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Truth Before Everything. Butler, Josephine Elizabeth Grey, 1828–1906.
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“ONLY by the most absolute assertion of the uttermost truth, without qualification or compromise can a nation be waked to conscience of that truth or strengthened for duty.”

—Wendell Philips at the grave of Lloyd Garrison.

I WISH it to be understood that the following words are written on my sole responsibility; the fact of my writing them being unknown to any Association to which I belong, and even to my most intimate friends.

We are once more,—as in 1869 and the following years, — face to face with a powerful body of persons desiring the adoption in our midst of the regulation of immorality by the State. By the force of circumstances, or I would rather say, by the Providence of God, my name (unworthy as it may be) came, after years of arduous work, to be placed at the front of this special movement on behalf of justice. I have, therefore, a solemn responsibility pressing upon me at this time. In the midst of the “strife of tongues” on this question, in the Press, and in official quarters, and hearing in the midst of that strife the voices of some of whom we had hoped better things, raised in unison with those which advocate a “legislation of despair,” I feel I have a word to say, and I must say it.

In doing so, I can with absolute truth declare that I harbour no feeling of bitterness in my heart against any living being; neither against any who have turned back from the straight path, nor against our most violent opponents. I judge with gentleness those of my fellow women who are now using their influence against the just and holy cause for which I have spent my life. Our warfare has never been against persons, but against vicious principles, against widely promulgated falsehoods, while we have only withstood or done battle with individuals when they became the exponents or incarnation of the base theories and principles which we oppose.

But while judging my opponents with gentleness, I will be true to Him whom I serve. In my opposition to false principles, to official and society lies (the blackest of all lies), to page: 2 the injustice, the brutal egotism, the intrigues, the unworthy tricks, devices, and deceits to which these false principles lend themselves, I will continue to be stern and uncompromising; for my hatred of these vicious principles, these official and society lies continues to be as “strong as death,” as “cruel as the grave.”

For, while in a war of flesh and blood, mercy may intervene, a truce may be called, and life may be spared, principles know not the name of mercy.

In a conflict of principles which are severed from each other as far as heaven from hell there can be no truce; it is war to the death, until one side or the other is victorious.

And we know well on which side the victory will be. Though for a time the advocates of an evil cause—numerous, rich and in high positions—may seem to be victorious; though we may suffer a temporary defeat, that will be no means be the end. For “the battle is not ours; it is the Lord’s.”

Though for the moment we may be reduced in numbers, an apparently diminishing host, yet Gideon’s three hundred will do what Gideon’s thirty‐two thousand and three hundred could not do.

This confidence of ultimate victory, based on a foundation which cannot be shaken, enables us to regard with composure the forward advance and claims of materialism and fleshly indulgence, and to compassionate those—furious against us to‐day—who will be beaten to‐morrow, and who will be forced, before the “great cloud of witnesses” in heaven and earth, to confess themselves defeated and deserving of defeat.

A certain great reformer, recording how the Kings and Princes and great ones of the earth were laying their heads together and marshalling their forces against truth, said: “Then came the Lord God and asked, ‘How many do they reckon me?’” Ah, yes, how many does God count for? The high officials, military and naval chiefs, and medical experts have probably not considered this.

The conflict in which we are engaged is only a part of the great conflict between good and evil which is going on and becoming intensified throughout the earth, and our part of the conflict is not the least important part; it is vital, its roots are deep, its influence is as wide as the world. What more vital, next to our relations with God, than our relations—men and women—with each other? A direct compromise with vice on the part of the State or any public authority strikes at the root of those relationships, at family life, at respect for womanhood, at all true manliness in man.

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As a veteran in the abolitionist war, with an experience of thirty years of the regulation system in various countries of Europe, I do not hesitate to call it a masterpiece of Satan. I have looked closely into its working, in all its phases, and I have witnessed its baneful effects on family life, on the young, on students, on schoolboys, on women of the poorer classes, and on the population generally in those cities of Europe where it has been established for several years.

Julie V. Daubié, authoress of “Le femme pauvre du XIXme Siècle,” wrote to me from Paris in the years when we first demanded the repeal of the Contagious Disease Acts:—“Beware of imitating official France in this matter. This law has so infamous a character as the protector of the disorders of men, that the contempt which exists among us for the executive authority can only be attributed to the disgust which every honest man feels for every police functionary engaged in this business. You have the inexpressible happiness of having a moral Government, responsible functionaries, and a Queen who is the model of every virtue of public and private life. Supplicate that honourable and single‐hearted woman to take in hand the cause of human dignity and of virtue, and obtain from the wisdom of your Parliament a solemn affirmation of the authority of reason over subversive passions. Truly, if you cannot withdraw your women from the power of those police who drive them like cattle in the service of debauchery, you may abandon all hope for the general elevation of your women in England.”

A correspondent wrote to me about the same time from Milan (the regulation of vice having been introduced into Italy by Count Cavour), “The moral effect of this institution on the general population is fatal. The regulations imposed by the authorities on vice are a legal sanction, slightly cloaked, in the eyes, not only of the populace but of educated people. In fact, fathers themselves introduce their grown‐up sons to the State‐guaranteed houses of infamy, looking upon them as safeguards from imprudent marriages. Legal sanction produces public shamelessness. Not to speak of the bitter hardships, the violence and slavery to which the miserable women under this State control are subjected, the young men who come in contact with them lose all generous feeling, and, corrupted before they are full grown, they acquire the skepticism which withers the hearts and falsifies the conscience. The number of State victims to vice grows every day to excess, and marriage becomes always rarer.”

