G. W. (George William) Foote.

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Produced by David Widger



By G. W. Foote

London: B. Forder,

28 Stonecutter Street, B.O.





A little more than a year ago I put forth a collection of articles under
the title of _Flowers of Freethought_. The little volume met with a
favorable reception, and I now issue a Second Series. By a "favorable
reception" I only mean that the volume found purchasers, and, it is to
be presumed, readers; which is, after all, the one thing a writer
needs to regard as of any real importance. Certainly the volume was not
praised, nor recommended, nor even noticed, in the public journals. The
time is not yet ripe for the ordinary reviewers to so much as mention a
book of that character. Not that I charge the said reviewers with
being concerned in a deliberate conspiracy of silence against such
productions. They have to earn their livings, and often very humbly,
despite the autocratic airs they give themselves; they serve under
editors, who serve under proprietors, who in turn consult the tastes,
the intelligence, and the prejudices of their respective customers. And
thus it is, I conceive, that thorough-going Freethought - at least
if written in a popular style and published at a popular price - is
generally treated with a silence, which, in some cases, is far from a
symptom of contempt.

I am aware that my writing is sometimes objected to on grounds of
"taste." But it is a curious thing that this objection has invariably
been raised by one of two classes of persons: - either those who are
hostile to my opinions, and therefore unlikely to be impartial judges
in this respect; or those who, while sharing my opinions, are fond of
temporising, and rather anxious to obtain the smiles - -not to say the
rewards - of Orthodoxy. The advice of the one class is suspicious; that
of the other is contemptible.

As I said in the former Preface, I refrain from personalities, which
is all that can be demanded of a fair controversialist. There are
sentences, and perhaps passages, in this volume, that some people will
not like; but they are about things that _I_ do not like. A propagandist
should use his pen as a weapon rather than a fencing foil. At any
rate, my style is my own; it is copied from no model, or set of models;
although I confess to a predilection for the old forthright literature
of England, before "fine writing" was invented, or "parliamentary"
eloquence came into vogue, or writers were anxious to propitiate an
imaginary critic at their elbows - the composite ghost, as it were, of
all the ignoramuses, prigs, bigots, fools, and cowards on this planet.

It only remains to say that the articles in this volume are of the same
general character as those in its predecessor. They were written at
different intervals during the past ten or twelve years. I have not
attempted to classify them. In several instances I have appended
the date of first publication, as it seemed necessary, or at least


June, 1894.


Lord Tennyson's poem, _Locksley Hall: Sixty Years After_, is severe on
what he evidently regards as the pornographic tendency of our age.

"Feed the budding rose of boyhood with the drainage of your sewer;
Send the drain into the fountain, lest the stream should issue pure.
Set the maiden fancies wallowing in the troughs of Zolaism, -
Forward, forward, ay and backward, downward too into the abysm."

There is some truth in this, but far more exaggeration. English novels,
however they may trifle and sentimentalise with the passion of love,
are as a rule exceedingly "proper." For the most part, in fact, they
deliberately ignore all the unconventional aspects of that passion, and
you might read a thousand of their productions without suspecting, if
you did not already know the fact, that it had any connexion with our
physical nature. The men and women, youths and maidens, of Thackeray,
Dickens, and George Eliot, to say nothing of minor writers, are true
enough to nature in other respects, but in all sexual relations they
are mere simulacri. George Meredith is our only novelist who triumphs
in this region. As Mr. Lowell has noticed, there is a fine natural
atmosphere of sex in his books. Without the obtrusion of physiology,
which is out of place in art, his human beings are clearly divided
into males and females, thinking, feeling and acting according to their
sexual characteristics. Other novelists simply shirk the whole problem
of sex, and are satisfied with calling their personages John or Mary as
the one safe method of indicating to what gender they belong. This is
how the English public is pleased to have it; in this manner it feeds
the gross hypocrisy which is its constant bane. Hence the shock of
surprise, and even of disgust, felt by the ordinary Englishman when he
takes up a novel by a great French master of fiction, who thinks that
Art, as well as Science, should deal frankly and courageously with every
great problem of life. "Shocking!" cry the English when the veil of
mystery is lifted. Yet the purism is only on the lips. We are not a whit
more virtuous than those plain-spoken foreigners; for, after all, facts
exist, however we blink them, and ignorance and innocence are entirely
different things.

