IT is an unusual and unsatisfactory circumstance for a discussion to be divided up into two parts between two separate towns. The reader will naturally be curious to know, not only how the discussion came about, but also how it came to assume this extraordinary and inconvenient shape, from which, however, with the whole discussion in his hands, he will not be a sufferer. His curiosity cannot be more effectually gratified than by placing before him the correspondence which led to the holding of it. It is as follows:
64, BELGRAVE ROAD, BIRMINGHAM,
18th February, 1876.
Mr. CHARLES BRADLAUGH. DEAR SIR.-You may be aware that the desirability of a meeting in debate between yourself and me has been for a considerable time urged by many persons who know us both. I believe the matter was verbally mentioned to you some months ago by Mr. Arthur Andrew, of London; and you were good enough to express your willingness to hold the proposed meeting.
I now write for the purpose of putting the proposal into formal shape. I will undertake, for six nights-spread over two weeks-three successive nights in each week, to affirm that the Scriptures are the authentic and genuine records of Divine revelation. I leave you to choose whether the debate shall be by ordinary speeches, or by the Socratic mode, or a mixture of both, merely expressing my opinion that the latter is, perhaps, on the whole, best calculated to put the matter in debate to a thorough test.
As to the place where the debate should take place, the majority of my friends are in favour of Birmingham. I presume Birmingham will not be unacceptable to you. We should, probably, have a larger audience there than anywhere else.
As to the date, it will probably suit the state of your engagements, as it will mine, if I name a somewhat distant day, say the autumn of the present year; by which time, the Town Hall, Birmingham, will be re-opened after alterations and repairs. The disposal of the surplus, if any, after the payment of expenses, I would leave to your proposal, subject to mutual agreement.
If these proposals are agreeable to you, you could, probably, name a local committee for the execution of arrangements in detail. Respectfully yours,
"THE NATIONAL REFORMER," 29, TURNER STREET, COMMERCIAL ROAD,
21st February, 1876.
DEAR SIR,–I have handed your letter to Mr. W. H. Holyoak, Belgrave Gate, Leicester, who will write you, and who has my full authority to arrange. Yours respectfully,
Robert Roberts, Esq., 64, Belgrave Road, Birmingham.
45, HUMBERSTONE GATE, LEICESTER,
February 25th, 1876.
To ROBERT ROBERTS, Esq. DEAR SIR,–I write on behalf of Mr. Charles Bradlaugh. He has left to me the arrangement of the debate between you and him.
Please consider that it is settled to come off. The time we prefer is during the month of April or the beginning of May.
The place, Leicester Temperance Hall, for say three nights. Mr. B. will not object to three nights in Birmingham as well if you wish. The mode of debate: we assent with you to the mixed, viz., question and answer and ordinary speeches.
We trust you will see your way to this earlier date; for the date you name appears to us so remote, that a thousand events may occur between now and then to prevent its ever taking place. Trusting, however, that you will see your way, and waiting your reply, I am, Sir, yours sincerely,
WILLIAM HENRY HOLYOAK.
64, BELGRAVE ROAD, BIRMINGHKM,
26th February, 1876.
Mr. HOLYOAK. DEAR SIR.–Thanks for yours of the 25th inst., according to Mr. Bradlaugh’s promise to me.
Your proposals, however, are not quite acceptable in some details. The date is too early. It is a matter of impossibility for me to take part much sooner than the time I mentioned to Mr. Bradlaugh. Mr. Collyer, your townsman, will be able to inform you of one reason, sufficient of itself. I admit my time is somewhat remote; but this need not be a disadvantage. As for the uncertainties, they would apply with nearly equal force to an earlier date, and must be submissively encountered.
As to the place, I presume Mr. Bradlaugh can have no personal choice, as his friends will be as numerous in Birmingham as in Leicester; therefore, I must ask your consent to Birmingham. It would be a great disappointment to the majority of my friends if it were not to take place there, and would, to some extent, frustrate the object I have in view in consenting to encounter a man of Mr. Bradlaugh’s calibre and reputation. I can understand your preference for Leicester, and do not quarrel with it. To have the debate there would also be in accordance with the wishes of many in that town whom I should greatly desire to gratify. Nevertheless, the preponderance of reasons from my point of view, is sufficiently in favour of Birmingham to justify me in pressing for it. If you feel it would be conceding an advantage to me, you have also to remember that you can well afford to concede any advantage to one who will figure so small in collision with so popular a man and a cause.
