, appealing ever to God himself against the traducer of his laws, and to Christ against the misguided or the insincere who called themselves by his name.
In our own day we find men attempting to throw the sacred mantle of the Scriptures over the vile thing against which we are leagued. Some tell us that their knowledge of Hebrew enables them to state with certainty, that Moses, at the command of God, enacted contagious diseases Acts for the benefit of Jewish fornicators. A clever writer has lately endeavoured to prove that harlotry is an institution in harmony with the divine economy of the world, and quotes passages of great power from the early Fathers of the Church, expressing their admiration of the apparently stern, but really benevolent design of the Eternal Father, as evidenced in the setting apart, from age to age, of a class of women, predestined for wrath, and appointed for the relief of those passions in man which would otherwise bring disturbance into society, confusion of offspring, with other inconveniences.
Somewhat akin to these blasphemies are some of the tender sentimentalities of Mr. Lecky, who loves to dwell with an imaginative melancholy on the outcast woman as the “priestess of humanity,” charged with the mournful office of bearing the sins of the people: and we have lately heard a pleader for the Acts speak, in a voice full of emotion, of his desire to bring the Acts to the test of the words of Christ, “by their fruits ye shall know them,” and dwell with much feeling upon some of their blessed fruits — (fruits which may be gathered freely by those who will visit the “protected” districts, and gain experience for themselves.) What beautiful language, what subtle arguments have men brought, in all ages, to the support of the recognized indulgence of their own selfish interests and degraded passions!
Do not let any of these things disturb your minds for a moment. The antiquity of this abuse, and all the eloquence, lay and ecclesiastical, brought to bear in its defence or excuse, cannot shake those who deny that God is the author of evil. “The scourge of legal prostitution,” Pere Hyacinthe writes, “has spread its ravages throughout the Latin nations, and now threatens the Anglo-Saxon races.” It threatens, but it has not achieved as yet much more than threat in the work of our legal enslavement. The Anglo-Saxon women have been the first to rise up in rebellion against this most degrading bondage, It was said at the court of one of the Kings of France, “these Teutonic women will never learn to curtsey low or to do obeisance fitly in the presence of royalty, for their knees are stiff.” Our knees have been found to be very stiff in the last two years; never will they bend so low as to permit that even the very lowest and most degraded of our countrywomen shall be made a registered, inspected slave of iniquity. The epitaph on the grave of Leonidas was this: — “Passers by, go and tell Sparta that we died in obedience to her sacred laws.” Heaven forbid that this inscription should ever be written on our graves! We should be sorry to die for the laws of our country, although there is an ancient charter which we love, and which is now trodden under foot so far as women are concerned. We cannot claim to be good citizens except by opposing, with unrelenting bitterness, an unjust, impure, and arbitrary edict which calls itself by the sacred name of law. “The violation of one law may sometimes be the fulfilment of a higher, and there are laws which to obey is infamy.” “Time will prove that in labouring to overthrow this decree of the State I have merited well of the laws of my country, served her liberty well, as also the cause and the future of all Christian peoples.” The strict concentration of our efforts on the attainment of a clearly-defined and immediate object is not inconsistent with the constant realization of the greater work into which the more immediate effort will expand, and of the widely-diffused indirect moral effects of the present agitation. We have had happy experience of the immense advantage — for practical purposes — of having a sharply defined end to work for. In this case, it is an end so clearly just, and so desirable of attainment, as to enlist the sympathies and secure the undivided efforts of those who, however differing on many points of religious or political creed, love justice and fear God. In asking you to raise your thoughts and extend your vision towards that further result which God, in his good providence, may design to work out from these beginnings, I believe I am asking you to do what will stimulate you to bend your present efforts with a practical energy and intensity, greater than ever, towards the work we have before us this winter, and during the approaching session of Parliament. Those whose steadfast eyes are most hopefully fixed on the approaching dawn of day, and whose thoughts take wing and flight far beyond the present, are not generally apt to fail in the appreciation of the necessity of minute fidelity in the small duties of the hour, or to do with their might what their hand finds to do, small or great. Many active and enterprising lives bear testimony to the fact that the prayerful heart, resting in hourly contemplation of the eternal promise, may consist with the most practical prosecution of the work of the world. “I pondered,” says Livingstone in the diary of his African discoveries, “the words, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth;’ and taking this as His word of honour, I went out to find the latitude and longitude.”
Whether we shall obtain the repeal of the Acts or not, during next session, it is impossible to foretell. We may, however, contemplate the possibility of obtaining it, in order that we may consider the further duty which may then be imposed on our Association. Judging from the reluctance of Government to repeal the existing Acts, before they had prepared an alternative measure, we may assume the probability that legislation of some kind, directed towards the physical effects of prostitution, will come before Parliament at no very distant period. The unwillingness to grant repeal until some new measure was planned, is indicative of a desire to restore in some form, and to as great an extent as the present state of popular feeling renders safe, the old principle — the principle of dealing with the weaker alone of two parties concerned in an immoral transaction, of affording protection to men by means which involve the daily repetition of grossly indecent practices, and the abolition of constitutional safeguards in the case of women, and of attacking the effects rather than the causes of sexual vice. For a clear analysis of the recommendations of the Royal Commission (on which it is anticipated that future legislation may be based), and for a full exposition of the dangers involved in their proposals, I would refer you to a pamphlet published by our Association, which probably, however, many of you have read.
