Richard Carlile: His Battle for the Free Press : How Defiance Defeated Government Terrorism

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(1886 - 1963) ~ Scottish Bakuninist and Anarcho-Communist from Glasgow : Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. (From : Glasgow Caledonian University.)
• "To dream of a society not founded on the 'law of constructive murder,' of a social state in which all are brethren and peace and good fellowship prevail, of a society founded on truth and freedom, is to become an enemy of the society that is, and to be regarded as a dreamer of the most fanatical type." (From : Studies in Communism.)
• "Anti-Parliamentarism is now the recognized Socialism of the Proletariat." (From : Socialism and Parliament.)
• "It is only the effect of this menace, only the fear of the power of the revolutionary agitator outside parliament, that persuades the capitalist class to tolerate the presence of Labor members inside." (From : Socialism and Parliament.)


This document contains 18 sections, with 18,869 words or 114,928 characters.

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The present biography is a growth, as all serious work of this description must be. In its present matured form it has been reprinted, with but slight corrections and additions from the editorial columns of the Herald of Revolt, for 1911. This accounts for its being written in the first-person plural instead of the singular. To a large extent, however, the form of this biography has been decided by the “life" of Carlile we contributed to the columns of the Agnostic Journal for 1905-6. At that time we did not know so much about Carlile's political outlook as we know now. Neither were our own political opinions matured. We were simply sure that a free press was a necessity to progress. This led to our interest in Carlile’s career, and our A. ]. biography, which was superstitiously anti~ religious. With such modifications as our additional material and matured attitude towards religion and politics have necessitated, this is substantially the same... (From : &

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Richard Carlile was born on the 8th November, 1790, at Ashburton, in Devonshire: the son of a father much too talented to possess any business acumen, and of a mother, who worked hard and long in order to keep the family in food, clothes, and shelter. Robert Hall, the celebrated Baptist divine and exponent of the academic principles of the Free Press, was then twenty-six years of age. William Cobbett, the erstwhile agricultural laborer who became the first grammarian in England, was two years Hall’s senior. Erskine was forty, and had already played an important legal part in the Free Press agitation. And Thomas Paine, about whose writings the agitation chiefly centered, had but another nine- teen years to live. None of those persons dreamed of the destiny of the child that first saw the light on this cold November day. Paine did not even live to see how that child vindicated his nmmO1'Y and life’s work. His posterity of a later date will rank Carli... (From : &

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Carlile spent the first twelve to thirteen years of his life at home, receiving his early education at a local chapel school. Subsequently placed with a chemist and druggist at Exeter, he only remained in his situation four months, as he could not stand the tyranny of his employment. The next four months were spent at home, at a small shop which his uncle had presented to his mother in 1795, six months after the death of his father. Here he employed his time in painting pictures, which were sold to his mother's customers. Returning to Exeter, he was apprenticed for seven years to a tin-smith, the work proving exceedingly hard and the hours excessively long. During this period the battle for the Free Press was becoming more and more a matter of critical importance to the workers. The Government was pursuing its mendacious campaign of suppression without receiving anything like a calculated opposition of defiance. Carlile's genius was not yet awake. But the fact... (From : &

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This brings us to the period which witnessed a great mental change in Carlile. The poverty and misery which became so prevalent among the masses in 1816 caused him to question his mother's faith, and to display an enthusiasm in the direction of Republicanism. Theologically, he inclined towards Atheism. But he did not definitely embrace it until a much later date. All these factors, operating together, led to Carlile reading advanced Whig papers like Leigh Hunt's Examiner, The News, Cobbett’s Twopenny Sheets, and Hone’s Register—all of which he came to regard as being too watery. His companions in the workshop were always talking and dreaming of revolution. He was dissatisfied with the tone of the papers he read. He craved for some means whereby he could get into the van of the fight. and he discovered his opportunity in the Government's inauguration of a new reign of terror. The incidents of 1793 seemed likely to be repeated. The mendacious persecution o... (From : &

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Present at the famous Peterloo meeting that was to have been addressed by Henry Hunt—-—the Parliamentary Reformer and brother of Leigh Hunt—-on 'Monday, August 15th, 1819, Carlile witnessed the massacre of defenseless women and children by the. Yeomanry and police. No less than 300,000 people——men, women, and children-—were assembled in and about the intended place of meeting, in a perfectly orderly and quiet manner. Mr. Hunt had began his discourse, and made some ironical observations upon the conduct of the magistrates in attempting to forbid the meeting, when, says Carlile:— “a cart, which evidently took its direction from that part of the field where the police and magistrates were assembled in a house, was moved through the middle of the field, to the great annoyance and danger of the assembled people, who quietly endeavored to make way for its procedure. The cart had no sooner made its way through, than... (From : &