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Warnings similar to these have continued for many years past to be poured in upon us by the most thoughtful and the most experienced men and women of the Continent, and not least, from medical experts and high‐class police functionaries who have themselves worked the system and found it a disastrous failure from their own point of view. And yet there are Englishmen and Englishwomen, well meaning, and one would suppose, well educated, who are craving that Imperial England should be permitted to clothe herself with the cast‐off rags of a worn‐out and disgusting system which other nations are desiring to get rid of, but desiring it too late to get rid of the moral corruption and the falsification of public conscience which it engenders.


The present renewed conflict differs from our first engagement with this enemy, in one important particular; namely that a considerable number of women have joined publicly in the demand for the return to a system which degrades their own sex by the enslavement of a number of the daughters of the poor to the supposed “inevitable” and unconquerable lusts of men.

In our first campaign, for many years, I was able to speak fearlessly as the exponent of the mind of women, generally, throughout the world, and I met with no contradiction in doing so, nor have I up to this moment met with any open contradiction on the Continent of Europe, to the statement that speaking generally, women were solidaire on this question. My own countrywomen have been the first in the world to set their seal to the infernal doctrine of the necessity of vice, and to proffer to our Imperial Government before the whole world, what Lady Frederick Cavendish rightly styles their “counsels of despair.”

The scene has changed indeed; we accept the fact, and look it full in the face.

For my own part, I do so without alarm of our cause, and scarcely even with surprise, although my heart is wounded with a sense of shame, and I mourn for those whose eyes are blinded to the truth.

When the Memorial to Government, in favour of the State organization of sexual vice, signed by Princesses, Peeresses and others, was first published, certain of my fellow workers—women —represented to me that it might be well, on our part, to abstain from any action tending to make the immense breach so created in the ranks of womanhood more pro‐ page: 5 nounced or apparent. It was hoped that many of these ladies might come to see their error, and that it would be very sad, by making much of this division among us, to show to the world that women no longer present a united front in a question as vital as this. “Let us not display our wounds more than necessary,” it was pleaded.

Appreciating the natural tenderness which prompted this advice, I felt it to involve a grave error.

There are occasions in which silence is best concerning differences of opinion in any Association, when those differences turn on mere personalities, or forms or procedures, and when the wounds are only surface wounds.

But when, on such a question of life and death as this is before us, womanhood which before seemed solidaire, is not merely wounded, but is literally cut in two, so to speak; when an abyss now separates the one company of women from the other, it is no time for silence, or for futile attempts to cover up wounds. We cannot, without the constant living of a lie, pretend that we are now a united womanhood. Our cause will receive deeper wounds than it has ever received yet if we attempt to minimize or gloss over the hideous fact that women, ladies of high estate and honourable names, have publicly petitioned for the re‐establishment in a portion of the British Empire of the masterpiece of Satan—that “covenant with death and agreement with hell” which a little knowledge of the human heart, and of the history of other countries than their own, a little of the Divine light in the conscience, a little independence of judgment and reliance on their own better instincts as women, would have shown them is the expression of an open revolt against the ethics and teaching of Christ.

In my inmost heart, however, I find some excuse for those ladies individually who have petitioned Government for the re‐enactment of the vice regulations. Probably many of them had no knowledge of the subject till very recently. In the absence of that knowledge they might without difficulty be worked upon and talked over by certain high officials and their own male relatives, who are favourable to the regulations. Alarming pictures of physical danger to the whole nation, were, no doubt, presented to them, while the moral aspect of the question was obscured.

Men and women alike in the most exalted social classes frequently possess extraordinarily little knowledge of the conditions of life among the poor, and consequently little sympathy with humbler people who are the most liable to suffer under grievances imposed officially, over and above page: 6 the hardships incidental to their condition. High rank itself tends to confuse and obscure the mental vision on a subject concerning which, of all others, we need to know the instincts and convictions of the people, and to make room for the expression of the great heart of toiling and suffering humanity, which still so largely beats true among us, and in all lands.

No doubt there was a bitter regret among us when we first saw the petition of the Ladies in favour of vice organization. But we have had a severe discipline through long years past, which, while it has made our hearts still more tender over the weak, oppressed and misguided, has made them stronger than the hearts of lions in defence of the truth. We can be firm in its defence, if need be, against former friends and allies, and even when put to the test foretold by Christ, when a “man’s foes should be those of his own household.”

It is my desire to record in the strongest manner my protest against any temporizing, against any alliance in action or speech, on this question, with those women who have openly joined the ranks of the Regulationists, and against every shadow of compromise, or any weak complacency which might be pleaded as likely to withdraw some of these women from their present position, and induce them to repudiate their utterance.

I do not, and could not, counsel any slackening of the bonds of friendship, or abandonment of social intercourse with those who have so fatally erred in judgement. It may be that some them will come to see the question in its true light. But no weakness, no leaning towards their present position, no tolerance shown for the false principles they now defend will help to being about that result. There never was a time when the necessity was greater than at present, to place personal feelings second to principle.

The character of Christ is more frequently represented to us by Christian teachers in its gentleness and meekness, than in its uncompromising sternness and severity, which is nevertheless the severity of Love. When one of his disciples in an evil moment uttered a sentiment which was wholly false, and of the world, the Master turned and uttered that scathing rebuke:—“Get thee behind me, Satan!” In the presence of the bystanders and the other disciples, he called Peter by the name of the Spirit of enmity against God which for the moment possessed him. It must have cost the Master—the human Christ—something to rebuke his friend thus; but only by the extreme severity of his rebuke could the consciousness of the falseness of his page: 7 utterance be brought home to that disciple and to those around him. Yet the Master loved that disciple while he rebuked him, and the disciple, repentant, continued to be his faithful follower.