In that pamphlet, fresh evils, of a most insidious character, with which we are threatened, are set forth; and it would be well that every one of our fellow-workers, who has head enough to have mastered the text of the Acts of 1866 and 1869, should endeavour equally to master the proposed scheme which is sketched in the report of the Royal Commission. In order fully to comprehend this scheme and all that it will entail, the several recommendations of the Commission, (which in some cases appear on the face of them to be good and well intentioned,) must be taken in connexion with all the others, and studied with a view to ascertain what the result will be of the carrying out of the proposed measures when all are linked together, and working the one into the other. Then alone can it be understood, and then it will be fully and terribly understood, that the adoption of these recommendations in all their combined force will bring us, in England, to the state described by a writer on French morality under the late Emperor, who asserts that the operation of measures identical with these recommendations, produced in Paris such a result, that “the modest work-woman, unprotected by male relatives, had not where to lay her head.” This assertion is corroborated by the testimony of physicians and political economists describing the condition of Paris before the war.”
It may be asked whether it is possible that the Commissioners could have had a deliberate intention to bring about such a system as that which has been the curse of France. I say nothing of their intentions; I am not in a position to judge of their motives; but it is certain that this is the result which their recommendations, adopted in their integrity and as a whole, will produce. It is evident, then, that we must be prepared, even when the repeal of the Acts is attained, to continue our exertions further, and, with unabated courage and persistency, to carry on our war against any and all proposals or measures bearing on this subject, which shall contain any portion of the elements which we have withstood for the last two years. The army of repealers, men and women, must hold together as a compact body, vigilant and firm, so long as it may be needful to present an opposition to the subtlety or audacity of men, in Parliament and out of Parliament, who are bent on securing the subjection of women for uses other than those for which God created them, and endowed them with responsibility and immortality As to the exact mode of our future work it is impossible to speak at present. It seems to me a matter of minor importance whether we shall continue to work as now, a distinct organization for this end alone, with an altered title merely, or whether we form a branch or an inherent part of an Association for Vigilance, of which the nucleus is already formed.
The words which I now speak are not addressed to opponents, or indifferent persons, nor to those who merely need information, but to tried friends and fellow-workers: therefore I need not apologise for excluding others, while venturing the following remarks.
During the past year I have received many letters from such friends, full of thought and questionings, sometimes of a touching expression of the heart’s inner workings. The pressure of the daily work of the office of the Ladies’ Association has prevented me from answering these letters so fully as I wished. I have sometimes hoped that an opportunity might come — a pause in my work — when I might come heart to heart, so to speak, with the writers of these letters, many of whom I have never seen, and may never see, in this life. I venture now, briefly and incompletely though it must be, to refer to one or two of the lines of thought suggested by those letters.
There are many who, in this crisis of vigorous action, are obliged to endure the trial of inactivity, either through ill health, the opposition of friends, or other causes. It would be difficult for me to say how my heart yearns over these persons, in some of whom I am sure there is a deepening of the spiritual life through this very trial — though they themselves are not aware that it is so. I think we often overrate the value of activity, as compared with that silent power which may be exercised apart from positive action. There is perhaps nothing concerning which there is so wide-spread a scepticism as there is concerning the value of prayer. By prayer I mean more than a mere devotional exercise daily performed; I mean that close and intimate dealing with God which demands an energy not less, nay greater, than is required for any mere outward work; that union of the human with the Eternal spirit in a sustained conflict and effort for the salvation of the world, through which marvels and miracles, unknown and uncredited by prayerless men, are achieved. A great social reformer said to a small band of people who had combined for prayer for a desired object, while others mocked — “I have seen this good work progress steadily or not, just in proportion as you held on in unwearying prayer: When you were most earnest, obstacles faded away before us; when you became languid, the work languished, and our enemies became strong.” There is a mystery which few understand — the power of vicarious suffering, and the grace of perpetual intercession — perhaps the noblest of all graces — the grace of a generous, prophet-like soul, which, in solitude and seclusion, charges itself with the guilt of the community, mourning for the sins of the people. It seems that some souls are elected more for the inner work than the outward; but the honour conferred by such election is often slowly perceived and reluctantly accepted: there is an anxious, sometimes a fretful urgency to be in the fore-front of the active work. We are slow to read the teachings of God’s providence; for, on the other hand, those who are loaded with work and impelled forward in unceasing activity, sometimes look with envy on lives of greater leisure. There is often a deep pain on this side too — a solicitude and sorrowfulness which grow out of the consciousness that it is “not by might nor by power,” but by the Spirit of God that the battle is won, and that activity which has no deep root in God is only so much useless bustle. It was this consciousness which made the energetic reformers and apostles of the middle ages cry out so constantly for solitude, which gave rise to their quaint expression, “O blessed solitude! O sole beatitude!” It was this grief which pressed so heavily on the meek spirit of the Cure d’Ars, causing him to say — “My soul is exceeding sorrowful. The people crowd upon me from early morning till evening. I have no time to pray, I have no place where 1 can weep.” May it not be some comfort to those who are unable to help on actively this great work of ours, to know the worth, the inexpressible worth, of that silent help which they can give to those whose lives are very full of pressing business, and who are borne up in their labours chiefly through the strength thus won for them? But is it not a far greater compensation for the trial of restricted outward activity to know that, “verily there is a God that heareth prayer?” Let us recall — not once, but daily — his promises, his admonitions to prayer. “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance.” “Call upon me, and I will show thee great and secret things which thou knewest not.” “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” “He spake a parable unto them, to the end that men ought always to pray and not to faint.” “Whatsoever things ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” No great character was ever matured without solitude. “The heart suffers when it is not lost, by continual contact with strangers; man forms himself in his own interior, and nowhere else.” But it is not only as an ennobling exercise of the human heart, and as a condition inseparable from a true and invulnerable peace of mind, that I speak of prayer; I urge it now rather as a real, living, and illimitable power, to be used in the work of over-throwing evil and regenerating society. Again, remember that we are now only on the eve of a great work, of a time when all our moral and social forces will be called out, and that those who cannot work to-day, may be called to work tomorrow, to come up to “the battle of the Lord,” next year, or many years hence; and their present discipline may be, I cannot doubt it is, the necessary prelude to the work. There were years of my own life when I languished in continual pain; and while keenly alive to the miseries around me, and the need of some mighty change in society, I could not move a hand or a foot in the active service of my fellow creatures. I may have been disposed to murmur then; but as I look back now, I see the matter in a very different light. To those who have no faith in prayer as a power, the words I have spoken will seem exceedingly commonplace, empty, and childish. Be it so. To those to whom prayer is an experimental science, they will have a meaning.
