Charles Watts

On this date in 1835, Charles Watts was born in Bristol, England, into a family of Methodists. At age 16, Watts moved to London to work with his older brother, John, in a printing office. The Watts brothers were acquainted with many freethinkers including Charles Bradlaugh and Charles Southwell. The brothers founded a publishing business, Watts & Co., in 1864. Along with Bradlaugh and others, Watts co-founded the National Secular Society in 1866. Watts wrote extensively on freethought including Freethought: Its Rise, Progress and Triumph (1885). In an essay titled “Christianity, Its Nature and Influence on Civilisation” (1868), Watts remarked: “If Christianity contained any real remedy for existing evils, it would have displayed itself ere now. It has had every advantage in its favour; the influence of the priests, the patronage of kings, the alliance of the great and powerful, the use of untold wealth, the command of the armies, first place among the councillors of nations, the willing subjection of the populace. . . . It has been absolute monarch of the world. Yet with all these advantages it has proved unable to keep pace with a progressive civilisation.” With George Holyoake and George Foote, Watts founded the British Secular Union, and he became editor of the Secular Review, founded by Holyoake. He emigrated to Toronto in 1883, where he lectured and became the leader of the secularist movement in Canada. Returned to England in 1891, he continued his secularist activities, including working with Foote on the journal, The Freethinker, the world’s oldest surviving freethought publication. Watts’ wife, Kate Eunice Watts, also wrote and traveled with him. Some of her writings included The Education and Position of Woman and Christianity: Defective and Unnecessary. Watts died at age 70 in England. His son, Charles Albert Watts, developed the Rationalist Press Association, still in existence. D. 1906.

“The object of Christ was to teach his followers how to die, rather than to instruct them how to live. . . . In Spain religion is cruel oppression, in Scotland it is a gloomy nightmare, in Rome it is priestly dominion, while in England it is simply emotional pastime. All these different phases of Christianity indicate that theological opinions depend on surrounding circumstances, and cannot therefore be the cause of the civilisation of the world.”

—Charles Watts in an essay titled “Christianity, Its Nature and Influence on Civilisation,” 1868

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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