It is not easy to imitate the sternness of Christ in dealing with friends. But these are days in which we must be stern; otherwise we shall float away helplessly down the stream of the world’s opinion, accepting the verdict of Society, be it true or false, in all matters, even the most vital.


It is a beautiful word that of Purity; but when used as a mere title and in connection with our abolitionist crusade, how often is it misleading, how often even has it proved to be an encumbrance to the central principle which we were appointed to proclaim!

The teaching of purity of heart and life is most precious; it is indispensable. The work of purity teachers is an educational work, beginning in the nursery, and carried on through the school, the college, the apprentice life, to mature manhood. This holy, educational work lies at the very root of our hopes for the future of manhood and womanhood and for the stability of the commonwealth. May God send us myriads of true purity workers in this sense, with enlarged strong, true, and enlightened views of the relations of the sexes and of the requirements of the laws of God for all alike!

Such purity work then underlies, and is closely allied with, our special work, but it by no means adequately expresses all that that work is.

It may surprise or shock some who read these lines that I should say (yet I must say it) Beware of “purity workers” as allies in our warfare! Beware of “purity societies” which seek affiliation with our society!

Truth before everything. It behoves me to speak truly, if I am driven even to speak harshly.

A long experience has confirmed the need of this warning. Interruptions to our work, difficulties innumerable, even disasters have occurred in our crusade owing to too great a trustfulness in every one calling himself or herself a purity worker, and to too great a readiness to admit Societies calling themselves by that name into close alliance with us. We have learned that it is not unusual for men and women to discourse eloquently in public on the subject of personal, domestic, and social purity, of the home, of conjugal life, of page: 8 the dignity of womanhood, of the duties of parents, and yet to be ready to accept and endorse any amount of coercive and degrading treatment of certain classes of their fellow creatures, in the fatuous belief that you can oblige human beings to be moral by force, and in so doing that you may in some way promote social purity.

We have learned and learning many severe lessons. One of these lessons is never to covet the adhesion to our cause of distinguished and influential persons, or persons bearing great names,—never to invite their co‐operation as members of our League until their clearness of conviction on the central principles we defend has been fully proved, and gives assurance that they can stand the inevitable, crucial tests of these latter days. I could cite instances where much time and much power have been sacrificed to the desire to place the name of some social star or political leader on the list of our adherents. The French “Society of Public Morality” desired to place the name on its committee of a distinguished Senator who makes war in all sincerity against impure literature, and advocates several reforms in favour of social purity, but who is found, in spite of that good work of his, to be an ardent and determined supporter of the most complete form of the State organization of vice. What follows? Confusion, division and weakness in the Abolitionist camp.

But “how is it possible,” I hear it asked, “that purity workers should ever range themselves on the side of the State organization of a hideous vice”?

I wish, with all my heart, that those who ask this question would continue to ask it, sincerely and with full purpose of heart, until they have found the answer. For in the answer to that question will be found the root and the reason for the astonishing lapse of a large section of the citizens of “free England” into a belief in material and mechanical remedies for moral evils, and into an acceptance of inevitably degrading and cruel methods in the application of these remedies. The discovery of the true answer to the above question might bring some hope of the recognition of the seriousness of this lapse and of a return to moral sanity.


The reason why it is possible for purity workers, good and pious people, men and women busy with good works, to approve of the State superintendence of sexual vice, is page: 9 this—that our race is suffering from a species of moral atrophy,— from a fatal paralysis of the sense of justice. Many literally do not know what justice is. The spiritual sense to perceive it is dead. They can no more perceive its presence or absence than a blind man can perceive the presence or absence before him of a house or a tree. The recognition of the principles which have made England what she is, which have given her any claim to be called great, seems to be all but lost.

I have ever maintained that the principles which underlie all just law—respect for the human person, for the personal rights of all, for the claim to liberty of all who are not legally judged and condemned as criminals, for the equality of all—rich and poor, man and woman—before the law, are principles which have a divine origin. They are based on the teachings of Christ. Our nation became great among the nations through respect for these principles and through belief in the source whence they are derived. When they were violated in the past by Sovereigns, Parliaments,or Ministers, those violations were followed sometimes by swift retribution, sometimes they were avenged after prolonged conflict and suffering even to death of their stern and worthy upholders.

Will our nation ever recover from this paralysis of the sense of justice? It may do so, but only “through great tribulation.”

It must be acknowledged that this loss of respect for these high principles and of moral faith, this belief in and appeal to material forces for the moralizing of the people prevails chiefly among the more privileged classes. The poor are reminded of what justice is, too often, by its absence. I have generally found among the patient, laborious, and especially the religious poor, a feeling of disgust and weariness of the injustice and inequality of judgement in the world. Unlearned as they may be, their actual experience is a species of education which induces a sentiment which is not one of mere resentment. It is a mournful impression of the lost moral balance of the world, and a consciousness that justice is not the all‐prevailing principle of action in legislation or in any of the affairs of this world.

Justice, Justice, is what we, with them, desire. Our hearts cry out for Justice; our souls are athirst for Justice. Like the Hebrew prophet we are sometimes constrained to exclaim,“Justice has fallen in the street.” I do not speak of miscarriages of justice in our law courts; our Judges rank high among administrators of justice. I refer to the general page: 10 tone of Society, among men and women alike, and to a widespread neglect or contempt of principles of equity in regard, to classes of persons whose interests it is easy to set aside.

Therefore, so far from regretting, I hail with hope the present renewal of the struggle (in the sphere of government superintendence of vice) between material force and moral. It will prove our Nation. It will sift, and test what yet remains of moral faith.