Others lament that their part in the work must necessarily be very mean and small: with hearts capable of any degree of heroism, they are sorely straitened in circumstances and in education. When some humble working man or woman, heavily weighted with such social disadvantages, feels a fire burning within, which, under happier conditions, might have become a beacon light or a purifying power, there is a strong temptation to rebel, to think there is something wrong, and that some one is to blame. The thought has a keen bitterness: and no doubt blame is justly attributable somewhere for the lack of instruction which cripples the powers. But here again the teaching of Christ sheds a light where no other light will fall. It seems an essential characteristic of the “Kingdom of God” that, in it, nothing is recognised as great or small; or rather, the great and the small according to our judgment, are continually reversed, so that we should be perplexed if we had no key to the inner meaning of the whole. “A little one shall become a thousand; 1 the Lord will hasten it.” “Jesus took a little child, and set him in the midst.” The work of each individual member of that unseen kingdom, in his own obscure corner, is of infinite dignity and importance. The fruit of his labour is far beyond what he sees. God works secretly, persuasively, and amidst wrecks and failures, by means despised of men. “Ye know that your labour is not in vain, in the Lord.” When a very poor woman came to me with a single soiled petition-sheet to be sent to the House of Commons, and I looked at the badly-written names which filled it, and heard her say, “we held a little prayer-meeting, ma’am, and all the women present signed this, and signed it well knowing its meaning, and with all their hearts” — and when I read a heart-stirring memorial addressed to a public man, penned by the trembling hand of a patient in hospital, fast bound by bodily infirmity, but broad in views and high in aims — I felt that an impulse had been given to the cause we have at heart, greater perhaps than is given by many an eloquent address, or scathing pamphlet, or the adhesion of some name great in the world’s eyes. What might not God do for this country if he could but find among the more favoured classes of society more of the humility of some of “the poor of this world, rich in faith” — of some who look upon themselves as sinful and wretched, “a worm, and no man, a very scorn of men”!
The loneliness of a woman is sometimes greater than that of any man; the internal solitude, I mean; and a reticence is often forced upon her which is less often forced on men. When Mary, the blessed mother, had received the angel’s visit, she spoke to no one. Months passed on. Has any man ever tried or dared to think what those months were to her? Even her espoused husband knew nothing of her dealings with God; she bore to be thought unchaste, to be suspected, to be “put away privily.” Conscious of a voice from heaven, which had charged her with the bringing forth of the world’s salvation — labouring under the sense of a deep reproach — highly favoured, awful, reticent, most silent, most solitary woman of the sword-pierced heart — who has ever tried to fathom her loneliness of divine possession? Men, offering her on the one hand superstitious homage, on the other have passed her irreverently by, thinking of her as only used for an earthly and necessary part of a great work; but there have been souls on the earth, since she lived, who also have heard a secret whisper of something to be done or won, (though infinitely small in comparison of her holy office,) for the redemption of their brethren, and have thought of Mary’s solitude. For though it was for one alone to bear the Christ, yet have not “holy things” been born out the solitary spirits of men and women, of which afterwards, though not at first, it has been seen that God was the author of them, fair temples and works of grace?
Be patient, then, O solitary heart, whose desires and aims are so far beyond the power of execution and fulfilment! Low at the feet of Christ, learn to endure long travail of soul for the souls of men, for your country, for the world; to look again and again across the skies, to see nothing and yet to believe, to seek again yet seven times, until there comes the glad sound of abundance of rain. Life seems long sometimes, but God is eternal; and it may be while you yet speak, the Deliverer will come. In your feebleness you hold the hand which governs the universe. Be careful only to kindle and rekindle with weak (it may be) but untiring breath the holy spark within. The world may see it, or may never see it, but it is of God, and it will grow and bum up the forest.
“Upon the mountain from one spark hath leapt
The fire that hath a mighty forest burned.”
