To Our Friends the Enemy

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To Our Friends the Enemy

W. T. Stead (The Pall Mall Gazette, July 9, 1885)

We owe our humble and heartfelt thanks to the City Solicitor, or rather to those unnamed and as yet unknown persons who instigated him yesterday to attempt to suppress the sale of the Pall Mall Gazette in the City of London.

After Mr. Cavendish Bentinck, he has probably contributed the most to break down the conspiracy of silence which our contemporaries are maintaining, and which we are quite willing they should maintain until they have been fairly shamed into facing the truth. There is something peculiarly characteristic in the mode in which this unexpected attack was delivered.

The City Solicitor sent us no notice that any exception was taken by the City authorities to the contents or the Pall Mall Gazette. The first intimation we received was in the shape of an incredible rumour that the City police were seizing the paper in all directions and running in the boys who sold it. At first we refused to believe a story so contrary to the best traditions of English life. Police seizures of offending journals are common enough in Vienna, but in London such a high-handed outrage on the freedom of the Press seemed impossible. So we dismissed the story as the invention of ingenious youths, anxious to sell for sixpence as a “suppressed” journal a paper which they had just bought at the usual trade rate of ninepence the dozen. Soon afterwards, however, the eleven boys who had been “had up before the Lord Mayor,” and dismissed on undertaking not to sell any more copies in the City, arrived at Northumberland-street for a fresh supply. Then we received the report of the case from our ordinary correspondent, when we were reluctantly compelled to recognize the fact that the liberty of the Press had been outraged in the very citadel of freedom. Then we rejoiced and were exceeding glad at the stout blow that had been struck in the good cause in which we all unworthy have been called to play a leading part.

It was rather mean, no doubt, not to give us notice of any intention to act, otherwise we might have been legally represented when the newsboys appeared before the Lord Mayor. But it is the nature of those whose weapon is the gag to be somewhat unscrupulous in its application, and we do not complain at this fresh demonstration of the nature of the evil with which we have to contend. That was a blow beneath the belt which was all very well for the first attack, but in future we hope that the City Solicitor will fight fair. Next time, instead of waging war against boys in the street, let him take proceedings against the responsible parties. In other words, we ask the City Solicitor to proceed, not against the poor lads who, as the Lord Mayor told him, are in a very minor degree responsible parties, but against ourselves. We are sick of this perpetual harrying of the poor, and leaving the well-to-do alone. If we have published anything that can by any reasonable construction be declared to be obscene, prosecute us, not the lads in the street. We emphatically deny that we have published a single line which deserves that censure. We are no advocates of obscenity. Some of those who are now using the cant cry of decency as a cloak for immorality may perhaps discover before we have done that we are more keen to secure the suppression of obscene literature and the punishment of those who produce it than they may altogether relish. That, however, is by the way. What we have to say, as plainly as the English language will enable us to say it, is that if the City Solicitor or his backers feel it their duty to stand up in public court and declare that the Pall Mall Gazette is an obscene publication they are cowards and worse if they do not take proceeding against the paper. Either we are guilty or we are innocent. If we are guilty, it is we who deserve to be punished. If we are innocent, no man, whether the City Solicitor or any one else, has a right to slander us in public, without being compelled to make good his words.

Let there be no mistake about this matter. We challenge prosecution. We court inquiry. We have most reluctantly been driven to adopt the only mode–that of publicity– for arousing men to a sense of the horrors which are going on at this very moment. But having adopted this mode the more publicity we have the better. We are prepared, if we are driven to it, to prove our statements, and prove them to the hilt, although in order to do so it may be necessary to subpoena as witnesses all those who are alluded to in our inquiries, either in proof of our bona fides or as to the truth of our statements, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Mrs. Jeffries, and from the Prince of Wales down to the Minotaur of London. One thing we will not do. We will not break faith with those who have trusted us, by giving us confidential information, which if admitted by them in court would lead to their imprisonment. But when all these are excluded, whom we are bound to shield from being punished for the service they have rendered in revealing the secrets of their prison-house, there will remain amply sufficient witnesses who are prepared to swear to the absolute truth of our ghastly and horrible narrative.

We are prepared to put every member of our Secret Commission in the witness-box, and support their testimony by a vast array of witnesses drawn from every rank, class, and condition of men. We have hitherto refrained from individual exposure. Our concern is not with criminals, but with crime. But if the Chief Director of our Secret Commission is once placed in the witness-box all that will cease. His examination will not, like his revelations, be reported only in the columns of one paper, and scrupulously divested of all personal matter. Under examination it will be impossible to keep silence, and everything will come out. And we say quite frankly that, so far as we are concerned, we have no objection. But let those who do not wish to shake the very foundations of our social order think twice before they compel us to confront in the courts of justice brothel-keepers with Princes of the Blood, and prominent public men with the unfortunate victims of their lawless vice.

One word more. We would gratefully recognize the kindness and sympathy with which we have been literally overwhelmed from every side since this business began. From the poor thief who gave back the handkerchief he had just purloined to the gentleman who he rightly believed had helped in this exposure to the working silversmith who, on hearing that a prosecution was threatened, came at once to offer to go bail for £1,000, if it were required, we have never experienced such enthusiastic devotion as we have received this week. To all our friends we return our heartfelt thanks. Let them be well assured of this–we shall not flinch.