Bradlaugh, Charles (1833–1891)
Bradlaugh was an English Spiritualist, freethinker, and political
agitator. Bradlaugh was born to a poor clerk in London
on September 26, 1833. From 1850 to 1853 he served as an
army private in Ireland. At the same time he taught himself
languages and law. Becoming a prominent member of the
Committee of the London Dialectical Society, he was appointed
in 1869 to investigate the alleged phenomena of Spiritualism.
He served on subcommittee No. 5, which held séances
with the celebrated medium Daniel D. Home at which the phenomena
were not all satisfactory. Bradlaugh therefore signed
a minority report, containing a careful and critical treatment
of the evidence. The Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the
London Dialectical Society, first published in London in 1871 and
reissued in 1873, is something of a landmark in the development
of enlightened interest in Spiritualism and psychical phenomena,
and in standards of evidence.
Bradlaugh’s association with the investigation of Spiritualist
phenomena is noteworthy because of his reputation as a freethinker
and atheist. His atheism and his political convictions
were based on eighteenth century individualism.His associate
in the cause of Freethought and birth control was Annie Besant,
who later became the president of the Theosophical Society.
Born September 26, 1833, Bradlaugh early on became a disciple
of Richard Carlile. By 1853 Bradlaugh was a lawyer’s clerk
and began to lecture and write in the cause of freethought
under the name ‘‘Iconoclast.’’ From 1860 onward he published
the National Reformer, which the government prosecuted for alleged
sedition and blasphemy. In 1874 Besant became coeditor
of the paper. The Bristol publisher of Bradlaugh’s Fruits
of Philosophy (concerned with birth control) was prosecuted in
1876 for indecency, and the pamphlet was suppressed. However,
Bradlaugh and Besant boldly republished it in the cause of
liberty of thought and were both convicted and sentenced, although
the indictment was ultimately quashed on a technicality.
From 1885 onward Besant moved away from Bradlaugh and
his ideas into socialism and labor agitation and, as a pupil of
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, into Theosophy.
Bradlaugh was elected to Parliament as an advanced radical
in 1880 but was unseated after refusing to take the Parliamentary
oath, because it invoked God. He was successively unseated
and reelected, until he eventually took his seat in 1886 because
of the passage of Bradlaugh’s Affirmation Bill of 1888. Arrogant,
dogmatic, but courageous in the cause of freedom of
thought and speech, he was a great natural leader in the radical
causes of his time. He died January 30, 1891.
Autobiography of Mr. Bradlaugh A Page of His Life. London
Watts, 1873.
Besant, Annie. Charles Bradlaugh A Character Sketch. Adyar,
Madras, India Theosophical Publishing House, 1941.
Bonner, Hypatia Bradlaugh, and J. M. Robertson. Charles
Bradlaugh His Life and Work. London, 1898.
Chandrasekhar, Sripati. ‘‘A Dirty Filthy Book.’’ Berkeley University
of California Press, 1981.
Manvell, Roger. The Trial of Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh.
London ElekPemberton, 1976.