The great French masters of fiction do not write merely for boys and
girls. They believe that other literature is required besides that which
is fit for bread-and-butter misses. Yet they are not therefore vicious.
They paint nature as it is, idealising without distorting, leaving the
moral to convey itself, as it inevitably will. As James Thomson said,
"Do you dread that the Satyr will be preferred to Hyperion, when both
stand imaged in clear light before us?"

Zolaism, or rather what Lord Tennyson means by the word - for _Nana_ is
a great and terrible book with all its vice - is not the chief danger to
the morals of English youth. Long before the majority of them learn to
read French with ease, there is a book put into the hands of all for
indiscriminate reading. It is the Bible. In the pages of that book they
find the lowest animal functions called by their vulgar names; frequent
references, and sometimes very brutal ones, to the generative organs;
and stories of lust, adultery, sodomy and incest, that might raise
blushes in a brothel; while in the Song of Solomon they will find the
most passionate eroticism, decked out with the most voluptuous imagery.
The "Zolaism" of the Bible is far more pernicious than the "Zolaism"
of French fiction. The one comes seductively, with an air of piety, and
authoritatively, with an air of divinity; while the other shows that
selfishness and excess lead to demoralisation and death.

There is in fact, and all history attests it, a close connexion between
religion and sensuality. No student of human nature need be surprised at
Louis XV. falling on his knees in prayer after debauching a young virgin
in the _Parc aux Cerfs_. Nor is there anything abnormal in Count Cenci,
in Shelley's play, soliciting God's aid in the pollution of his own
daughter. It is said that American camp-meetings often wound up in a
saturnalia. The Hallelujah lasses sing with especial fervor "Safe in the
arms of Jesus." How many Christian maidens are moved by the promptings
of their sexual nature when they adore the figure of their nearly naked
Savior on a cross! The very nuns, who take vows of perpetual chastity,
become spouses of Christ; and the hysterical fervor with which they
frequently worship their divine bridegroom, shows that when Nature is
thrust out of the door she comes in at the window.

Catholic books of devotion for the use of women and young people are
also full of thinly-veiled sensuality, and there are indications that
this abomination is spreading in the "higher" religious circles in
Protestant England, where the loathsome confessional is being introduced
in other than Catholic churches. Paul Bert, in his _Morale des
Jesuites_, gave a choice specimen of this class of literature, or rather
such extracts as he dared publish in a volume bearing his honored name.
It is a prayer in rhyme extending to eleven pages, and occurs in a book
by Father Huguet, designed for "the dear daughters of Holy Mary." As
Paul Bert says, "every mother would fling it away with horror if Arthur
were substituted for Jesus." _Vive Jesus_ is the constant refrain
of this pious song. We give a sample or two in French with a literal
English translation.

Vive Jesus, de qui l'amour Me va consumant unit et jour.
Vive Jesus, vive sa force, Vive son agreable amore.
Vive Jesus, quand il m'enivre D'un douceur qui me fait vivre.
Vive Jesus, lorsque sa bouche D'un baiser amoureux me touche.
Vive Jesus, grand il m'appelle Ma soeur, ma colombe, ma belle.
Vive Jesus, quand sa bonte, Me reduit dans la nudite;
Vive Jesns, quand ses blandices Me comblent de chastes delices.

