William Morris. Commonweal 1886

Free Speech at Stratford

Source: “Free Speech at Stratford,” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 22, 12 June 1886, p.87;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

A meeting was held at Stratford last Saturday on the same ground as on the former week. Comrades Aveling and Morris spoke for the League, and Messrs. Ellis (of the Peckham and Dulwich Radical Club) and Rose (Whitechapel Liberal Club) also spoke. A solid and attentive audience at once came together as soon as the first speaker began; about 300, I should think, was the number of the actual meeting. Our two Radical friends spoke well and strongly on the right of free speech, and the audience was obviously in complete sympathy. At the close of the meeting, which lasted an hour, comrade Aveling called for a show of hands in favour of free speech generally, and of maintaining it on that spot, and all hands were held up. The police did not interfere, although there were many about and in the crowd in plain clothes, and an inspector came up to the skirts of the meeting several times to take note of our proceedings.

It must have been clear to all those present that there was no real obstruction caused by the meeting; and it should be the opinion of all those interested in free speech that it is most important to keep up the meetings here. Most meeting-places, except those held in parks or on commons, are attackable on the same grounds as this is. Nor will it do merely to challenge the police to remove bodies speaking there other than Socialists. In their zeal for getting rid of Socialist meetings, the Respectables are quite capable of accepting the challenge and getting rid of Temperance, Christianity, and Radicalism at one blow, in order to get rid of Socialism. All those, therefore, who care at all about the expression of advanced opinion should take warning, and remember that it is no use standing aside to be eaten up last. Any excuse will be made use of in order to clear the streets altogether of everybody but proletarians hurrying to and from their daily toil and sauntering fine ladies and gentlemen. To make the world outside Respectability one huge prison is the darling wish of the Respectables, from Matthew Arnold the pensioner down to some petty vestry tyrant at Stratford. Sweet alliance of the Superfine and the Bumble! Lovers of freedom, combine to overthrow this alliance, which is dangerous though ridiculous.