Prisoner for Blasphemy

George William Foote
Prisoner for Blasphemy

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Title: Prisoner for Blasphemy
Author: G. W. [George William] Foote
Release Date: December, 2004 [EBook #7076] [Yes, we are more than
one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on March 6,
Edition: 10
Language: English

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Prisoner for Blasphemy by George William Foote (11-Jan-1850 to
17-Oct-1915) Originally published 1886

Transcribed by the Freethought Archives

G. W. Foote

Persecution is not refutation, nor even triumph: the "wretched infidel"
as he is called, is probably happier in his prison than the proudest of his

London: Progressive Publishing Company 28 Stonecutter Street, E.C.


I. The Storm Brewing
II. Our First Summons
III. Mr. Bradlaugh Included
IV. Our Indictment
V. Another Prosecution

VI. Preparing for Trial
VII. At the Old Bailey
VIII. Newgate
IX. The Second Trial
X. "Black Maria"
XI. Holloway Gaol
XII. Prison Life
XIII. Parson Plaford
XIV. The Third Trial
XV. Loss and Gain
XVI. A Long Night
XVII. Daylight

This little volume tells a strange and painful story; strange, because the
experiences of a prisoner for blasphemy are only known to three living
Englishmen; and painful, because their unmerited sufferings are a sad
reflection on the boasted freedom of our age.
My own share in this misfortune is all I could pretend to describe with
fidelity. Without (I hope) any meretricious display of fine writing, I
have related the facts of my case, giving a precise account of my
prosecutions, and as vivid a narrative as memory allows of my
imprisonment in Holloway Gaol. I have striven throughout to be
truthful and accurate, nothing extenuating, nor setting down aught in
malice; and I have tried to hit the happy mean between negligence and
prolixity. Whether or not I have succeeded in the second respect the

reader must be the judge; and if he cannot be so in the former respect,
he will at least be able to decide whether the writer means to be candid
and bears the appearance of honesty.
One reason why I have striven to be exact is that my record may be of
service to the future historian of our time. It is always rash to appeal to
the future, as a posturing English novelist did in one of his Prefaces;
and it is well to remember the witticism of Voltaire, who, on hearing an
ambitious poeticule read his Ode to Posterity, doubted whether it would
reach its address. But it is the facts, and not my personality, that are
important in this case. My trial will be a conspicuous event in the
history of the struggle for religious freedom, and in consequence of
Lord Coleridge's and Sir James Stephen's utterances, it may be of
considerable moment in the history of the Criminal Law. It is more
than possible that I shall be the last prisoner for blasphemy in England.
That alone is a circumstance of distinction, which gives my story a
special character, quite apart from my individuality. As a
muddle-headed acquaintance said, intending to be complimentary,
Some men are born to greatness, others achieve it, and I had it thrust
upon me.
Prosecutions for Blasphemy have not been frequent. Sir James Stephen
was able to record nearly all of them in his "History of the Criminal
Law." The last before mine occurred in 1857, when Thomas Pooley, a
poor Cornish well-sinker, was sentenced by the late Mr. Justice
Coleridge to twenty months' imprisonment for chalking some
"blasphemous" words on a gate-post. Fortunately this monstrous
punishment excited public indignation. Mill, Buckle, and other eminent
men, interested themselves in the case, and Pooley was released after
undergoing a quarter of his sentence. From that time until my
prosecution, that is for nearly a whole
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