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Carlile now took over the absolute control of Sherwin’s publishing business, and dropped the title of Sherwin’s Register in favor of the Republican. In all, this journal ran into fourteen volumes, and was edited, for the most part, from Dorchester jail. We shall have occasion to refer to its contents in the course of the present biography. ' As we have seen, Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, and Elihu Palmer's Principles of Nature, had already been condemned as blasphemous publications. This fact caused Carlile to feel it incumbent upon him to republish them in vindication of the absolute freedom of the Press. It is an evidence of Carlile’s disinterestedness that not only did he not agree with Paine’s theological opinions, but was even actively opposed to them. So much is clear from a letter that he wrote from Dorchester jail, dated June 9th, 1820, to the Rev. W. Wait, B.A., of King’s Square, Bristol. In this let... (From : &

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(From January 12th to August 21st, 1819, five indictments were prepared against Carlile for blasphemy, based on his publication of Paine’s and Palmer’s writings. On the second date, Carlile was arrested for sedition on account of his further letters to the Regent and Lord Sidmouth on the Manchester massacre. He spent six days in the Giltspur Street Compter, and was then released on bail, the magistrate intimating that if he undertook to withdraw from circulation his accounts of the Manchester massacre no further proceedings would be taken against him. Carlile did not comply with this request. Thus defied, the Government was unwilling to answer Carlile’s impeachment by further canvasing accounts of its tyranny by proceeding on the sedition charge. But it remembered that Carlile enjoyed his liberty, on bail, on the blasphemy charge. Hitherto it had shown no disposition to bring the indictments under this charge to a head. Now it proceeded with them in great haste. (From : &

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Throughout these proceedings Carlile had been loyally supported by his wife, Jane Carlile. The latter was seven years Carlile’s senior, and had made his acquaintance whilst he was on a visit to Gosport in 1813. They were married after a courtship of only two months’ duration. Finding that their temperaments were incompatible, they had wisely agreed to separate early in the year 1819. But they postponed putting their determination into effect owing to Richard’s imprisonment and the necessity of continuing the publishing business. At last the authorities-—who had wasted .a great deal of time in threatening, arresting, and then releasing Carlile—-brought the various indictments against her to "a trial" in January, 1821, the result of which was a verdict of “Guilty” and immediate removal to Dorchester Jail, where. she shared Richard's cell. During this united imprisonment the one theme of conversation between them was the question of separation... (From : &

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In March, 1819, the German student, Karl Sandt, killed the Russian police spy, German liberticide, and hired agent of the despots of Europe, Kotzbue, Sandt was executed over twelve months later. The latter event led Carlile to applaud the motive and deed in the columns of the Republican for June 9th, 1820. He also praised the firm manner in which Sandt had played the martyr. “Tyrants,” he lamented, “are the last men to take lessons from example and history. Their ambition impels-them to go on. They are actuated by feelings similar to the common robber, who has often felt himself enriched by his booty and doubts not but that he shall be equally successful in the next attempt. He thus goes on from time to time until the hand of justice and oppressed" innocence arrests his course, and he is only convinced of former misdeeds by the near and certain approach of death.” On the same date as these sentiments were published in" the Republican, Carlile was a... (From : &

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In May, 1821, Carlile completed his Address to Men of Science, which he immediately caused to be published as yet another of his Dorchester Bastile’s contributions to proletarian literature. Classical scholarship was impeached in its pages as neither giving a polish to manners nor teaching morality. Indeed, the following excerpt reminds one of Spencer at his best in his famous essay on Education:—— "It fills the mind with a useless jargon, and enables the possessor now and then to make a tinsel and pompous declaration in half—a-dozen different languages; which, if it were to undergo a translation into one language, and that which we call native, would be found to be a mass of unintelligible and unmeaning trash—words of sound, to which it would be difficult to attach an idea and in which all correct notions are wanting. It makes a man a pedant only. Such men have been most aptly termed "spouters of froth."... (From : &

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Throughout his incarceration Carlile’s vigorous pen had continued to expose the abuses of our class society and its corrupt governmentalism in the columns of the Republican. “Justice,” he declared, “is nowhere found in the country. Her painted figure only is visible in our courts of law and iniquity. We have the shadow to torment our eyes and senses, whilst the substance is sought in vain. . . . The law cannot reach determined rogues, surpliced hypocrites, and flagitious ministers, nor their bribed supporters.” From this he concluded that “the true definition of law. . . is the caprice of the ruling power.” “Law, like religion,” he says again, "is a mere word. They are words of sound without any confined application: they vary with circumstances. Hypocrites and tyrants say that both are necessary to bridle the multitude, therefore they may be considered as the forerunners of slavery: the one imposes an unequal and unjust... (From : &

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Shortly after the two Press Acts, described in the last chapter, had come into force, Carlile assumed, from the Dorchester jail, the position of responsible publisher of four character studies from the pen of Philanthropos. The shopmen who sold them were liable to imprisonment for so doing, but Carlile was also liable to further detention for responsibility for their publication. It was open to his shopmen to plead that they were only “agents,” had they wanted to. Each of these character studies were published at two-pence. They were unstamped, and, admittedly, both “seditious” and “blasphemous.” The authorities never learned the real name of their author. In the first of these essays the latter impeaches the thronged congregation of rogues, slaves, and fools who worship at the shrine of avarice, and estimate merit in the terms of money. He adds :— “The passions of distrust, revenge, fear, hatred, malice, and cruelty... (From : &

