Review of Reviews,  4 (1891), 349–67.

Character Sketch: October. Mrs. Annie Besant



Regular Feature, Biography


Unbelief, Reading, Freethought, Gender, Lecturing, Secularism, Population, Sex, Morality, Socialism, Materialism, Theosophy, Miracle

    Announcing that Annie Besant is 'one of my most intimate friends' (349), William T Stead relates how he had 'to put my foot down' in resisting 'an attempt to enforce even in these pages the policy of boycott that still prevails in certain obscure quarters' with regard to Besant's writings (350). Gives an account of Besant's eventful life, and her intellectual journey from High Anglicanism, through doubt, theism, atheism, freethought, neo-Malthusianism, socialism, materialism, and, finally, theosophy. It was her association with Moncure D Conway and, most importantly, Charles Bradlaugh, that set Besant on the road to becoming 'the high priestess of infidelity', although she assumed that role only because of the essential 'religiousness of her irreligion' (360). Comments on her brave stand 'vindicating the right to print and publish physiological works, discussing the best method of checking the over multiplication of the population of the planet', and adds that, while it discusses candidly 'the most momentous of all the acts which human beings can perform', Charles Knowlton's neo-Malthusian book The Fruits of Philosophy is 'a judicious and scientific treatise on the physiology of the state into which' newly married couples 'propose to enter' (361). Neo-Malthusianism, which 'advises early marriage and the limitation of the family' through birth control, is at least preferable to the original doctrines of Thomas R Malthus, which have resulted in the 'shocking prostitution, which is the curse of every Christian city' (367). Concludes that Besant's 'conversion [...] from Materialism to a firmly based belief in the reality of the spiritual world' is a 'miracle' and 'an achievement much more wonderful [...] than the duplication of any number of teacups or the tinkling of whole peals of "astral bells"'. She brings to the Theosophists 'a zeal and an enthusiasm at least equal to that of H. P. B.', and at last provides Blavatsky with a rightful 'heir and successor'. (366)

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