It is impossible not to ask ourselves at this time, “is this struggle about to take more than ever the nature of a class war?” We have always hoped that it might not take that form. Yet the forces on either side seen to be falling more and more into these lines. It cannot be said that the Abolitionist party are responsible for this. Who is it who have sounded the latest call to conflict in their loud demand for government guaranteed vice? That demand comes from the seats of our hereditary Legislators, from the Court, from Royal Palaces, and from the highest official ranks, Military and Civil. We believe and know that there are men and women in those ranks for whom the fine old motto noblesse oblige, is still a reality and a rule of conduct. But these are the few who have nobility enough of the true kind to rise above the standard of those around them. A friend writes to me:—“We are coming, it seems, to the time when we shall have to turn away from the men and women of rank and wealth to address ourselves to the people, the labouring and toiling class. ‘Come unto me, ye that labour and are heavy laden,’ Jesus said, and He knows and sighs in knowing, how hardly the rich shall enter into His kingdom. Has the time come? Shall we leave the upper classes alone? This is what my friend and I are asking ourselves. O! for those who feel themselves poor and lost, for the humble and weather‐beaten on life’s highway.”

From a great number of letters which I have received at different times from representative and respected men of the working classes, I make the following quotations. (I have the original letters before me from which the quotations are taken, and many more which can be seen by anyone who desires to see them):—
“These gentlemen who make such a noise about the necessity of prostitution too often forget, I think, that, in order to satisfy that necessity, the dishonour of the daughters of the people is indispensable for till now page: 11 none of the worshippers of these medical theories have been found ready to declare their willingness that their own daughters should be so sacrificed to satisfy that necessity. Instead of this, we find that gentlemen have employed every method of seduction that the mind of man or devil could invent to drag poor girls of our class into the mud, at an age when, to those who know the art,their corruption was an easy task.” “Tell these gentlemen that we workmen know what is lawful and what is unlawful, what is moral and what is immoral, better than they do. We answer them that God and conscience existed before their science, and that if their knowledge produces such fruit, the sooner they forget it the better it will be for their own souls and the souls of those whom they wish to influence. We poor devils who are constrained to labour twelve, or even fourteen, hours a day, know too well that food is indeed a necessity; but so long as we have hands to work with, we shall never forget that it is a duty to satisfy even that necessity lawfully.”
Another writes from Newcastle‐on‐Tyne:—
“The men who invented these detestable laws have refined upon the brutality and wickedness that have always been in the world. The effect of such wholesale violation and degradation of women, for such a purpose, and with such machinery, and such expenses, can only have the result of flooding the community with immorality, wherever it is set up. It appears to me that men in high places now wish to persuade working men that they ought not to marry and have children, but live in fornication and selfishness. Woe worth the day when England becomes fully leavened with so horrible a doctrine.”
The following is from a leading working man in Birmingham:—
“I am quite aware that the opinions of my own class in political matters have not yet received their due weight; but we cannot be indifferent in matters of this description, so immediately affecting the liberty, the social relationship of our sisters and daughters, and so surely, although it may be in an indirect manner, sapping and weakening our whole social system. We claim a right to speak, to approve or condemn, according to the light and the reason within us. And if our protest on the present question should still be disregarded, our faith and hope that we shall yet be heard and felt as a power in the State, is sufficiently strong that we do not despair.”
The following is from Leeds, the writer having heard of the support given by a certain number of clergy to the vice‐protecting Acts:—
“Permit me to say (I cannot help saying it), if those rev. gentlemen who support these vile Acts are going to that ‘better land’ of which they preach, my earnest and sincere prayer will ever be, that I may not go where they are.”
A representative working man from Cumberland wrote:—
“I may say, with all due humility, that I have had ample means of judging of the feelings of the working classes, having risen from a labouring man to my present position, and I can assure you nothing ever called forth so powerfully the latent minds of the masses as the introduction of this law. They abhor it.”
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From Edinburgh:—
“Both for myself and many other working men I can honestly say that it is with mingled feelings of indignation and shame I hear that these Acts are again thought of. To think that the Legislators of this highly civilized, this enlightened country, should pass laws which make even the French blush, is too much for the men of the North at any rate.”

I am aware that the sentiments quoted above will be regarded by many with feelings of contempt. Nevertheless they are representative, and there is no doubt that men and women of the working classes see more straight to the heart of certain questions than do military, medical, or Government experts.

A word of warning is not out of season here to you, gentlemen and ladies, who fear the growing ascendancy of the people. You dread Socialism; but what can be more calculated to stimulate the revolted feelings of the masses than a persistence on your part in promoting measures which are oppressive to their own class? What more dreadful form of anarchy can there be than that which devotes numbers of the daughters of the poor to a system of enslavement and degradation for the basest service of the Imperial troops? It is a ghastly caricature of the Socialism you dread.


This system was first suggested by Aulus in 1762, during a period of disturbance in France when the rights of human dignity and individual liberty were forgotten or misunderstood. It was further elaborated by Restif de la Bretonne in 1790, and its principle was adopted by Napoleon 1st, on the eve of his conquering raid throughout Europe. Wherever his troops marched, a corresponding troop of drilled and superintended women slaves accompanied them in the service of vice. The example of Napoleon in this respect has been largely and disastrously followed, as for example in British India, where, said Dr. Ross, an army surgeon, “When a regiment arrives, a certain establishment is told off for each regiment as it arrives, and amongst others there is an establishment for prostitutes, who are regularly looked after. *

The scheme of Restif de la Bretonne has been republished this year (1897), the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, in the Times of April 21st, under the signature of a distinguished

* Evidence before the Royal Commission, 1871 (Q. 15, 129).