That depth of humility which is well content to wait apart, or to do the very least and most obscure of all service, is also the essential condition for accomplishing anything great, or what man terms great. There is a humility which enables its possessor to hear without quailing the words, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob . . . thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small, and make the hills as chaff; thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, the whirlwind shall scatter them, and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel,” and hearing them, to bow the head meekly and say, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
The experience of the last two years has taught us the immense advantage of practical cooperation with men in work of this nature. This cooperation has been carried out in a nobler manner, and for a purer end, than has ever been the case before in the experience of any of us. “The truth is,” says Mr. Sheldon Amos, most truly and powerfully, “that the whole evil against which this legislation is directed, and the evil of that legislation itself, have been owing to no one cause more virulent than that of the want of a common sentiment on sexual morals on the part of men and women, especially in the more refined classes of society. Men, driven away at an early age from the intimate society of women, and forcibly thrown upon the corrupted and corrupting society of one another, have concocted and cherished a wholly different standard of sexual purity from that existing generally among women. They have persuaded themselves (and this is the case even with those personally innocent) by the mere force of vicious familiarity with male profligacy, that sexual sin in man is a venial and even (as some have it) not wholly undesirable practice, certainly, at worst, the ‘irregular indulgence of a natural impulse.’ They take the ignorance and the silence of women for indulgent acquiescence and support. True it also unfortunately is, that women, catching up the tone and sentiments of men, instead of chastening and condemning them, often show, in their social treatment of known profligates, little enough of what still continues to be their own instinctive and ineffaceable horror of them. Now those who have opposed these Acts have ascertained that not only must as many men and women as possible severally understand the nature and meaning of the Acts, but that they must learn their lesson in each other’s presence. A complete and deeply-reaching mutual sympathy and common knowledge must hereafter take the place of the lifelong separation and antipathetic sentiments which have been universal in the past. Experience has already far more than justified the attempt.”
The great legislative wrong which we are opposing, being one which is inflicted by man upon woman, too terrible a bitterness would have taken possession of the souls of women, and a class war of too hopeless a nature would have been the result, had not the just and good men of this country risen together with us to avenge the wrong and wipe out the disgrace. In this combination we have gained already an assurance that it is possible* to attain to a common standard of moral purity for men and women alike, and that, not the standard with which men, thinking and acting apart, have been hitherto content.
It is sometimes said by our friends, — “we do not pretend to be able to change man’s nature, yet we believe that the causes of prostitution may be removed.” Now it is manifest that a change in the hearts of men is the thing above all others most needful in order to remove the causes of prostitution, for assuredly the low moral standard of men is itself the principal cause of the evil. We, of ourselves, have no power to bring about any great and spiritual change; but herein is our hope — God has the power, and we have access to God. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
In regard to the creating of a higher standard of purity among men, I wish to say a few words. We are continually told by men that we women must expel from our society the profligate man: we are blamed for receiving such while we reject their female companions. I respect this advice; but it has long been evident to me that the men who throw this duty on us, do not appreciate the difficulties in the way of the practical performance of it. Impure women have a mark put upon them by society, a mark so black that it cannot be overlooked or mistaken. There is a distinct line drawn between the moral and immoral woman, so that in our judgment of and conduct towards the latter, we are at least not hampered by any difficulty as to the acknowledged character of the person dealt with. It is not so with men; the good and the bad, the chaste and the profligate, are mingled in society, in business, in pleasure, in religious services even. There is no mark of any kind set upon the immoral man by his fellow-men. The black sheep may enter our drawing room with as fair an exterior as that of any other man. How are we to know him? How, unless men will participate in this part of the work also, and help us to separate the unclean liver from our society? The way in which men throw the whole of this responsibility on us, in regard to their own sex, has always appeared to me ungenerous, cowardly, and indolent. I have known a man very ready in denunciation of women, because they do not “frown upon the seducer,” equally ready to introduce such seducer to a lady’s drawing room. When such a man goes up to another whom he knows to be of loose life, and heartily shaking his hand, calls him “my dear fellow!” he can scarcely expect the lady of the house to turn upon the “dear fellow” so accosted, and request him to leave her presence. I am not denying that women have a great power bestowed on them both for the discernment and the repulsion of men of impure life; but the instinctive recognition of impurity is not equally strong or unerring in all women; and failing this instinct (which, however, some women possess in an extraordinary degree), and failing also any outward mark of any kind, I ask how are women to “frown upon” evil men in every instance, as good men request them to do, unless good men themselves will aid them in the work of discrimination?
