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Many years ago a certain Dr Knowlton, an American, wrote, under the title " Fruits of Philosophy," a small book in which he expounded some very objectionable truths in relation to the growth of population. In the year 1876 a tradesman in a small way of business in this country was convicted of obscene publishing in respect of his sale of Dr Knowlton's work. In the early part of the present year Mr Charles Bradlaugh, the notorious free-thought advocate, and Mrs Besant, his Mend, who edits the National Reformer, gave notice to the authorities of the City of .London that they intended to republishthe "Fruits of Philosophy "in a cheap form, which would bring it within reach of the very poor. A few months ago, when a sixpenny earJ&Ma was in print and. ready for sale, Mr Bradfeugh .and Mrs Bessantgave further notice that, if the city authorities would send policemen to such a place at such an hour, their public Hale of the "Fruits" could be witnessed. The challenge thus thrown down wa3 promptly accepted ; and in the course of a few weeks Mr Bradlangh and Mrs Besant were duly committed for trial on the charge of publishing an obscene libel with intent to corrupt, the public morals. One evening the Echo posters announced in huge letters the arrest of Mr Bradlaugh. The papers of the following morning stated the nature of the charge against him, and the title of the work in question. Two days later, and the city in certain parts was thronged with ragged fellows selling the "Fruits of Philosophy," and scores of well-dre3aed fellows buying it. By-and-by the reports of the preliminary hearings before the magistrates gave greater publicity to the. title and character of the wbrk^. and it became known that a lady> the wife, of a clergyman was associated with Mr Bradlaugh in the criminal publication (if it were criminal) ; and that she was prepared to defend it through thick and thin on grounds of humanity and of public policy. The- work thus foisted upon public notice soon became the topic of very general conversation wherever the absence of ladies made such an object admissible. The effect was that in a couple of months or so more than 100,000 copies were sold. Before the prosecution the annual sale of 30 or 40 years had not exceeded about 700 copies. While the trial was pending more copies were sold in two months than would have been disposed of at the old rate in 140 years. ' ~ ' ' When at length the prisoners came to be tried, and although the SolicitorGeneral and other distinguished advocates were against them, they had the courage to conduct their own defence ; and when Mrs Besant spoke for nearly two days in opening the defence, and it became known that her speech had been of the finest pieces of eloquent pleading ever heard in an English Court of Law, public intereab became wrought to a very high pitch. The Lord Chief J usticej who tried the case, was quick to admit that the bona fides of the prisoners could hardly be questioned; aud the r SolicitorGeneral himself, when the time came for him to sum up, was so much afraid of the effect which Mrs Besant's earnest pleading might have produced . on the minds of the jury, that he tried to- disarm their sympathies by acknowledging that the criminal intention of the prisoners had been only technically criminal, and that he could not bring the moral charge against them of having aimed at anything but what they considered to be for the public good. If the. " Fruits " themselves were read by scores of thousands, in consequense of the pending trial, the reports of the trial, in which long extracts from the "Fruits" were quoted, and the scope and aim of tha book were expatiated upon, and defendedwith a dazzling display of learning and of logical acumen, were sold by hundreds of thousands in the daily papers, ■ and read by millions. Well might the Chief Justice say that the prosecution which so .brought into notice an obscure publication was lamentably ill-advised. As might have been expected, ■ a conviction was obtained. It wa3 in vaia that Mrs Besant had painted in colours of blood and fire all the- horrors, moral as well as physical, which result from overcrowding and under-feeding where, in thickly peopled countries, the. growth of population ia not artificially checked. It was in vain that Mr Bradlaugh- showed that the facts expounded in the "ferufts of Philosophy" had been publisheßffor years in scores of medical and scientiSo works of admitted respectability. The jury turned their John-Bull's-eye lantern of common sense upon the matter, and determined that the truths, however scientific and salutary they might be in the service of doctors, and of men and women who could afford to give their half-guinea's for the medical works containing them, were not truths to be uttered on the housetops, or sold for sixpence to a number to servant girls and pantry boys, and the miscellaneous unmarried poor. Accordingly, they gave a verdict that the book was calculated to deprave public morals ; but that the prisoners had published it without any corrupt intention, The Lord Chief Justice thereupon directed that a verdict of guilty should be entered, and. judgement was deferred till after the hearing of a ! technical objection to the form of the indictment. Before the technical objection could be heard a Sunday came, and was taken advantage of by Mr Bradlaugh and Mrs Besant (who were out on bail) for the. delivery of addresses to some 1300 or 1400 persons in the city in support of the practices advocated in the book which had Just been condemned j and at that meeting the book itself was again openly sold by their authority. The result of s,uoh a. defiance of the law was of course disas^ trous. • When the technical objection had been overruled on the following Thursday, the Chief Justice, in pronouncing judgment, said that he intended to release the prisoners on their own recognizances to come up for judgment when called upon, but that as they had defied the law by selliug the book since it had been condemned, they must be both imprisoned six months and pay a fine of L2OO apiece and enter- into their own recognizances for LSOO to be of good behaviour for two years.

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Bibliographic details

THE FRUITS OF PHILOSOPHY., Grey River Argus, Volume XXI, Issue 2832, 10 September 1877

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THE FRUITS OF PHILOSOPHY. Grey River Argus, Volume XXI, Issue 2832, 10 September 1877

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