On 19 May 1868 the Conservative MP Percy Wyndham rose in the House of Commons to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department “whether he is aware that Publications, the sale of which has been condemned by a Court of Law, are now being openly offered for sale in the Streets of London, and such being the case, whether the Police have power to interfere?” Gathorne Hardy replied that
Sir, I have made inquiries into the subject of my hon. Friend's Question, and I find that since the decision referred to that book has not been sold in the streets, though there is no doubt – for I hold one of the covers in my hand – that the cover is put on books in order to sell them, but within the cover the purchaser finds a book of a totally different character, and of a harmless nature. The attraction of the title appears to be great, as it is used for advertising and selling books of a very different kind. I am told that the Police keep a register of the books and pamphlets sold in the streets, and interfere when their interference is called for. As to the book referred to by my hon. Friend – for I presume his Question relates to The Confessional Unmasked – I find on inquiry at the depôt from which it was issued that all the remaining copies have been destroyed, and that there are none now for sale. (Hansard)
The legal regulation of pornography in England from the later nineteenth century relied on a definition of obscenity derived from a case concerning a religious tract, The Confessional Unmasked
(1836) (McDonald). This pamphlet had been circulating for many years before it came to the notice of the courts. Henry Scott, a metal broker from Wolverhampton, had reprinted the text and circulated it on behalf of the Protestant Evangelical Union. The case went on appeal from the local magistrates, one of whom was Benjamin Hicklin, to the Court of Queen's Bench, where judgment was given on 29 April 1868 (“A Judgment” and Scott). This seems, on the face of it, bizarre. Indeed, that this case was brought at all has been seen as highlighting the problematic nature of the Obscene Publications Act (1857) under which the action was brought (Roberts 627). However, it can be argued that the danger that the act was defined to prevent had much more to do with the publication of religious tracts than might appear to have been the case.