In a noble speech lately made by the Bishop of Manchester, wherein he dealt faithfully and fearlessly with the sins of men, he yet appears to me to have fallen into the error, in some degree, of casting off too much upon women the responsibility of separating the chaff from the wheat. He quotes sayings which speak of the morals of men being just such as women make them. It may be convenient for men to think this; but it is only half the truth, and is especially faulty as a statement of fact in any country where men alone make the laws, unless we deny altogether that the laws of a country have any influence whatever on the morals of men. If laws are made by men alone, which subject women to penalties for sexual offences, and protect men in the practice of the same offences, and if these laws — made by men alone — are found in the course of ages to form to some extent the moral code both of men and women, it can scarcely be said with truth, “C’est la femme qui fait les moeurs.” In fact, I regard this as one of those apt and pretty sayings which have been too readily accepted by men, because they seem to relieve them of responsibility, and by women, because of the implied compliment they embody to their own superior moral nature. It is time to examine rigidly and to reject mercilessly all such axioms, if they are found to be merely fostering selfishness under the guise of a euphonious propriety. The language of men towards women is, and has ever been, far too much of this character. “You must make us good, and keep us good; you must continually pray for us, we having no time (nor inclination) to pray either for ourselves or you; you must save our souls while you minister to our daily comfort; you must forgive our impurities, and wash them away by your own secret tears, while we are engaged in business or pleasure; and for your reward you shall be called angels, in many a pretty poem and essay; you must minister to us in our dying moments, smooth our pillow, and speak soft things in our ear; and somehow or other you must, you absolutely must, get us into heaven at last. You know how! we leave it to you; but remember you are responsible for all this.” I think I should be ashamed, were I a man, to throw such awful moral and spiritual responsibility upon women, while doing little for their souls in return. Women have been so silly as to regard this tone of mind in men as something very sweet and complimentary to themselves. I doubt whether any woman, who ever really charged her own soul before God with the eternal salvation of the soul of a man, has ever failed to see the falseness which lurks under such apparent compliments; for such a woman has learned, or soon learns, that the future safety of an immortal spirit depends upon the existence in the soul itself with which she has charged herself, of the vital elements of faith, whose presence is proved by holiness of life.
I will not deny, however, that women have been very guilty before God in their weak indulgence to men whom they know to be vicious, and in their cowardly shrinking from the task of discrimination. There is a change already in this respect. I see an earnest desire to deal faithfully with men, whatever trouble it may involve to ourselves. Here is a task before us which will require much wisdom. We shall have to learn to combine sternness with charity. “Our principles teach us to avoid that spurious charity which would efface moral distinctions, and that our duty to the sinner is not to palliate, but to pardon — not to excuse, but to forgive, freely, fully, as we hope to be forgiven.” On the one hand, we shall regard all men (however pure in their own conduct) as depravers of society, who hold the loathsome and deadly doctrine that God has made man for unchastity and woman for his degraded slave; and on the other hand, we shall be careful not to exclude from fellowship in the work before us, any man, however sinful his past life, in whom the returning grace of God has begun to work a true repentance and a desire to build again, with laborious hands, what he had so recklessly destroyed.
The cynicism of certain men — who could nevertheless, with perfect honesty, stand up like the Pharisee and say, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, adulterers,” &c. — is apparent in the whole tone of their conversation and writings. Their true character is not difficult to discern even through an irreproachable exterior. I consider such men quite as much the enemies of purity as the actual profligate. This cynicism, this scepticism as to the existence of virtue, has penetrated everywhere; “it has lowered many things and many men, even among the clergy.” No amount of dignity or of authority must induce us to accept or endure the doctrines of these moral sceptics. It is not learning, nor high responsibility in the State, nor yet the “Form for the Consecration of Bishops,” which makes a man a wise, a just, or a holy man; and concerning our own conduct towards such men, who doubt the possibility of virtue, and by their position and influence strengthen the hands of the direct promoters of vice, we must be able to say, whatever their rank or authority; — “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed:” and, remember, that to an impure or to a worldly man, a word spoken by a woman who dares to speak as the Spirit of God gives her utterance, is an awful thing. When men came, confidently, to arrest our Lord, he spoke three simple words, and they “went backward and fell to the ground.” In a humble degree, this power of solemn rebuke of evil men has been bestowed by God upon women, for his own wise ends; on women who are strong in his strength, and not in their own, who fear not the face of any man, because they continually live in the realised presence of God, and whose clear conviction, that it is just and right that men should render to women as strict an account in the matter of personal purity as women have been required to render to men, no sophistries can undermine.
At one of the meetings held for the repeal of the Acts, my attention was attracted towards a group of young men who stood, gravely attentive, leaning against the wall in a shaded part of the room. Speakers at that meeting dwelt, one after another, on the low tone of morality prevalent among men, on the sternness of the law of Christ, and on the necessity of purity of life in all who would join us in the work on which we have entered. When the meeting broke up, these young men lingered behind; and in the faces of some I thought I discovered an unspeakable sadness and trouble, and a yearning to come forward, to be claimed, perhaps, to join in the work. But no advance was made to them; and slowly, one by one, they left the room. The incident is deeply impressed upon my memory. I have wished I could recall again that hour, that I might speak one word which, it may be, would have been “a word in season” for those who so sorrowfully went out from among us. And faces, here and there, which I have seen — sometimes it has been the weather-worn face of a working man advanced in years, over which an expression of keen pain has passed as some memory cut him to the heart — rise up before me now, as if they silently appealed for some word which was not spoken. There are men in whose hearts is concealed a secret remorse, which needs but an impulse of life and power to change it into energy for future good. They are not in love with the evil into which they have fallen; they make no excuse; they shelter themselves under no sophistries about the “necessity” of unchastity; their hearts ache with a burden of memory which tempts them to despair of a better and nobler future. I have witnessed in a man, as keen, as sorrowful a regret for the loss of purity as may be found in the tender heart of a woman. One who so sternly judges himself and his own error is surely gently judged by Him who “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Will the purest among women dare to cast a stone at such an one?
