Freethought Archives > G.W. Foote > Arrows of Freethought
(1882)     Crimes of Christianity


Comic Bible Sketches

Flowers of Freethought (Vol. 1)


The Jewish Life of Christ

Flowers of Freethought (Vol. 2)


Prisoner for Blasphemy


"Free speech and Freethought go together. If one is hampered the other languishes. What is the use of thinking if I may not express my thought? We claim equal liberty for all. The priest shall say what he believes and so shall the sceptic. No law shall protect the one and disfranchise the other. If any man disapproves what I say, he need not hear me a second time. What more does he require? Let him listen to what he likes, and leave others to do the same. Let us have justice and fair play all round."

G W FooteGeorge William Foote was born in Plymouth, England on 11 January 1850. In his youth he became a freethinker through reading and independent thought. When he came to London in 1868 he joined the freethought organisations that were flourishing at the time. Foote was soon lecturing at freethought meetings. Charles Bradlaugh, then the leader of the secularist movement, soon recognised Foote's abilities and allowed him to play an increasingly important role in the British freeethought movement. Foote contributed many articles to Bradlaugh's National Reformer and in 1876 founded his own magazine, The Secularist. This was followed by his major publishing success, The Freethinker, which began in 1881 and is still in existence today.

In 1882 Foote was charged with blasphemy for having published a number of biblical cartoons in The Freethinker. These had been modelled after a series of French cartoons that had appeared earlier. After a series of trials Foote was found guilty in 1883 and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment by Justice North, a Catholic judge. ("The sentence is worthy of your creed," Foote responded.)  The Freethinker carried the banner headline "Prosecuted for Blasphemy" during this period, probably increasing its sales.

When Foote was released from prison, he was a hero in freethought circles. He continued writing, lecturing, and editing magazines until Charles Bradlaugh died in 1891. At that time Foote was elected to lead the National Secular Society, founded by Bradlaugh. Foote continued in this role until his death on 17 October 1915.

Joseph Mazzini Wheeler was born in London on 24 January 1850. In his youth he was converted from Christianity by reading the works of Newman, Mill, Darwin, Spencer, and others. He became a close friend of G. W. Foote, and in 1882 was appointed sub-editor of The Freethinker, a position he was to hold for many years. When Foote was imprisoned for blasphemy in 1883 Wheeler took over as acting editor. The strain of the trial, Foote's imprisonment, and Wheeler's increased editorial duties proved too much for his delicate health, and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He was sent away to recuperate and recovered quickly.

Wheeler had an extensive knowledge of the history of freethought.  In his Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers (1889) he modestly described himself as "a willing drudge in the cause he loves" who "hopes to empty many an inkstand in the service of freethought."  Sadly, his early death on 5 May 1898 (following another breakdown) meant that his projected History of Freethought in England was never completed.



Online Resources (off-site):

Infidels Deathbeds, revised and expanded edition (1933?) of a work originally published by Foote in 1886.

History of the British Secular Movement (1948) by John E. McGee.  Includes a Foote bibliography.

Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? (1903) by G.R.S. Mead (1863-1933).  Includes another version of the Sepher Toldoth Jeshu.

Offline Resources:

The Bible Handbook by G.W. Foote & William P. Ball.  Revised and expanded edition of the 1888 original.

The Jesus the Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish Sources (2003), by Frank Zindler. Incorporates Foote's edition of The Jewish Life of Christ.

Word Crimes: Blasphemy, Culture, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century England (1998), by Joss Marsh.