"Live Jesus, whose love consumes me night and night. - Live Jesus,
live his force, live his agreeable attraction. - Live Jesus, when he
intoxicates me with a sweetness that gives me life. - Live Jesus, when
his mouth touches me with an amorous kiss. - Live Jesus, when he calls
me, my sister, my dove, my lovely one. - Live Jesus, when his good
pleasure reduces me to nudity; live Jesus, when his blandishments fill
me with chaste delight." - And this erotic stuff is for the use of


Dr. Edersheim's _Life of Jesus_ contains some interesting appendices on
Jewish beliefs and ceremonies. One of these deals with the Sabbath
laws of the chosen people, and we propose to cull from it a few curious
illustrations of Jewish superstitions.

The Mishnic tractate _Sabbath_ stands at the head of twelve tractates on
festivals. Another tractate treats of "commixtures," which are intended
to make the Sabbath laws more bearable. The Jerusalem Talmud devotes
64 folio columns, and the Babylon Talmud 156 double folio pages, to
the serious discussion of the most minute and senseless regulations. It
would be difficult to understand how any persons but maniacs or idiots
could have concocted such elaborate imbecilities, if we did not remember
that the priests of every religion have always bestowed their ability
and leisure on matters of no earthly interest to anyone but themselves.

Travelling on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden, except for a distance
of two thousand cubits (1,000 yards) from one's residence. Yet if a
man deposited food for two meals on the Friday at the boundary of that
"journey," the spot became his dwelling-place, and he might do another
two thousand cubits, without incurring 'God's wrath. If a Jewish
traveller arrived at a place just as the Sabbath commenced, he could
only remove from his beasts of burden such objects as it was lawful to
handle on the Lord's Day. He might also loosen their gear and let them
tumble down of themselves, but stabling them was out of all question.

The Rabbis exercised their ingenuity on what was the smallest weight
that constituted "a burden." This was fixed at "a dried fig," but it was
a moot point whether the law was violated if half a fig were carried
at two different times on the same Sabbath. The standard measure for
forbidden food was the size of an olive. If a man swallowed forbidden
food of the size of half an olive, and vomited it, and then ate another
piece of the same size, he would be guilty because his palate had tasted
food to the prohibited degree.

Throwing up an object, and catching it with the same hand was an
undoubted sin; but it was a nice question whether he was guilty if he
caught it with, the other hand. Rain water might be caught and carried
away, but if the rain had run down from a wall the act was sinful.
Overtaken by the Sabbath with fruit in his hand, stretched out from
one "place" to another, the orthodox Jew would have to drop it, since
shifting his full hand from one locality to another was carrying a

Nothing could be killed on the Sabbath, not even insects. Speaking
of the Christian monks, Jortin says that "Some of them, out of
mortification, would not catch or kill the vermin which devoured them;
in which they far surpassed the Jews, who only spared them upon the
Sabbath day." This interesting fact is supported by the authority of
a Kabbi, who is quoted in Latin to the effect that cracking a flea and
killing a camel are equally guilty. Dr. Edersheim evidently refers to
the same authority in a footnote. On the whole this regulation against
the killing of vermin must have been very irksome, and if the fleas
were aware of it, they and the Jews must have had a lively time on
the Sabbath. We cannot ascertain whether the prohibition extended to
_scratching_. If it did, curses not loud but deep must have ascended
to the throne of the Eternal; and if, as Jesus says, every idle word is
written down in the great book of heaven, the recording angel must have
had anything but a holiday on the day of rest.

No work was allowed on the Sabbath. Even roasting and baking had to
be stopped directly the holy period began, unless a crust was already
formed, in which case the cooking might be finished. Nothing was to be
sent, even by a heathen, unless it would reach its destination before
the Sabbath. Kabbi Gamaliel was careful to send his linen to the wash
three days before the Sabbath, so as to avoid anything that might lead
to Sabbath labor.

The Sabbath lamp was supposed to have been ordained on Mount Sinai. To
extinguish it was a breach of the Sabbath law, but it might be put out
from fear of Gentiles, robbers, or evil spirits, or in order that
a person dangerously ill might go to sleep. Such concessions were
obviously made by the Rabbis, as a means of accommodating their
religious laws to the absolute necessities of secular life. They
compensated themselves, however, by hinting that twofold guilt was
incurred if, in blowing out one candle, its flame lit another.

