Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

James B.V.Thomson:

57) Address on the Opening of the New Hall of the Leicester Secular Society Delivered by Mrs. Theodore Wright.

n.p. / n.d. (Leicester, ca. 1881)

This copy of the scarce and enigmatic announcement concerning the opening of the New Hall of the Secular Society in Leicester (8vo. pp.) has a bookplate by its previous owner Lord Esher, formerly Oliver Brett.

The address consists of a long hymn on secularism by James B.V.Thomson , decorated with vignettes which were taken from works of William Blake. Thomson’s hymn includes the famous atheistic credo: “We now dare, / Taught by milleniums of barren prayer, / Of mutual scorn and hate and bloody strife / With which these dreams have poisoned our poor life, / To build our temples on another plan, / Devoting them to god's creator, MAN; / Not to MAN’s creature, god. And thus, indeed, / All men and women, of whatever creed, / We welcome gladly if they love our kind; / No other test of valid worth we find.” The poem lists some secular progenitors. Four of them – Jesus, Socrates, Paine and Voltaire – are still represented nowadays as busts on the exterior façade of the New Hall.



What’s puzzling is the question of who had been responsible for the graphics of this announcement, for the editing and appropriation of some of Linton’s kerographies of Blake’s Job - and Jerusalem –designs. From a cultural perspective, the pamphlet “exhibits the flexibility, inclusiveness and downright idiosyncrasy of the British Secularist movement in writing its own history. From a production perspective it is a wonderful ´sham´, an exact copy, but not a facsimile, not entirely truthful as to its origins but not a forgery, back-flipping between mirrors of production and reproduction. What we have is a fake.” Shirley Dent and Jason Whittacker have fun tracing the anonymous author of the graphics, who had used “cut-up techniques to breakdown aesthetic hierarchies.” Linton is a possible candidate, but in 1881, the date of the opening of the Secular Hall, he was absent, in America. But in the period 1882-84 he had returned to England. “James Thomson died in 1882. It is possible, that the Job/Jerusalem-Illustrations in the Secular Hall pamphlet may, more than anything, be Linton’s memorial to Thomson, created after his death while Linton was still in England.” Another solution is that the pamphlet celebrates George William Foote, a collaborator of George Holyoake, who became a secular martyr in 1883, when he was charged with blasphemy and imprisoned for one year. Also in this case it is possible that Linton had a part in it. “He was in England for the whole of 1883, and although he was not a secularist, he had a great liking for Charles Bradlaugh, who particularly supported Foote.” Dent and Whittacker also consider a participation of Linton’s friend Harry Buxton Forman possible, who earned dubious posthumous fame for being the most successful literary forger of the age. He used the same photolithographic technique, which had replaced Linton’s creative reproduction technique of Blakes Job designs in the second edition of Gilchris’´s Life of William Blake. These mechanical reproductions of the second edition were the models for the marginals of the Secular Society pamphlet. “Would Linton, however, have used those cuts that ousted his own work from the Life? Are we in fact getting an agitprop director’s cut of Job in the Secular Hall pamphlet, a cut-it-up and spew-it-out commentary on both socio-political and technological censorship?” (Dent & Whittacker: Radical Blake. pp. 187 -194) Two aspects speak against an involvement of Linton. Firstly: Although he respected Secularists like Thomson and Bradslaugh, the foundation and the activities of the Secular Society in Leicester were much too connected to his arch-rival George Holyoake and thus contaminated. Secondly: The whole unbalanced patchwork layout of the pamphlet and the unproportional enlargement of minute details is contrary to Linton’s sense of composition, to his refined art of design.