page: 13 lady, whose advice on the subject appears to have been sought by members of the Government. I prefer, however, to speak of it as the work of Restif de la Bretonne, and to drop the name of the distinguished lady in connection with these cynical propositions made during the dark times of the French Revolution. The following is the text of the condensed English version of Restif de la Bretonne, which appeared in the Times:—

  • 1. A quarter of each cantonment should be reserved for such women as are permitted to remain in camp; and all such women should be compelled to remain in houses or rooms specifically reserved to each by a registered number. The admission of men to this quarter should be strictly supervised.
  • 2. No woman should remain in this quarter unless periodically examined by properly qualified women doctors.
  • 3. No soldier should be allowed to enter this quarter without having undergone a like examination and having the same report.
  • 4. A register should be kept recording the name of each soldier entering the quarter, the number of the house which he does, and the date of such entry.
  • 5. On any women being found to be diseased in this quarter, or on any soldier found to be suffering in like manner, all such persons that the registered visits show to have rendered themselves liable to contagion should be put in quarantine until such time as their immunity can be verified.
  • 6. All consorting with women outside this quarter should render the offender liable to severe penalty.

Is it possible that anyone with any knowledge of human nature can imagine that men (leaving out of account women who being weaker are more easily coerced and enslaved) will ever be got to render obedience to a regulation so indecent as this? For my part, I can scarcely imagine anyone to have so low an opinion of human beings as the promoters of such a system must have. I have seen something of the worst side of humanity. I have encountered men who were more demons than men. I have been forced to fathom the depths of human corruption; yet, I thank God, my faith is strong as ever in the recoverability of the most abject of human beings, and in the spark of divine light which lingers even in those who are generally believed to be helpless. I refuse to believe that our poor young soldiers in India at the age of from 18 to 25 have reached such a depth of degradation as to accept or to cease to revolt against such rules as the above, and that it will ever be possible to drill them in debauchery so perfectly as to induce them to practice it with the order and precision with which they might attend a concert or a lecture, having their names entered, with the date, the circumstances, the number of the room visited,etc.. None but the coarsest, the most stupidly page: 14 animal and shameless of the men would consent to perform their acts of impurity thus openly, under the eyes of the military police and the whole camp. But there would not be less vice, for the very publicity and shamelessness thus prescribed and enforced would themselves reproduce, in a great degree than ever before, that terror, that Giant Despair of all regulationists—“illicit prostitution,” the “consorting with unlicensed women,” which defeats all the sanitary efforts of the organizers of vice.

This result in the past is confirmed by many official papers. The latest among those written while the Cantonment Regulations were in full force, confirms the fact that the soldiers preferred to consort with women who evaded the regulations. “The Thirteenth Annual Report of the working of the Lock Hospitals of the North‐West Provinces and Oudh, for the year ending 31st December, 1886,” contains reports from 14 districts or cantonments. Twelve complain of the men’s consorting with unlicensed prostitutes, while the report indirectly places the difficulty in the strongest light by pointing out the necessity of insuring that“attractive women are kept in the regimental chakla” or brothel. The following is an extract from the Report from Fyzabad, which more fully supports the same view. “The police are said to be constantly on the alert to apprehend any unlicensed prostitute found within five miles of cantonments, and the regimental police patrol the city to prevent soldiers straying into the houses of unregistered city prostitutes. Yet unlicensed prostitution goes on as before.” From this it is evident that the policy afterwards adopted by the Indian Government of seeking to provide “younger and better‐looking women” was only the natural attempt to remedy the defect, in this drastic system, which was at once a cause and a proof of its failure. For the officials in these reports all uniformly attribute the increase of disease to the men’s consorting with “unlicensed”women.

This refusal on the part of men to accept the thing provided for them by Government (the thing superintended, medicated, its womanhood stamped out of it, no longer a woman, but a chattel), is in fact a redeeming feature in the character of the wretched, immoral soldier; it indicates a spark of something above the mere animal. It is a protest against being classed as wholly dehumanized and brutal. It is a secret rebellion of the human will in favour of some liberty of choice, a desire for the semblance, miserable as that semblance may be, of a little romance or adventure, a little of the seeking, courting page: 15 and winning, which in the eyes of the young man is more agreeable and less degrading than the mechanically ordered practice of fornication prescribed by military officials and the State. To persons whose moral sense is not wholly blighted by complicity in this degrading system, it is touching to note (even in this particular) how poor human nature continually “struggles against its own final destruction,and for the retention of some remnant or rag of human dignity.”

Yet while evasion of regulation on the part of men and women alike will continue, as it has ever done, to defeat the hopes of the promoters of this accursed system on the hygienic side, the State by assuming this guilty attitude towards vice, exercises a fatal and far‐reaching influence on the public conscience. While on the one hand men will evade the State rules, they will yet see the State daily inviting them, by its organized machinery for vice, to unrestrained indulgence. There stands within the Indian Cantonment, together with the place of worship to which the troops are marched once a week, the Chakla, the maison tolerée of France, the Lupanar of the Romans, the house of debauchery, the place which is called in Scripture “an open sepulchre, resting upon the tomb”;“and you wish,” says M. Ed. de Pressensé, “that the State should hold the key to that chamber of death, that the State should be the door‐keeper to admit to it our youthful citizens”! The same weighty writer says: “your measures of protection are useless. How could it be otherwise? You wish to regulate vice, but it is of the essence of vice to refuse to be regulated. It is itself an irregularity. It violates all moral laws, you may expect it to transgress human rules. It is like a torrent which has overflowed its banks. It mocks all your regulations. You will never succeed in making disorderly passions well ordered in their gratification.”

And the Ladies’ Memorial speaks of this system as promoting the redemption of the women who are subjected to it. Would that they had once witnessed its effect on these poor slaves, or that they had the imagination to realize it!

