Speech by W.T. Stead on the Maiden Trbute Campaign
St. James’s Hall, London (August, 21, 1885)
Extracted from The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street
(Pall Mall Gazette Supplement, October 3, 1885)
Ladies and gentlemen, I have wanted for some time past an opportunity to speak to those who have read what I have had to say–to speak with them face to face quite frankly, quite candidly–to tell them what I thought to be the straight truth. I know I shall offend several people. I do not believe there is one person on this platform that agrees with me right through from beginning to end, and hence I feel so very much the kindness and charity and generosity of so many good men and good women who have backed me up and given me a certificate of character, although they knew that I was unsound on very many articles of faith.
I am very much obliged to them all, but I have been rather sorry sometimes when I have thought how those good ladies, especially those who had said that I had done a right and good thing; might feel embarrassed when afterwards I did something that they thought was neither right nor good; and I am always doing that which people think is neither right nor good. Those who gave me a certificate for my right and good conduct in the past have said: “Oh, goodness! if we had only known what he was going to do next!” Now nobody ever does know what I am going to do next, not even I myself, and therefore I feel that those who have been so kind and good to me, speaking so warmly, far beyond anything I could deserve for what I have done, took a great risk upon themselves if they thought that by giving me a certificate upon one occasion they were rendered morally responsible for everything that I was going to do on any subsequent occasion. Now, here I stand, perhaps the most abused and the most bepraised person in all England dating the last eight weeks. The abuse I do not think that I deserve. [Cries of “Armstrong”]
I will tell you about Armstrong. There is Mrs. Booth standing here as the representative of the Salvation Army, who has been abused about Lizzie Armstrong, and I say that Mrs. Booth and General Booth, and all the Salvation Army who have been abused about Lizzie Armstrong, are as innocent of everything concerning taking that girl away from her home as Mr. Stansfeld is. They had absolutely nothing to do with it. [Applause]
I take some shame to myself that I have not taken an early opportunity of clearing the Salvation Army absolutely from all responsibility in the matter, and I alone, standing before you now–I am solely responsible for taking Lizzie Armstrong away from her mother’s house. [Applause]
And I say this, that those good men and philanthropic strangers and others who are so anxious to restore that child to her mother’s house are taking upon themselves a responsibility greater by far than anything that the Secret Commission of the Pall Mall Gazette ever took upon itself in the whole course of investigation. We took that child from a place that was steeped in vice from a mother who has admitted that she was going to a brothel as she thought, and instead of taking her to a brothel we placed her in good and Christian guardianship. [Cheers]
I ought so make one explanation; we did take that girl to a brothel for about half an hour; she did not know it was a brothel, she simply knew she was going to an hotel, but no suspicion or shadow of a thought of anything wrong crossed that girl’s mind; we took her there, and we took her away from there, and placed her in the hands of the Salvation Army, who had absolutely nothing whatever to do with taking her from her mother’s house, and nothing whatever to do with taking her to the brothel afterwards, and yet they have had to bear contumely, reproach, and slander from people who knew, because I have told them myself, that I alone was responsible, and the Booths had nothing to do with it. [Cries of “Shame”]
If they had only come and asked me, instead of raising all this hubbub about people who had absolutely nothing to do with the taking away of the child, I could have put them straight in five minutes. But they never looked near at hand…
Supposing my little daughter, who is only four years old, was to be taken away and interrogated by some fiend in human shape, and I had no chance of finding her except by making a revelation, would you say I ought not to make that revelation? As long as these crimes can be committed in secret places of the world and can be done secrecy and quietly, they will go on being done. They are being done. Yes, and when Bishops write to me and say, “‘You have done your work.” Done it? I have hardly begun it. [Applause]
I say that even now and every week since we published the first number of the “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” when all London has been ringing with the cry of the newsboys, when I see the Pall Mall Gazette in every street and in every hand, I say that I know–not as a matter of hearsay, but of Absolute fact–that the deeds which we have exposed have been going on, and are going on to this very moment.