An enormous output of demoralising fiction and periodicals is poisoning the nation’s character at its fountain-head…. The letterpress of these papers contains not only stories of seduction, scenes of debauchery, full details of the worst crimes of the week, but they often serve up again the histories of criminals in the past, who were specially famous for their atrocious deeds. Some of this gutter-press is illustrated by pictures of women in every stage of undress, in every attitude of suggested lasciviousness. (p. 3)….
The result of reading these papers may be found under the reports of the first offenders in our magisterial courts. They directly incite to crime by familiarising our youth with the details of such crimes, just as they directly incite to sensuality by an appeal to the animal instinct. The minds of young people are picture-galleries waiting to be hung with fair or foul pictures. (pp. 3-4)….
If I had my way I would, for the nation’s good, make penal the publication of notorious crimes, just as I would make penal the publication of the horrible details of our divorce courts. (p. 4)….
It is, however, the vicious novel which is the greatest trouble of our day. These novels glorify lust, mock at marriage and decent home-life, preach up free-love, and by the coarsest realism appeal to pure animal passion. I have a list of a hundred and eighty of such novels which have been put forth during the last few years—some of them, publishers tell us, have gone to a million copies. The writers of the most sensuous are women. They pretend to be serious attempts to solve the sex problem. There is no seriousness about them at all. Publisher and writer alike put them forth because they pay. (p. 5)
This leads me to say that quite apart from demoralising letterpress and pictorials, there are some weeklies that, in my judgment, are directly answerable for the decreasing birthrate, which is becoming so serious a menace to our national life, by reason of their advertisements of drugs and articles, either to prevent conception or to destroy germinal life. (p. 6)….
You ask me what you can do with the foul novel or the abominable weekly? We can be on the look-out. Let any one travelling by the railway train, or visitor of a lending library, or purchaser at a newsvendor’s shop—if he find such bring it to the notice of the police. Send a copy to the Home Secretary. Send another copy to the Railway Directorate. Write to the publisher and to the firm that distributed it in protest, and say what action has been taken. It is astonishing how a police raid and a successful prosecution at Bow Street clears the air, and gives publisher and distributor pause for thought. (p. 7)
What can you do? you ask. I answer, you can do your duty to the nation by insisting that a vigilance committee shall be set on foot in all the towns in Scotland, which shall look after this urgent business. (p. 7)….
Let me ask your attention to another matter—the vulgar and disgusting post-card…. These post-cards you may find flaunted before the eyes of young and old openly in shop windows. When they are not indecent in suggestion, many will be found verging on blasphemy. Passages of Scripture are turned to ridicule, and so-called comic pictures are inscribed with Scripture texts. As to love and courtship, it is turned into pure animalism, and home-life is caricatured, and drunkenness mocked at. (pp. 8-9)
We are all to blame for allowing such things. I have found that the vendors of them will often remove them from their windows if asked to do so, and the police will generally interfere, if anything scandalous or outrageous on common decency is exhibited. But we go about with blind eyes, and what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. (p. 9)….
In conclusion, I would say, that better than all legislative enactment is the attempt to supplant this poisonous literature by educating the youth of our country to a taste for something better. The Education Authority of Cumberland has formed a central library of selected works of fiction, history, biography, science, nature study, poetry, etc., suitable for the children of elementary schools. Catalogues are sent to all the headmasters and mistresses, who are invited to make therefrom a selection of books for their scholars. These books are despatched in strong boxes, so as to form book-cases when open, to the various schools, and can be changed for others every three months. These books are taken home by the children, and become a source of wholesome reading for the family. Not only do the Inspectors report that the power of composition and choice of language is improved in the schools by the encouragement of good reading, but it is believed that a foundation is laid for good taste in literature, which will make it impossible for the scholars when they leave school to care for the trash which hitherto satisfied them in leisure moments. (pp. 11-12)
(An Address Delivered by Canon Rawnsley of Carlisle, at the Guild Conference of the United Free Church, held at Hawick November 19th, 1910)