Three nights is an utterly inadequate time for the argument I have to submit. Twelve nights would not be too long. It will be necessary for you to consent to six nights, and these must, of course, be in one place; for it would place both speakers in an awkward position to have a new audience for the second half of the debate.
Regretting my inability to return a simple affirmative to your proposals, and looking for your reply, respectfully yours,
February 28th, 1876
To ROBERT ROBERTS, Esq. DEAR SIR.–Yours of the 26th inst., I have forwarded to Mr. Bradlaugh, along with a copy of what follows; not seeing what I can have to do with arranging for a debate to come off in Birmingham.
I should have been pleased to be instrumental in bringing it about in Leicester; but in Birmingham, the Birmingham friends had better be consulted. It seems to me they are the parties to move in the matter, and not 1. You will please reply, advising me of your opinion. I am, dear sir, yours truly,
WILLIAM HENRY HOLYOAK.
45. HUMBERSTONE GATE,
To ROBERT ROBERTS, Esq. DEAR SIR.–Mr. Bradlaugh writes me as follows:–
"DEAR SIR.–As the challenge was given by Mr. Roberts’s friends in Leicester, and as the Leicester friends first asked me to meet Mr. Roberts there, a debate in Leicester must take precedence of any other debate with Mr. Roberts; therefore, I return you his letter, and you had better send a copy of mine to you. I do not mean this as an objection to meet Mr. Roberts in Birmingham; but I do mean that I think it would be a slight on the Leicester Secular Society if I passed that Town over. I nevertheless leave myself entirely in the hands of the Leicester friends. Yours truly,
I might say that we in Leicester quite concur with the view Mr. B. takes.
I am, Sir, yours respectfully, WILLIAM HENRY HOLYOAK.
2nd March, 1876.
Mr. HOLYOAK. DEAR SIR.-I am in receipt of yours, without date, but presumably of to-day.
Mr. Bradlaugh leaves himself entirely in your hands. I cannot quite comprehend why a man of his independence should do this instead of dealing directly with me, and shaping his own course. Nevertheless, he having done so, with you will rest the responsibility of preventing the discussion, if you insist upon a condition needless on your side, and on my side inconsistent with the object of the discussion.
I cannot recognise the claim, or at least the ground of the claim put forward on behalf of Leicester. It is not true that the "challenge" was given by my friends in Leicester. The "challenge" has been given by me, at the instigation of friends in Birmingham, London, Leicester, and other places; and therefore Leicester has nothing to do with fixing the place. Mr. Bradlaugh may have heard of it first at Leicester; but this does not confer the right in question. I named Birmingham in my first letter, pressed for it in my second, and you will pardon me if I insist upon it in my third.
If a second debate should seem desirable to all parties, I promise it shall be in Leicester, so far as I am concerned; but the first encounter must take place in the metropolis of the Midlands.
Mr. Bradlaugh says he has no objection to meet me in Birmingham, and although he says in the beginning of his letter, that Leicester must take the precedence, by the last sentence he leaves the decision with you. To you, therefore, I appeal, to waive the objection and to allow the arrangements for the discussion to proceed. Respectfully yours,
45, HUMBERSTONE GATE, LEICESTER,
3rd March, 1876.