The promoters and the opponents of this system of moral torture alike testify to its destructive effects on the helpless women. Of the former, is M. Alphonse Equiros, who says that when once the woman has entered the State regulated house of vice“she bid adieu to heaven, to liberty, to honour, and to the power to repent.” Dr. Hippolyte Mireur, of Marseilles, himself a worker in it, describes the “system which regularizes the sorrowful industry of the prostitute” as “the sinister stroke by which the woman is page: 16 cut off from society, after which, she ceases to belong to herself and becomes the mere thing (chose) of the administration.”

M. Ed. De Pressensé, a strong opponent of legalised vice speaks thus: “Let us look at the situation of the woman whom the Governments have submitted to a regulations which is a complete and abject slavery. She deserves nothing but contempt, you say! She is invariably as morally perverse as you assert that she is! What is your part in the matter? You engulf her further; you thrust her down lower; you throw on her the last shovelful of earth to hurl her to the abyss; you roll upon her the stone which cannot be removed except by superhuman effort. ‘Oh! you have fallen, unfortunate creature, you say; well, we will complete the work, we will consummate your degradation; that which is already soiled shall be made still more vile.’ This is logic, but it is the logic of demons!” And this is the system which you, honourable ladies, Princesses and Peeresses, approve and demand!


It continues to be reiterated that the Abolitionist are purely negative in their proposals, and that they suggest nothing of a positive kind to meet the plague of increasing disease resulting from vice.

This accusation is wholly false. Those who make it can scarcely have taken the trouble to read the many memorials, pamphlets and addresses which have emanated continually from our offices. We have pressed our positive suggestions upon successive Governments, but with little avail. Let me advise those who echo this taunt to obtain and read some of our latest utterances.

“The Soldier and his Masters” may be had at our office, 17, Tothill Street, Westminster, and it is full of positive suggestions, which, if adopted, could not fail to produce, in time, a marked change for the better in the morality and consequently in the hygiene of our soldiers. The following is extracted from a Memorandum published by the Abolitionists, and widely circulated in April last:—
“We demand that there should be no reversion to an immoral and discredited system, but that practical steps should be taken which, while supplying adequate means for the voluntary treatment of disease, should be based on—
  • (1.) A positive discouragement of sexual vice;
  • (2.) And a positive recognition of the merits of abstinence from vice. page: 17 In relation to this we would remark:
    • (a.) As matters stand, it seems that even the most habitual profligacy is no impediment to promotion. It is understood that Commanding officers make confidential reports on their subordinates, but that the question of sexual morality is never mentioned. Should it not be ordered that henceforth moral character shall be at least an important element in promotion?
    • (b.) A man who has spent much of his time in hospital from these disgraceful diseases may, if he be a well conducted soldier in other respects when he is out of hospital, get his discharge with a character described as ‘exemplary.’ Should not the War Office decide at once, as it can if it please, that the ‘medical history sheet’ shall be taken into consideration as well as the ‘defaulters’ sheet’ in giving the soldier a character?
    • (c.) Why should not the bad condition of a regiment in regard to this question be regarded by the authorities as a reflection on the officers and regiment, involving special disciplines?
  • (3.) Before any step is taken to depart from the attitude which has for so many years been adopted by responsible authorities in this country, we suggest that a Select Committee should be appointed to enquire into the following points and others that may be suggested—
    • (a.) What can be done more than has already done, and more than is suggested above, to raise the moral tone of the Army both among officers and men?
    • (b.) What more can be done in the way of providing occupation, recreation, &c., as suggested by the Army Sanitary Commission?
    • (c.) Under what circumstances the proportion of married men, which under the East India Company was 20 or 30 per cent. was reduced to 12 per cent. and is now less than 4 per cent.
    • (d.) Whether a system ensuring older men and longer service for the British Army in India, so as to increase the proportion of mature men, as suggested by Lord Roberts, is feasible or desirable?
    • (e.) Why and to what extent the 70 ‘Cantonment’ and ‘Cantonment General’ Hospitals at one time in existence succeeded or failed, and why there are now only 13 of these hospitals and 13 outdoor dispensaries now in existence for the 108 military stations in India, and whether any means could be taken to make hospitals of this class more useful?
    • (f.) Whether any disciplinary measures have been or can advantageously be adopted to diminish the temptations to vice, by placing certain localities out of bounds, and in other ways?
    • (g.) Whether any steps are being taken or can advantageously be taken to prevent the access of women to the neighbourhood of barracks, cantonments, or camps without legitimate business?
    • (h.) Whether the present system of hospital stoppages, which are now the same for shameful diseases as for those which are unavoidable, is the best possible?
    • (i.) What are the causes of the great variations in the admissions to hospitals in different stations and in differing regiments?
The following words are the concluding portion of a Memorial which the Abolitionist Society lately presented to Lord George Hamilton:—
“We note with regret your dispatch places disease in the forefront and gives a very subordinate place to moral considerations. Even the one paragraph (14) referring to moral efforts introduces them only in relation page: 18 to mitigating or checking the spread of disease. We believe this attitude (which has been that of the Indian Government for many decades) is the main cause of the present condition of the Indian Army, and that without a total change in this respect that condition will become more and more disastrous.
“We earnestly plead with you to look beyond the horrible statistics of disease to the still more terrible facts of which it is at once the index and the inevitable outcome. The figures reveal the startling facts that we have in India an army of 70,000 men all but given up to reckless debauchery, and that these return to this country at the rate of 13,000 annually, bringing with them the debasing sentiments and habits acquired during their Indian training, and infecting our industrial communities with a moral pestilence, more destructive of the national stamina than the disease on which you have concentrated your attention.
“We submit that the only statesmanlike attitude—the only one that offers a hope of permanently lessening the deplorable physical effects of debauchery —is that of making well‐devised, continuous, and resolute efforts to remove temptations to that debauchery, to apply disciplinary provisions and restraints to check disease and discourage vice, and to place the soldier in an environment tending to develop his best physical, moral, intellectual and religious faculties. We have recently issued a Memorandum, of which we hand you a copy, containing practical suggestions in this direction, which we commend to your most earnest consideration. And in view of the gravity of the situation, we again repeat our request that a Select Committee be appointed to enquire as to what remedies may most wisely be adopted.”