If our fallen sisters have received evil at the hands of men, let us now overcome evil with good, and endeavour to prove to men that both in respect to themselves and to erring women, we know how to abhor the sin and yet be gentle to the sinner. To those men, to whom the word was not spoken, which ought to have been spoken, I would fain speak it now, if perchance these pages should ever meet their eyes. That pain and remorse which your past has left within your mind may suffer a spiritual change, so as to become usefully subordinated to a high motive for action. It has been said, “we need a goad in the side as well as love in the heart:” the very memory of your fall may become this goad in the side. By a change in the guiding principle of your life, and through the conversion of the whole army of the moral forces within you, which, by the grace of God, is as possible as the amendment of your outward life, that which might otherwise be bad or dangerous in you, may now be turned in all its force against God’s enemy and yours. A holy scorn of yourself, a righteous anger with your own past, may combine with the motive of untiring compassion for weaker beings who have suffered through the prevalence of man’s sins, to make you a mighty instrument in God’s hands, for undoing the bands of wickedness in our land. There is an old saying of the poet Herbert, “fractures well healed make us more strong;” and I recall another, of Archbishop Leighton, “when the forces of thy soul are scattered, rally them by believing, and remember that already many a wounded soldier hath won the day.” I know that there are even intense lovers of purity and of all moral excellence, who yet have been false to the thing they love: their hearts are filled with a continual heaviness; a secret woe clouds the whole life. I know no words with which to approach these, except the old, old, familiar words—yet ever new to the breaking heart to which they come for the first time, seasonably as from on high — “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And not rest alone, but healing and power; and with that healing and power, a strong desire to go forth without delay into the great harvest field, to labour for very life before the sun goes down, and for every soul which may have been hurt by past neglect or sin, to gather in and repay to the Lord a thousand.
When I look back upon what was ten years ago; when I recollect how little opposition the great “social evil” met with, how careful most persons were never to mention its existence; when I recall the facts which, from time to time, stared up in their naked ugliness through the smooth fair surface of society; when I remember how a catering, as regular and remunerative as for any other market, was carried on for the markets of lust; how in all our great towns and cities there were, as now, well-known acknowledged temples of Venus of every grade, in which every class of man might prostitute himself, with just so much of the surroundings of refinement and luxury as he was rich enough to pay for, or so much of squalor and misery as his poverty reduced him to; of how, for years and years, before the Acts were introduced, the emissaries of high-class profligacy scoured the continent of Europe in search of attractive maidens for the London market; how virtuous women even encouraged the existence of these abominations by their cowardly terror, their real, or affected ignorance of the subject, and, it must also be confessed, their moral obliquity, in the admission of the doctrine, promulgated by the father of lies, that it is necessary for men to be unchaste, and for women to be ruined. When I recall these things, 1 cannot feel any wonder at all that the Contagious Diseases Acts came into being: they were the natural offspring of such a course of national depravity. The whole nation ought to sit in sackcloth and ashes. Kings, dukes, lords and ladies, officers of the army and navy, learned men and philosophers, (ignorant of the true philosophy,) cultivated men and women, teachers of youth, physicians, and ministers of religion, as well as the coarse and ignorant plebeian, all — all have been guilty in this matter. All have contributed their share, directly or indirectly, to the existence of this accursed thing, this permitted evil in our midst. I call it a permitted evil; for it was permitted before it was legalised by the Acts; it was more than permitted, it was encouraged, consciously fostered, and influentially patronised. Nothing is more untrue than to pretend that men who now indulge in profligate habits, would cease to do so simply on account of the removal of solicitation from the streets — (by which is meant the solicitation of women only, for we hear of no plan for the suppression of the solicitation of men, which is so great and growing an evil) — inasmuch as it is well known to all who have taken any steps for the rescue of women, that large numbers of men constantly promote the evil of prostitution by deliberate and premeditated acts. The ideal youth, whom the advocates of legal prostitution are so fond of holding up to us, who is “walking through the street at night,” having been to a dinner party and “partaken of a little wine,” and who would do no evil at all, did not some harpy seize him and drag him to her den by force, is not by any means the only type of man with whom we have to deal; there are others who coolly study, and plot, and plan, to obtain the maximum of sensual indulgence with the minimum of inconvenience resulting therefrom. For proof of this, if we needed further proof than we possess, we may point to the Acts themselves as the culmination and full embodiment of that nice and calculating tone of mind.