ROBERT ROBERTS, Esq. DEAR SIR–Yours of yesterday is to hand. Mr. Bradlaugh has left the arrangement of bringing about a debate with you in my hands. With the reason why I imagine we are not concerned. I take it that what we have to do with is the fact. And the responsibility you name, I accept. You say, "It is not true that the challenge was given by my friends in Leicester". That, sir, is a positive statement. Let us see upon what basis it rests, and whether that little word not is not a mistake on your part. The date of your first to Mr. Bradlaugh is February the 18th, 1876, but on January the 30th, 1876, a gentleman made a statement in the Lecture Hall of the Temperance Hall, Leicester, before a large audience, to the effect that Mr. Roberts was prepared to meet either Mr. Holmes or Mr. Bradlaugh in public debate on the question-"Is the Bible true?" I see no reason why I should not give the gentleman’s name; it was Mr. Vicars Collyer, who, I believe, is a friend of yours; and with the view of testing that statement, I waited upon him during the week, and on February 4th, I advised Mr. Bradlaugh of the statement publicly made by Mr. V.C.; and Mr. B. replied by saying that he only knew Mr. Roberts as a Christadelphian; that he knew nothing against him, and wished to be informed of the terms of the challenge, and whether he had a respectable committee in Leicester, saying, I shall, probably, be governed by my friends there. How, sir, you can reconcile this by saying "It is not true", I do not see. On that point, I beg to differ from you in thinking that Leicester has nothing to do with it.
To second promises I cannot attend until the first statement be verified. It is with that I have to do, and to that I confine myself. I am, Sir, yours respectfully,
WILLIAM HENRY HOLYOAK.
4th March, 1876.
Mr. HOLYOAK. DEAR SIR.-The circumstance you mention, which had escaped my memory, explains your view and Mr. Bradlaugh’s as to the origin of the challenge. I cannot admit, however, that it gives the real foundation for the facts as they stand.
Mr. Collyer’s intimation of my willingness to debate, (which he made of his own motion in response to some challenge from the platform), was merely the declaration of a privately-known fact, and not a challenge in the sense of carrying with it the local obligations now sought to be deduced from it. I was not aware of the incident till after it happened, and it made so little impression on me that I had forgot it. I admit it is open to the construction you and Mr. Bradlaugh have put upon it, and that, therefore, you are free from the imputation you seem to see in my denial; but you must be too experienced in such matters, to confound an unofficial intimation of willingness to debate with the formal thing implied in a "challenge".
The "challenge" is contained in my letter of the 18th ult., and with that as such, my Leicester friends had nothing to do. That challenge, as I said in my last, is the result of the expressed wishes of friends in divers places.
To free the matter from the complications arising from the intervention of third parties, I hereby renew the challenge, to meet Mr. Bradlaugh in Birmingham for six nights, for the discussion of the subject proposed in my first letter. Yours respectfully,
45, HUMBERSTONE GATE, LEICESTER,
6th March, 1876.
To ROBERT ROBERTS, Esq. DEAR SIR-.-Your acknowledgement of your memory having been refreshed as to the origin of this correspondence, and the contemplated debate between yourself and Mr. C. Bradlaugh, is very honourable to you. And although you cannot admit that we in Leicester have the strongest claim for the debate to take place here, it is satisfactory to know that you do not deny that we in Leicester were the first movers in this matter.
The facts I named in my last I repeat. Mr. V. Collyer said you were prepared to debate, and I with a view of testing that statement, waited upon him to accept and arrange. Ever since I have been trying to bring you and Mr. B. together; but now I begin to fear that my efforts will be fruitless.
I do with I should have been glad if it could have been arranged, but you seem to stick fast to Birmingham, for what reason I cannot tell, but I can tell I have nothing to Birmingham, and am not interested in any way of its taking place there.
The facts are very simple; you were either prepared or you were not.
The statement was plain, as plain could be, and now I think we in Leicester cannot be charged with neglecting it; and besides according to your letters you will not be prepared until towards the end of the year. If so, it appears to me that there can be no use in talking about it so very long before-hand. It will be soon enough in September to re-open the correspondence. I am Sir, yours respectfully,
WILLIAM HENRY HOLYOAK.
