Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 3 entries for this date: William Blake , Friedrich Engels and Sir Leslie Stephen
William Blake

William Blake

On this date in 1757, poet and artist William Blake was born in London to shopkeepers. He enrolled in a drawing school at age 10, then apprenticed to an engraver at 14. After his 7-year apprenticeship, he became a journeyman copy engraver at age 21. He was admitted to the Royal Academy of Art's School of Design in 1779. His book of poetry, Poetical Sketches, was published in 1783. Blake set up a printing and publishing partnership in 1784 and invented relief etching in 1788. His first illuminated books were influenced by the Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg: All Religions Are One and There is no Natural Religion. He had become disillusioned with Swedenborg by the time he produced Songs of Innocence (1789) and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790). He began to rub shoulders with London's leading rationalists and reformers, composing and engraving designs for Mary Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life (1791). He met William Godwin, Joseph Priestly, and Thomas Paine. It was said Blake tipped off Paine about an impending arrest and helped him flee. Although Blake lived in the imagination and was theistic rather than rational by temperament, he was also staunchly unorthodox: "As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys." (Proverbs of Hell, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.) His ethical advice? "A truth that's told with bad intent/ Beats all the Lies you can invent." (Auguries of Innocence.) Wordsworth wrote after Blake's death: "There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott." D. 1827.

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“Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.”

—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, 1790

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels

On this date in 1820, Friedrich Engels was born in Germany into a wealthy family. Managing a branch of his father's business in Manchester, England, from 1842-1845, Engels became appalled at the poverty of the workers. He wrote his first socialist work, Conditions of the Working Class in England. After their meeting in 1844, Engels and Karl Marx became lifelong colleagues. While co-writing an article with Engels called "The Holy Family," Marx was expelled from France at Prussian insistence. Engels followed him to Belgium. They founded the Communist League in London in 1846 and co-wrote The Communist Manifesto. A month after it was published in 1848, Marx was expelled from Belgium. Engels became a primary financial supporter of the Marx family, returning to work in Germany with his father while Marx lived in England. Prime Minister John Russell had refused to expel Marx or Engels on principles of freedom of thought. Engels' books include Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. After Marx' death in 1883, Engels edited and translated his writings. According to freethought encyclopedist Joseph McCabe, Engels' acquaintance, Belfort Bax, called him "the devout Atheist" (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists). D. 1895.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sir Leslie Stephen

Sir Leslie Stephen

On this date in 1832, former Anglican priest, author and political essayist Leslie Stephen was born in Kensington Gore, England. He was educated at Eton, King's College and Cambridge, primarily studying mathematics. He was required to become an Anglican priest when he became a fellow of his college, but was known for his athletics, not his sermons. He later told freethought historian Joseph McCabe that Cambridge was so liberal when he was there that if it was known a dinner party was open to heretics only, it was standing room only. By 1862, Stephen refused to participate in chapel services, saying he had not lost his faith, only discovered that he had never had any. He was divested of his orders in 1875. He became editor of the Cornhill in 1871, and wrote freethought articles for Fraser's and Fortnightly. In 1877, he wrote An Agnostic's Apology. His writings include: History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 volumes (1876), Johnson (1878), Pope (1880), Swift (1882), Science of Ethics (1882), and The English Utilitarians, 3 volumes (1900), among others. Stephen also edited 26 volumes of the Dictionary of National Biography and was its first editor. In 1902, he was knighted and made a fellow of the British Academy. Today, he is best known as the father of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, and was the model of Virginia's Mr. Ramsey in To the Lighthouse (1927). D. 1904.

“I now believe in nothing, to put it shortly; but I do not the less believe in morality.”

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—Sir Leslie Stephen, journal entry, Jan. 26, 1865. (Quote source: 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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