It cannot be said, in the face of such urgent counsels which have been put forward by us at different times, that our action is negative or merely destructive, without positive suggestion of any remedy.

The fact is that our age is a very impatient age. Few people nowadays have patience to wait for the gradual, but sure action of moral influences. The true remedies for all this vice and disease cannot possibly be immediate and rapid in their operation.

A panic has seized our public on this subject, as if the plague were at our doors, and they cry out for prompt sanitary protection.

And what most people desire is some immediate and constructive legislation. Now we have come, from a long experience, to have a profound distrust of constructive legislation in this matter. There is nothing so delicate as the moral relations of the sexes. Legislation on that subject cannot be carried into effect by men in government livery, with sticks in their hands, whom we call policemen; the power of the State must be exceedingly restricted in this domain. The law can, and ought to reach some of the sources whence prostitution is constantly supplied and fed, such as seduction, procuring, trafficking in “white slaves,” and the organization of vice. But how can the State punish page: 19 a thing which it declares to be necessary, and while it itself seduces, procures, and organizes?

More than has ever yet been done may be done by associated action. If a mistake is made in an experiment by voluntary and associated workers, it is not fatal; we can go back from our error, and profit by the experience gained even in our mistakes. But laws createconditions, unexpected and unimagined by us beforehand, which frequently perplex and embarrass us as much as the original circumstances which occasioned the outcry for a law. The law is inelastic and rigid, and is sure to be unjust when dealing with this question.

In the question before us, above all others, the law inevitably becomes, even though it may not be meant to be so, a class law, of the grossest kind. If men were included in its penalties, they would only be men of the poorest class, probably only soldiers who are the servants of the State in such a degree that they could be brought under any legal discipline whatever; while the women brought under such a law would only be the daughters of the poor,—helpless, fallen, friendless, and despised. Who can imagine military captains, majors, or colonels brought under such a law, or the protected daughters of the favoured classes? But nothing less probably will meet the present impatient outcry, than some constructive legislation of a drastic kind which will fall upon one class alone, and be followed in time by its own appropriate curse.

Why do not our military authorities adopt some more radical and reasonable measures in regard to the soldiers? They are all powerful, and could do it if they wished. Their present methods are but a most wretched tinkering. We are as desirous as they that discipline—a strict discipline—should be applied to the boys who go out to India, and who are quite as amenable to good and restraining as to evil influences.

In the early years of the existence of the Contagious Disease Acts in England I visited many of the garrison towns subjected to them. At Chatham I entered one evening a hall attached to one of the State‐superintended houses of ill‐fame under strict police control. There was a crowd of miserable girls—“Queen’s women,” as they not unnaturally styled themselves—and a corresponding crowd of youths, raw recruits, drinking, singing, dancing, but in a languid, joyless manner. A group of them gathered round me, and as I spoke kindly to them a young soldier took by the arm another, a very young page: 20 and innocent looking boy, and pushing him forward to me, said, “speak to him, Lady, he is from the country, he has just joined.” The boy’s face suggested a good home and a loving Christian mother, recently exchanged for this hell, filled with State guaranteed harlots. He came up to me in a confiding manner, and after a few words, he burst into tears, and said,“Oh, Ma’am, they expect us to bad, and we are bad.” They—the authorities—“expect us to be bad.” That boy expressed the whole truth concerning the effect of this degrading State institution, in those few simple words.

Why should not the authorities give a trial to the plan of expecting these young soldiers to be good? When certain officers have earnestly tried that simple and elevating method, it has been eminently successful; we know instances of its having been truly blessed in its results. But how many such officers are there, or how few? Apparently the Government and Military authorities are afraid of allowing any inquiry whatever on that head.

In the debate in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Southwell suggested that where regiments had deteriorated in morality, penalties should be inflicted on the colonels of the regiments personally. If those who were under him as a head master or a bishop deteriorated it would quite right if he were removed from his office. He had lived in a garrison town and he knew how much the character of a regiment depended upon its colonel.

Lord Clarina, as one of the oldest regimental officers in the House, was amazed to hear it suggested that penal results should fall upon a commanding officer in whose regiment there was a large amount of disease. No body of men were more devoted to their duty than the commanding officers of regiments.

Lord Clarina’s remarks were greeted with approving laughter. Noble Lords were amused at the idea of holding colonels responsible. They will continue to laugh, so secure are they in the immunity which rank gives them from the penalties inflicted on humbler people. They are of those of whom Christ said: “Ye load men with burdens grievous to be borne, but ye yourselves will not touch them with one of your fingers.”

Is it not to be feared that India may one day herself answer her rulers, and cut through the heart of this problem in her own manner? For the natives of India, superstitious and ignorant, and for the present apparently submissive, have yet enough of the man in them not to endure for ever that the women of their people,—a conquered people,— page: 21 should be taken and bound to the service of the vices of the troops of their conquerors. They have their harlot temples and certain impure rites, but they are not all impure, as the British Army authorities themselves attest; the native soldier being in a far more honourable position as to vice and disease than the British soldier; and there are grave signs of a secret revolt in their minds against the supreme contempt for their women expressed in the high handed and degrading measures taken under the Cantonment Acts.