According to the Mosaic law, there was to be no fire on the Sabbath.
Food might be kept warm, however, said the Rabbis, by wrapping it in
non-conductors. The sin to be avoided was _increasing_ the heat. Eggs
might not be cooked, even in sand heated by the sun, nor might hot water
be poured on cold. It was unlawful to put a vessel to catch the drops of
oil that might fall from the lamp, but one might be put there to catch
the sparks. Another concession to secular necessity! A father might also
take his child in his arms, even if the child held a stone, although it
was carrying things on the Sabbath; but this privilege was not yielded
without a great deal of discussion.

Care should be taken that no article of apparel was taken off and
carried. Fortunately Palestine is not a land of showers and sudden
changes of temperature, or the Rabbis would have had to discuss the
umbrella and overcoat question. Women were forbidden to wear necklaces,
rings, or pins, on the Sabbath. Nose-rings are mentioned in the
regulations, and the fact throws light on the social condition of the
times. Women were also forbidden to look in the glass on the Sabbath,
lest they should spy a white hair, and perform the sinful labor of
pulling it out. Shoes might not be scraped with a knife, except perhaps
with the back, but they might be touched up with oil or water. If a
sandal tie broke on the Sabbath, the question of what should be done was
so serious and profound that the Rabbis were never able to settle it.
A plaster might be worn to keep a wound from getting worse, but not to
make it better. False teeth were absolutely prohibited, for they might
fall out, and replacing them involved labor. Elderly persons with a full
artificial set must have cut a sorry figure on the Sabbath, plump-faced
Mrs. Isaacs resolving herself periodically into a toothless hag.

Plucking a blade of grass was sinful. Spitting in a handkerchief was
allowed by one Rabbi, but the whole tribe were at loggerheads about
spitting on the ground. Cutting one's hair or nails was a mortal sin.
In case of fire on the Sabbath, the utensils needed on that day might
be saved, and as much clothes as was absolutely necessary. This severe
regulation was modified by a fiction. A man might put on a dress, save
it, go back and put on another, and so on _ad infinitum_. Watering the
cattle might be done by the Gentile, like lighting a lamp, the fiction
being that he did it for himself and not for the Jew.

Assistance might be given to an animal about to have young, or to a
woman in childbirth - which are further concessions to property
and humanity. All might be done on the Sabbath, too, needful for
circumcision. On the other hand, bones might not be set, nor emetics
given, nor any medical or surgical operation performed. Wine, oil, and
bread might be borrowed, however, and one's upper garment left in pledge
for it. No doubt it was found impossible to keep the Jews absolutely
from pawnbroking even on the Sabbath, Another concession was made for
the dead. Their bodies might be laid out, washed, and anointed. Priests
of every creed are obliged to give way on such points, or life would
become intolerable, and their victims would revolt in sheer despair.

Nature knew nothing of the Jewish laws, and hens had the perversity to
lay eggs on the Sabbath. Such eggs were unlawful eating; yet if the hen
had been kept, not for laying but for fattening, the egg might be eaten
as a part of her economy that had accidentally fallen off!

Such were the puerilities of the Sabbath Law among the Jews. The Old
Testament is directly responsible for all of them. It laid down the
basic principle, and the Rabbis simply developed it, with as much
natural logic as a tree grows up from its roots. Our Sabbatarians of
to-day are slaves to the ignorance and follies of the semi-barbarous
inhabitants of ancient Palestine; men who believed that God had
posteriors, and exhibited them; men who kept slaves and harems; men
who were notorious for their superstition, their bigotry, and their
fanaticism; men who believed that the infinite God rested after six
days' work, and ordered all his creatures to regard the day on which he
recruited his strength as holy. Surely it is time to fling aside their
antiquated rubbish, and arrange our periods of rest and recreation
according to the dictates of science and common sense.