The state of apathy I have described is at an end, thank God! There is no longer an universal silence. And now we are called to exercise a great faith — a gigantic faith, a faith which looks the Bible through from beginning to end, and which is able to grasp what has been, what shall be, and what God has promised. We must believe, and resolutely act on the belief, that this evil thing, this prostitution, as an allowed part of our social system, may be overthrown, as other gigantic evils have been overthrown. “Seemingly,” said Garrison in 1867, “no system of iniquity was ever more strongly intrenched or more sure and absolute in its sway than that of American slavery; yet it has perished.” And surely his heart might have quailed, as, looking back through the whole history of man, he traced the existence of slavery in all ages up to the original enslavement of the sons of Ham. He, too, might have been troubled in mind by the often-repeated assertion, that what had always existed must always continue to exist. The tendencies in human nature, as I have said, remain the same; greed of gain and lust of dominion over his fellow-men still work havoc in man’s soul and in the world, as we see at this day, in the renewal of the atrocities of the accursed trade among the islands of the Pacific. But there is a wide difference between such casual outbreaks of base passions which are condemned by the general community, agreed as to their unlawfulness, and the adoption by a State of a vicious and cruel system as an inherent and legally-regulated institution of that State. The Duke of Argyll, in a speech on slavery in 1867, used these words — “a legalised system of bondage is infinitely more dangerous and formidable than any acts of cruelty or oppression which grow incidentally out of the passions or policy of mankind.” How is it that the Duke of Argyll fails to see with equal clearness what is equally evident — that any legalised system of sexual vice is a far more deadly blow to virtue, and a more formidable barrier to all hopes of progress, than any acts of impurity which grow incidentally out of the passions of mankind; and that in the one case as in the other, a wrong done by the law is a far greater injury to the moral life of the nation than any number of wrongs done without or against the law? “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, that write grievousness which they have prescribed, to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people.” “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee, which frameth mischief by a law?“‘
“Henceforth,” said the great abolitionist again, when he had seen the work of his life accomplished, “henceforth, through all coming time, advocates of justice and friends of reform, be not discouraged: for you will and you must succeed if you have a righteous cause. No matter at the outset how few may be disposed to rally round the standard you have raised, if you battle unflinchingly and without compromise, if yours be a faith that cannot be shaken, because it is linked to the Eternal Throne, it is only a question of time when victory shall come to reward your toils.” And I may quote words of a man whom no one will charge with wild enthusiasm or unreasoning impulse — the words of John Stuart Mill — “Aim at something great; aim at things which are difficult, and there is no great thing which is not difficult. Do not pare down your undertaking to what you can hope to see successful in the next few years, or in the years of your own life. Fear not the reproach of quixotism or of fanaticism; but after you have well weighed what you undertake, and are convinced that you are right, go forward, even though you do it at the risk of being torn in pieces by the very men through whose changed hearts your purpose will one day be accomplished. Fight on, with all your strength, against whatever odds, and with however small a band of supporters.”
Yes, God can change hearts! We too often forget that, when the horizon looks dark, and our various plans seem but little successful. It is well to ask ourselves what we mean when we say that we intend to attack this evil in its stronghold, i.e, in the passions of men. With what weapons do we mean to attack this stronghold? For we may attack with ever so resolute a will, and be repulsed and defeated, unless the weapons we use are capable of piercing “to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” How do we propose to create within the breast of man the sense of justice, of honour, and of mercy? Mere repression and pressure from without will do little. By removing opportunities for vice and cruelty we may make acts of vice and cruelty less frequent, but without some spiritual agency we shall not change the heart nor purify the passions of the existing generation of men. The “stronghold” will be left untouched. The moral training of the young, from the earliest years of childhood, in habits of purity and sentiments of justice, will do much; this is the most hopeful of human effort. But in order to train the young, we want trainers; we want them by hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands. The best devised national scheme of education, which may give instruction to every child up to a certain point, does not necessarily train the character. There is something special wanted in such a moral crisis as the present. The immediate exigencies of our country and of the human race, require that there should be some hope of reform and renewed spiritual life for the adult population of today, as well as for the children of the coming generation. Here then, man, with all his schemes of reform, is driven, as it were, into a corner; and it appears to me that those who deny the power of the grace of God, or doubt whether that grace can ever flow except in certain humanly-prepared channels, are bereft of a necessary and indispensable source of hope, and consequently of much actual power, at a critical time.
There is a class of thinkers who conceive it to be almost an insult to imagine that the Almighty can use his power over the material creation in any direction except that prescribed by certain fixed “laws of nature,” of which he himself is the author, and that the performance of a physical miracle is beneath the dignity of God. There is a class among Christian people which corresponds to this class of natural philosophers. These Christians believe in the existence of spiritual influences, but seem to think the action of those influences is
circumscribed by certain “laws” of the moral world, and that the Eternal Spirit himself can in no case work beyond those limits.
“It is impossible,” say the natural philosophers, “for God to manifest himself by the single act which publicly and instantaneously announces his presence, — by the act of sovereignty. Whilst the lowest in the scale of being has the right to appear in the bosom of nature by the exercise of its proper force; whilst the grain of sand, called into the crucible of the chemist, answers to his interrogations by characteristic signs which range it in the registers of science, to God alone it is denied to manifest his force in the personal measure that distinguishes him and makes him a separate being.” “Not only,” say they, “must God not have manifested himself, but it must be for ever impossible for him to manifest himself, in virtue even of the order of which he is the creator. Banished to the profound depths of his silent and obscure eternity, if we question him, if we supplicate him, if we cry to him, he can only say to us, — supposing, however, that he is able to answer us, — “What would you have? I have made laws! Ask of the sun, and the stars, ask of the sea and the sand upon its shores; as for me, my condition is fixed; I am nothing but repose, and the contemplative servant of the works of my own hands!”