Many of my friends will recollect the events of the 22nd of March of last year, in Geneva.

In all parts of Switzerland, except Geneva, the official organisation of vice has been abolished. Geneva alone clings to it, or rather it clings like a poisoned mantle to her, so closely that she cannot shake it off. It dates as one of her recognised institutions since the close of the last century, when Napoleon entered Geneva with his troops. A strong effort was made last year by the better part of the citizens to shake it off.

The question was put to the vote. The Regulationists were victorious. Sunday, March the 22nd, was the voting day. I prefer not to recount again in detail the horrors of that day and the following night, the orgies, the blasphemies, the violence of the victorious party, who entered churches carrying aloft the insignia of their abominable institution, the red lamp (the Lampe Rouge is by order of the Government hung over the door of every house where vice is practised under its protection), singing their obscene songs of praise to the demon, parodying a hymn sung in the churches to the Holy Spirit, and applying it to the symbol of their degradation.

At midnight, the furious mob assembled around the house of their leader, a Member of the Government, who addressed them from his balcony:—“You can now go home, citizens,” he said, “we have triumphed. We have saved our free institutions. Christianity (Pietisme, their word for vital Christianity) is dead in Geneva. We shall no more be troubled with it. We shall hear no more of that party.” *

* For the verification of these facts, and others even more terrible, I refer my readers to the “Signal de Genève” of that date, March 1896.

page: 22

The Genevois, of Geneva, edited by the Regulationist leader above mentioned, has recently had several jubilant articles on the revival of the demand in England for the State Organisation of Vice, and in his issue of the 24th of May last,the Editor declares that the triumph of the Regulationist is everywhere assured, thanks to the British Government; and closes his article with the words: “The foolish noise of the Christians has come to an end even in England.”

Many honest and honourable people who do not see the inner meanings of the question before us uphold this disastrous governmental policy actively or by silent acquiescence; but one day they will know that deep down, at the source and origin of the movement, there are beings who know all, and knowing, say, “Evil be thou my good.” No mere question of the health of the Army, deeply important and pressing as that question is, would awaken the passion which this question evokes. Mrs. Harriet Martineau wrote in 1870, when our appeals had begun to arouse the country, “how appalled the profligates are, and how enraged! I have heard from very high authority that it is as if the depths of hell were stirred, so fierce is the passion of certain men at the check in a career which they supposed would be made more secure. . . . . The extraordinary violence and ill manners of certain newspaper editors speak volumes; and the audacity with which falsehoods are told, make it impossible to doubt that such disturbance arises out of fear. ‘Fear hath torment,’ and it is a sort of torment which, in its paroxysms, betrays its origin.”

The beings above indicated ar filled with a passionate desire to cast off the yoke of the moral law, or, to quote the words of one of themselves, to get rid of “this damnable Puritanism” which is so irksome to them. Nothing, they know, would so rapidly and forcibly conduce towards their liberation from this oppressive yoke than that the State should itself proclaim, and daily flaunt the proclamation before the eyes of all people, that free fleshly indulgence is necessary for man, and therefore not be blamed, but rather to be facilitated. No more teaching of the old‐fashioned doctrine that “he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption.” Profligacy will breathe freely under the new régime; let the Churches prate, and school‐children be taught to repeat certain words supposed to emanate from a Divine source. The lesson taught by the attitude of the State will be stronger than all!

This is the inner meaning of the struggle. It lies deep, deep, and we know who is its inspirer on that side; our page: 23 battle is not merely against Government proposals, corrupt officialism, and medical theories. It is against legions of “unclean spirits.”


For us, friends, at this time, our great concern must be to deliver our message clearly and sternly, and that our clarion shall give no uncertain sound. So shall we be found at the last to be faithful and true witnesses.

We need not pause and wonder over recent events. “Behold, I have told you before,” our Lord said, “Satan has desired to sift you like wheat.” “But I have prayed for you, that your faith will fail not.” Under what a heavy burden may not the human heart of our Saviour have bent when he uttered that prayer! For it was not uttered for the men alone to whom he then spoke. He said, “I pray not for these alone, but for all who shall believe on me through their word.”

And now, again, he is asking us,—“Can you drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”


We are learning now more deeply than ever the power of Christ’s Crucifixion and Death. We understand more fully now that before the triumph comes, we must have died with him, singly and collectively; that his cause on earth must die, in order to live the life eternal. “I am He who liveth, and was dead.” Death must needs be gone through that “all may be accomplished”; for Death must take away its own that Life alone may remain.

Now, among us Abolitionists, death through temporary failure, will be doing its solemn work, consuming the chaff, refining the silver—and “you shall be scattered, every one to his own.” And so it will be revealed what is “our own,” where our treasure is, and where our heart is, in how much they have blended themselves with God’s purpose and in God’s work.

I pray that all that is not God’s in my own heart and the hearts of others, any be burned up and destroyed. As in the world, so among us, let there be a sifting, in order that all who can or must fall off may fall! The selection must take place before we go on further; and God is operating it page: 24 through many tests. Those who in the depths of their hearts have any secret leaning to compromise with an evil principle are proved now to the uttermost, and,—for this warfare,— are cast aside, or left behind; for God can employ in it only whole‐hearted seekers after justice.

Let us boldly yield ourselves and the world to death’s solemn ministry, that what is of death may die!

We know that after Death comes Resurrection, and we seek not “the Living among the Dead.” We do not fear the Refiner’s fire, nor the sifting. We look beyond the “Great Tribulation” to the victory which is not far off.

Josephine E. Butler.

July, 1897.

Printed by Pewtress &c. Co., 28, Little Queen Street, London, W.C.

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