It is commonly asserted that everyone is owed twenty minutes in the sun, and it would be ungenerous to disagree. A little fame or notoriety does wonders for the self-esteem and probably helps the circulation. But are there the same, salutary consequences if twenty minutes becomes five or six years? Coping with Charles Bradlaugh’s conscience took up hours and hours of parliamentary and judicial time, and wearied nearly everyone who became involved with it. Proudly announcing that ‘the grave alone will make me yield’, Bradlaugh drove himself to a premature death.
The problem was a simple one. In 1880, Bradlaugh, after a number of failed attempts, was elected to Parliament for the borough of Northampton. On arriving in Westminster, he politely informed the Speaker of the House