Even those who have some degree of faith, are apt to lay down certain fixed conditions, on which they imagine must depend any manifestation of the living power of God. They believe that after they have with their own hands laboriously built up an altar and bound the sacrifice thereon, fire from heaven may fall; but they scarcely suppose that the fire could ever fall independently of their own preparations. The recognition of man’s duty is a wholesome foundation for practical activity. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” was the command which preceded the advent of Christ. It is well, also, that we should recognise with clearness God’s usual mode of procedure, and be ever preparing the way for spiritual influences by the training and education of the young, by the reform of our social institutions, and by the removal of every hindrance to private and public virtue. But the recognition of his usual mode of procedure ought not to supersede the recognition of his most majestic prerogative of free grace, nor of his everlasting and inexhaustible creative power, exercised wherever and whenever he wills. The education of the young can never enable us to approach one step nearer to dispensing with direct spiritual influences, nay it will accomplish a miserable nothing in itself without such influences; nor are the hearts of men changed by processes of reproduction, so advantageously arranged as to improve the physical human type — even could it be so improved up to physical perfection. At all times — and preeminently in a crisis like the present — hopes built upon the expectation of an improved material condition, or even upon moral influences brought to bear upon children, are not sufficient for those who daily pray for the speedy establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth, and who estimate the influence of to-day on to-morrow, of the present year on the coming years. “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly,” is the last record we have in the inspired writings, of the appeal of the waiting Church to her Lord; and we may not deny that he does, many a time, come quickly, and may do so again, — a swift conqueror, taking instant possession of the hearts of men, and pouring forth upon a whole people, at once, the “spirit of grace and of supplications.” St. Paul describes the material out of which the spiritual church of Corinth was built, not as persons of a high morality, and a well-trained sense of justice and honour, who had been gradually prepared for the spiritual life by pure social and domestic institutions; but he speaks of “fornicators, idolators, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners,” and asserts, “such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified.” Nor did he find any purer foundation at Rome for the new spiritual building. There was darkness throughout the world at the moment when the great light shone; and in the darkest spots within our own range of vision, in our own time, that light may shine again. That we should have to compare our own condition with that of the heathen world, at the time of the birth of Christ, is, indeed, a cause abandonment of right principles in legislation, as well as through the increase of luxury and infidelity, we see our populations to have fallen to a state bordering on that of Grecian or Roman depravity, then our part is to acknowledge the terrible fact, and not to hesitate either in the material or the spiritual part of the work to be done. It is for us to use every effort for the purifying of our laws, and of our institutions, public and private, and to call upon Government, Parliament, and all public Officers, to repent and amend, as well as to seek the reformation of the masses of the people; and this we must do, with as much earnestness and perseverance as if the salvation of the race depended on these efforts. Yet to those who are enlightened as to the great unseen spiritual conflict underneath all these external manifestations, this is but half the work. On God alone, and on his enlightening, convincing, and purifying Spirit acting directly on the spirits of men, do they rely for a revival of the nation’s true life.
“Fix on Thy work my steadfast gaze,
So shall my work be done.”
As watchmen on their watch-towers, as the King’s remembrancers they cry day and night to that Spirit, to “breathe on these slain that they may live.” For the exigencies of the hour we need a faith which will raise us above all apparent failure, and enable us to acknowledge and rejoice in God’s help when all help of man is vain; and the exigencies of the hour are pressing; for nature does not suspend her curse, nor disease its ravages, nor does man cease to die, into ruin or into glory, until our better laws and purer institutions are set on foot, and our education schemes in full work. The present alone is fully ours. The evil of our own day is a sufficient allotment for itself, and, God knows! it is a sufficient burden of responsibility to all who have to meet it. There is a sign of the present times, the contemplation of which has well-nigh driven us to despair, I mean the paralysis of the moral judgment which has come upon those who are in any way engaged in carrying out this wicked system of legal harlotry. This is the natural and inevitable result of the abandonment of a principle. Men who have no impure or selfish interest in this dreadful institution, nevertheless become blind in touching it, in arguing for it, and in any direct or indirect connexion with its working. They lose the sense of justice; the moral judgment is first shaken and warped, and then a paralysis seizes it, ending in death. There is no salvation from this moral paralysis except in active opposition to the abomination. In the face of this calamity so swiftly though stealthily creeping over us, we want something more to raise us out of despair, than the prospect, however bright, of the success of projected reforms in our laws and educational system — we want “a very present help” in such a time of trouble. The patriotic Hebrew mother suffered so deep an anguish for the ruin of her country, that not even the first pure joys of maternity could make her wish for life. “Fear not,” they said, “for thou hast borne a son,” but she heeded not the announcement; she only said “the glory is departed,” and bowed herself and died. O England! O my country! what bitter tribulation, what deep humiliation may not be needful in order to purge away this thickly gathering dross, and save a little of the fine gold, before the glory is all departed! The Roman Senate paid to their countryman Varro, a public tribute of respect, for the simple reason that “he had not despaired of the Republic,” in a time of danger. Even in heathen countries, when vice and tyranny were rampant, there were seldom wanting a few courageous souls who repudiated the word “despair;” and we Christians, have grounds for hope, which they could at best but very dimly have guessed at. We have exceeding great and precious promises. As citizens of a better country than this England of ours, we have a prospect which no earthly tribulation can affect. Undismayed by the decay and fall of nations, we fix our gaze on the coming time, when the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea; and in the midst of our present conflict, our dim and aching sight is gently and gradually strengthened to behold what we saw not at first — the mountain full of the chariots and horses of God; so that we are constrained to acknowledge — “There be more for us than those that are against us.”
Source: Butler, Josephine E., “Sursum Corda: Annual Address to the Ladies’ National Association,” (Liverpool, T. Brakell), 1871, pp. 5-48.