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On February 7th, 1828, the Rev. Robert Taylor, B.A.,M.R.C.S., was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for blasphemy. He was also ordered to find recognizances for his good behavior for five years in £1,000. Up to this time, Taylor and Carlile had been working apart. But Taylor was now left with nothing but general desertion. This caused Carlile to interest himself in the case. He toured the country, lecturing on Taylor's behalf, and founded The Lion in order to rally sympathy to the reverend orator’s side. In its columns the editor's versatile pen treated of a variety of subjects, although with unequal distinction. "There cannot be a superstitious civilization," was one of the maxims with which he familiarized his readers. Protestantism came under his lash in the following paragraphs :— "The Protestant faith includes all that faith which protests against the Roman Catholic faith ; but reasons for that protest, which would not a... (From : &

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In 1829 Carlile celebrated Taylor's release from prison by establishing Sunday morning adult school Bible discussions, thus anticipating the modern Quaker adult school movement in much the same way as his colleague anticipated the orthodox Christian Evidence Society. Three months later Carlile and Taylor entered upon an infidel and republican mission through the north of England. On their return to London they opened-up, on May 30th, 1830, the Rotunda—4the one-time famous music-hall in Blackfriars Road, or Great Surrey Street as it was called—-as a Freethought Coliseum. The Rotunda had been, in turn, a natural history museum, a literary "Surrey Institute,” a music-hall, a circus, and a home of panorama. Coleridge had delivered his lectures on Shakespeare from its platform; and Hazlitt had delighted audiences therefrom with his lectures on The Comic Writers of England. It now became the home of Robert Taylor's interesting extravaganzas, more scholastically k... (From : &

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Christmas, 1831, was the last Elizabeth Sharples ever spent with her mother, sisters, and brothers, who never forgave her for her theological unbelief and political Republicanism. Preparations were made for her journey to London; which she reached on January 12th, 1832. She interviewed Carlile in the Compter, and re-opened the Rotunda for the purposes of delivering philosophic addresses and holding discussions. Seventeen days later she delivered her first lecture there, concealing her identity from the public, and speaking as “The Lady of the Rotunda.” Thus described, she lectured here and elsewhere in the Metropolis, on Sundays, and two or three times a week. Being one of the first women to mount the English platform as an independent thinker, she naturally attracted much attention, and the journal which she commenced in February, 1832, Isis, found a ready sale. She now successfully busied herself in seeking to obtain a mitigation of the seve... (From : &

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Carlile was unexpectedly released from the Compter in -1833, after the Government of the day had sent three warrants to the governor of the jail ordering his release, the third of which removed the two sureties he had been ordered to find in £250 each, and a heavy personal fine that had been imposed, so that the Government had yielded on the two most important points of his indictment. The Sunday subsequent to his release, both Carlile and the Rev. Robert Taylor made their reappearance at the Rotunda, receiving an enthusiastic reception from an audience of over 2,000 people, this being their last appearance at this hall of free discussion, which was leased on the succeeding day to an actor named Davidge. This worthy, in an announcement to the public referring to the change of management, “hoped that they would congratulate themselves on the remarkable advantage a first-class theater would be to them over this sink of profligacy, etc., etc., which had been a focus for th... (From : &

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A bitter struggle for existence was now waged, and the little family oftentimes starved for days at a stretch. Carlile was none the less enthusiastic and heroic about the cause, however. As George Jacob "Holyoake so well said, in candor, in independency of judgment, in perfect moral fearlessness of character, Carlile cannot be paralleled among the public men of his time. . . . Carlile was no slave. He was able to stand in the right by himself against the world. One forgives his errors, his vanity, and his egotism, for the bravery of his bearing and his speech.” Nevertheless, there was a good deal of simplicity—-—an unostentatious simple greatness--in Carlile’s character. As to this, let the following words, quoted from the preface to Holyaoke's four-chaptered Life and Character of Richard Carlile , speak: -- "When I first entered London, one Saturday evening in 1842, I was not known personally to half-a-dozen persons in... (From : &

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With the living, imitation is held to be the sincerest form of flattery; the dead we cannot flatter. But we can serve our fellows, and attain to the true heights of our own being by imitating the virtues of the dead warrior. The battle which his dead spirit bids us fight is a hard and unpopular one, but it is a battle which will result in victory for the free; a battle in which freedom’s sons will endure privations, oft-times want the necessaries of life, and suffer the contempt, if not the actual persecution, of the world; a battle in which, however, the sense of helping that cause that lacks assistance, of righting the wrong that needs assistance, of raising the intellectual capacity of the human race, of showing the workers the path of direct economic emancipation, will fully recompense for the pleasures foregone and kind words which society never extended to us. We again prostrate our spirit across the gulf of time; we see again this lion-hearted Richard firmly standing t... (From : &


1912 :
Richard Carlile: His Battle for the Free Press -- Publication.

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