10th March, 1876
Mr. HOLYOAK. DEAR SIR.-Your letter of the 6th inst. has been forwarded to me from Birmingham, and as it is calculated to create an artificial version of the facts, I cannot refrain from making the following remarks.
l.–I have not acknowledged that "my memory has been refreshed as to the origin of this correspondence, and the contemplated debate". The refreshment of my memory related to an incident which explained how you could take such a view of the origin of the debate as you did; but which had nothing to do with its real origin. The origin of the correspondence, is my own letter to Mr. Bradlaugh of the 18th ult. The origin of that letter was of many months’ previous date, in conversations at different places. The letter itself contains evidence of this. The second sentence refers to the matter having been mentioned months before, by Mr. A. Andrew of London. I have merely been waiting for such prospects of health as would justify me in venturing upon the strain of a debate with Mr. Bradlaugh.
Please, therefore, to understand that my acknowledgement of refreshment of memory refers to the origin of your misconception, and not to the origin of the proposed debate; also that I do deny that you in Leicester were the first movers in the matter. I am the first mover in the matter, as the result of the suggestions spread over a considerable antecedent period. You have come to consider yourselves as the first movers, by an incident which I have admitted excuses you; but which I deny constitutes the origin of the matter.
2.–It strikes me as somewhat absurd, for you to talk of ineffectual attempts to bring Mr. Bradlaugh and me together, seeing that I have offered to meet Mr. Bradlaugh in Birmingham, and that Mr. Bradlaugh has left it with you to decide whether the meeting shall be there or not. You have simply to decide to bring us together in Birmingham, and the thing is done. Your saying you have nothing to do with Birmingham, does not dispose of the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh has left the decision in your hands.
3.–The facts are, as you say, exceedingly simple. I am prepared to meet Mr. Bradlaugh in Birmingham and have sent him a proposal to that effect. Mr. Bradlaugh says he leaves it with you, and you interpose yourself as an obstacle. If I could be sure you are in this acting by Mr. Bradlaugh’s instructions, I should be tempted to doubt Mr. Bradlaugh’s reputation for courage; but having no evidence that it is so, I refrain from drawing a conclusion.
4.–The lateness of the date proposed by me, is no reason for deferring the decision. That lateness is a necessity, apart from the condition of my health. My engagements are generally filled-up six months in advance; and if we don’t arrange now, it will be difficult for me to arrange at the time you mention. Another consideration is, that the Birmingham Town Hall is so well occupied that we should stand a poor chance of engaging it, unless we did so several months ahead.
But you say you "have nothing to do with Birmingham." Consequently, early or late, we could have no object in re-opening the correspondence with reference to a discussion to take place in that town. I must, therefore, appeal direct to Mr. Bradlaugh, which I do by this post.
10th March, 1876.
Mr. BRADLAUGH. DEAR SIR.-In a final letter forwarded from Birmingham, Mr. Holyoak writes me that he has nothing to do with Birmingham, and no interest in the discussion taking place there. This compels me to appeal direct to yourself in the matter.
My proposal for the debate with you had reference to Birmingham, and I must ask you to nominate some gentleman in that place who will be interested in forwarding arrangements on your behalf; unless you would prefer to communicate directly with me yourself, which would be more satisfactory. Yours respectfully,
HUMBERSTONE GATE, LEICESTER,
19th March, 1876.
ROBERT ROBERTS, Esq. DEAR SIR.-Mr. Bradlaugh has forwarded me your letter of the 10th inst. And lest you should deem me wanting in courtesy, I acknowledge yours of the 10th inst. to myself, and in doing so, take the opportunity of reviewing the case as it stands, or as it appears to me.
I was anxious, upon hearing it announced publicly before a large audience here "that you were prepared to meet Mr. Bradlaugh in public debate, upon the question, "Is the Bible true?’ " to bring about such debate if possible, and I waited upon the gentleman who made the announcement, for that purpose. This, sir, I take to be the first action in this matter. This was in January, and on the 31st Mr.B.communicated to me his consent.
Your first letter upon the subject bears date February 18th, in which you state in reference to the place where the debate should take place, "the majority of my friends would prefer Birmingham: I presume this would not be objectionable to you, but in this you will speak your mind." Mr. Bradlaugh has spoken his mind — and having left the matter in my hands, I–being the first who communicated with him upon the subject, do most decidedly object to your presumption in fixing upon Birmingham.