The origin of a periodical day of rest from labor is simple and natural.
It has everywhere been placed under the sanction of religion, but it
arose from secular necessity. In the nomadic state, when men had little
to do at ordinary times except watching their flocks and herds, the days
passed in monotonous succession. Life was never laborious, and as human
energies were not taxed there was no need for a period of recuperation,
We may therefore rest assured that no Sabbatarian law was ever given
by Moses to the Jews in the wilderness. Such a law first appears in
a higher stage of civilisation. When nomadic tribes settle down to
agriculture and are welded into nations, chiefly by defensive war
against predatory barbarians; above all, when slavery is introduced and
masses of men are compelled to build and manufacture; the ruling and
propertied classes soon perceive that a day of rest is absolutely
requisite. Without it the laborer wears out too rapidly - like the
horse, the ox, or any other beast of burden. The day is therefore
decreed for economic reasons. It is only placed under the sanction of
religion because, in a certain stage of human development, there is no
other sanction available. Every change in social organisation has then
to be enforced as an edict of the gods. This is carried out by the
priests, who have unquestioned authority over the multitude, and who,
so long as their own privileges and emoluments are secured, are always
ready to guard the interest of the temporal powers.

Such was the origin of the day of rest in Egypt, Assyria, and elsewhere.
But it was lost sight of in the course of time, even by the ruling
classes themselves; and the theological fiction of a divine ordinance
became the universally accepted explanation. This fiction is still
current in Christendom. We are gravely asked to believe that men would
work themselves to death, and civilised nations commit economical
suicide, if they were not taught that a day of rest was commanded by
Jehovah amidst the lightnings and thunders of Sinai. In the same way,
we are asked to believe that theft and murder would be popular pastimes
without the restraints of the supernatural decalogue fabled to have
been received by Moses. As a matter of fact, the law against theft arose
because men object to be robbed, and the law against murder because they
object to be assassinated. Superstition does not invent social laws; it
merely throws around them the glamor of a supernatural authority.

Priests have a manifest interest in maintaining this glamor. Accordingly
we find that Nonconformists as well as Churchmen claim the day of rest
as the Lord's Day - although its very name of Sunday betrays its Pagan
origin. It is not merely a day of rest, they tell us; it is also a day
of devotion. Labor is to be laid aside in order that the people may
worship God. The physical benefit of the institution is not denied; on
the contrary, now that Democracy is decisively triumphing, the people
are assured that Sunday can only be maintained under a religious
sanction. In other words, religion and priests are as indispensable as
ever to the welfare of mankind.

This theological fiction should be peremptorily dismissed. Whatever
service it once rendered has been counterbalanced by its mischiefs. The
rude laborer of former times - the slave or the serf - only wanted rest
from toil. He had no conception of anything higher. But circumstances
have changed. The laborer of to-day aspires to share in the highest
blessings of civilisation. His hours of daily work are shortened. The
rest he requires he can obtain in bed. What he needs on Sunday is not
_rest_, but _change_; true re-creation of his nature; and this is denied
him by the laws that are based upon the very theological fiction which
is pretended to be his most faithful friend.

The working classes at present are simply humbugged by the Churches. The
day of rest is secure enough without lies or fictions. What the masses
want is an opportunity to make use of it. Now this cannot be done if
all rest on the same day. A minority must work on Sunday, and take their
rest on some other day of the week. And really, when the nonsensical
solemnity of Sunday is gone, any other day would be equally eligible.

Parsons work on Sunday; so do their servants, and all who are engaged
about their gospel-shops. Why should it be so hard then for a railway
servant, a museum attendant, an art-gallery curator, or a librarian to
work on Sunday? Let them rest some other day of the week as the parson
does. They would be happy if they could have his "off days" even at the
price of "Sunday labor."

Churches and chapels do not attract so many people as they did. There is

Online LibraryG. W. (George William) FooteFlowers of freethought → online text (page 1 of 24)