I acknowledge that I may–and I think rightly–be an "obstacle" in the way of the debate taking place in any town, until we have had the satisfaction or opportunity of hearing it in the town where the announcement was made. If anything can be done towards this end, I will willingly work. If not I will have nothing to do with it, and can only conclude that you were not prepared. But if you say "I shall be prepared between now and the end of the year to meet Mr. Bradlaugh in Leicester", I will consider it settled, and shall be glad to be informed thereof. I am, Sir, yours respectfully,
WILLIAM HENRY HOLYOAK.
24th March, 1876.
Mr. HOLYOAK. DEAR SIR.-Yours is forwarded to me. I have already expressed my mind on the contents of your note. Having nothing to add, our correspondence must now close.
I address Mr. Bradlaugh direct by this post. Respectfully yours, ROBERT ROBERTS.
25th March, 1876.
Mr. BRADLAUGH. DEAR SIR.–I pray you to pardon me for troubling you again but it seems necessary.
My correspondence with Mr. Holyoak has become inextricably complicated by the unofficial action of one of my friends having associated Leicester with my proposal of debate with you. I have, therefore, closed the correspondence, and begin de novo, by placing directly before you the proposal I make, which I beg the favour of your accepting or declining directly to myself as the laws of courtesy required.
I offer to meet you in Birmingham for six nights, in support of the affirmation that the Bible is the authentic and reliable record of Divine revelation.
Until you accept the proposal in this general form, I need not say more, but remain, Yours respectfully,
P.S.-I am at the sea-side, at this writing, but head my letter with my permanent address, which will always find me.
To this letter no answer was received.
The following note meanwhile appeared on the cover of the Christadelphian. It is re-published here as representing Mr. Roberts’ reason for pressing for Birmingham.
"S.-The discussion with Bradlaugh seems likely to fall through owing to that gentleman’s refusal, by his agent, Mr. Holyoak, to hold the discussion in Birmingham. He insists on Leicester, where his friends are numerous. This interposes a barrier on our part, since one principal object in consenting to challenge Bradlaugh was to make a discussion with him useful in delivering the truth from the imputation of infidelity, in a town where the truth is better known than in any other, as the result of many years’ proclamation, but in which nevertheless, it has that prejudice to encounter. A discussion with Bradlaugh would be a great effort for our peculiar physical liabilities; and we should not feel justified in venturing upon it without some commensurate object such as we have mentioned. In any other town but Birmingham, unless it be London, we should fail to realise sufficient incentive; for we have no hope of benefiting the class of minds who have embraced Secularism. Our aim would be to serve the truth. Having to serve it in many ways, we cannot afford to incur the physical risk of an encounter with Bradlaugh without a tangible prospect of good service. Hence our proposal for Birmingham, which Mr. Holyoak declines. If the proposal fall through, we may publish the correspondence".
The following note appeared in the National Reformer, of March 26th, among
"Answers to Correspondents."
"R. Roberts, Birmingham.-Having in consequence of the action of your own friend placed the matter in the hands of the Leicester Secular Society, we decline to withdraw our authority. Our health does not permit us to engage personally in a lengthy correspondence."
To this, the following answer was sent:-
64, BELGRAVE ROAD, BIRMINGHAM,
6th April, 1876.
Mr. BRADLAUGH. DEAR SIR.–I have only seen for the first time to-day your note in the National Reformer, in answer to my letter. I am not a reader of the Reformer, but a friend has handed me the issue of March 26th, containing the note in question.
I write to say that I do not propose a correspondence, lengthy or otherwise. I wish you merely to say "Yes" or "No"; will you meet me for a six nights’ debate in Birmingham or London on the subject named? Your friends in Birmingham can arrange the details. Awaiting your answer, respectfully yours,
To this letter, Mr. Bradlaugh sent no reply, but inserted the following note in the Reformer.-"R. Roberts, Birmingham.-We really cannot take the matter out of the hands of the Leicester Secular Society."
Mr. Bradlaugh was advertised to lecture in Birmingham on Sunday, April 9th. On that date, Mr. F. Hodgkinson of Peterboro’, visiting Birmingham, and observing the fact, expressed a curiosity to see and hear Mr. Bradlaugh. This led to conversation which resulted in a proposal, accepted by Mr. Hodgkinson, that he should attend Mr. Bradlaugh’s meeting, and if an opportunity offered, propose a six nights’ discussion in Birmingham. Mr. Hodgkinson did so, and at the close of the meeting, being invited to the platform, he read the following written authority:
9th April, 1876.
I hereby authorise Mr. Frank Hodgkinson, the bearer of this note, to state in Mr. Bradlaugh’s meeting this afternoon, that I am willing to meet Mr. Bradlaugh in Birmingham for six night’s debate on the subject:
"Are the Scriptures the Authentic and Reliable Records of Divine Revelation?"
Mr. Bradlaugh said the challenge having first been delivered in Leicester, he was in duty bound not to disappoint the people there; but he was willing to make this compromise – to have two nights in Leicester and four nights in Birmingham. After the meeting, Mr. Hodgkinson communicated with Mr. Roberts, and sent the following letter to Mr. Bradlaugh, having it placed, by a messenger, in the hands of the chairman of Mr. Bradlaugh’s evening meeting, the same day.
9th April, 1876
C. BRADLAUGH, Esq. DEAR SIR.-Mr. Roberts accepts your compromise, but with regret that you insist upon a division. Will you inform Mr. Holyoak, and also appoint someone here with whom the arrangements in detail can be made for the two nights in Leicester and four nights in Birmingham? Mr. Roberts accedes to this plan reluctantly, but submits rather than the discussion should fall through. Please reply to me at "Norman Cross, Peterborough".
COMMERCIAL ROAD, LONDON, E.
10th April, 1876.
FRANK HODGKINSON, Esq. DEAR SIR.-Mine is not a compromise;it is an insistance of right. I did not challenge at Leicester; I was challenged there. Mr. W.H. Holyoak will arrange for the two nights’ debate at Leicester, and when the dates for these are fixed, Mr. C.C. Cattell, 29, Snow Hill, Birmingham, will be authorised by me to arrange for four further nights at Birmingham. One thing tell Mr. Roberts, that I cannot have a long date. I am ready to debate in May, June, or July. If Mr. Roberts is engaged for these months let him renew his challenge later. I always make lectures give way to debates, but I will not fix a far off date as I might find it bind me inconveniently.
Any further correspondence please address to W.H. Holyoak, as I have not the leisure to make any personal arrangements. Yours sincerely,
Forwarded by W.H. Holyoak, 45, Humberstone Gate, Leicester.
On the receipt of this letter, Mr. Hodgkinson and Mr. Bradlaugh’s agents went to work, and arrangements were finally made for the holding of the discussion, in the Temperance Halls of Leicester and Birmingham, on June 13th, 14th, 15th; 20th, 21st and 22nd.
The discussion was largely attended throughout. The report is from the notes of short-hand writers who were engaged for the discussion – revised by the speakers.
Towards the close of the discussion Mr. Bradlaugh sold his interest in the report to Mr. Hodgkinson, who now publishes the same, in conjunction with Mr. Roberts, who avails himself of the opportunity thus secured, of adding a review of the discussion, for the notice of some things in Mr. Bradlaugh’s speeches there was no time to notice during the discussion, and for the supply of some things on the affirmative side, he was obliged from the same cause to omit. That the cause of impartiality may not suffer, Mr. Roberts will offer Mr. Bradlaugh the opportunity of writing a rejoinder to his review, for publication in the same pamphlet.
Readers will be in a better position to judge of the debate than hearers. Mr. Bradlaugh’s loud voice and animated delivery, made an impression which it may be found his arguments fail to sustain. On the other hand, the arguments on behalf of the Bible may be found to have more weight than they seemed to have in the heat of controversy.
The issue debated is the most important of the questions that engage public attention. The discussion is published, not as an exhaustive, or even a moderately thorough canvass of the subject, but merely as a passing contribution to its consideration, which may help to draw to the subject some of the attention which it ought to receive at the hands of rational men.
Birmingham, 27th June, 1876. ROBERT ROBERTS.