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A TALK ABOUT NEWSPAPERS.
matists of the period abound with contemptuous caricatures of the poverty and mean character of the news publishers.
The troubled era of Charles the First brought downfall and tribulation to the race of journalists; they were, in fact, completely trampled under foot. Whilst men of high mark, wealth, and influence were subjected to the barbarities of ear-cropping, nose-slitting, flogging, excessive fines, and indefinite imprisonment for questioning arbitrary right, the humble professional news-caterers did not escape; and if we do not hear of many of them suffering such punishments as were inflicted on Lilburne, and Prynne, and Bastwick, it was because they did not dare to express their opinions so freely. In fact, every thing was punished and suppressed except what was agreeable to the feelings of the party dominant for the time being. Those who wrote or printed any thing else, did so at a peril more formidable than that of the soldier who charges a masked battery.
press, and their power was unscrupulously
Mr. Macaulay, in his florid History of England, gives a sketch-written with his usual view to scenic effect, but, in this case, probably nearly resembling the actual facts-of the Whitehall," efforts of the public to get news during the suspension of newspapers: says this author, "naturally became the chief staple of news. Whenever there was a rumor that any thing important had happened, or was about to happen, people hastened thither to obtain intelligence from the fountain-head. The galleries presented the appearance of a modern club-room at an anxious time; they were full of people, arguing whether the Dutch mail was in ?-What tidings the express from France had brought ?Whether John Sobiesky had beaten the Turks ?-Whether the Doge of Genoa was really at Paris? These were matters which it was safe to talk about; but there were subjects concerning which information was asked and given in whispers: Had Halifax got the better of Rochester?-Was there to be a parliament ? Was the Duke of York really going to ScotHad Monmouth been really sumland? moned from the Hague? Men tried to read the countenance of every minister as he went through the throng to and from the royal closet. All sorts of auguries were drawn from the tone in which his majesty spoke to the Lord President, or from the laugh with which his majesty honored a jest of the Lord Privy Seal; and in a few hours the hopes and fears inspired by such indications had spread to all the coffee-houses from St. James's to the Tower." The little newspapers of the seventeenth century were often compelled, and, especially, too, at the periods when home news would have been particularly interesting, to confine themselves to scraps of foreign intelligence, and refrain from giving any English news, bearing, no matter how remotely, on politics, unless, peradventure, it were some glozing eulogium of the persons in power.
More liberty of expression existed during the Commonwealth; but even Cromwell is found more than once complaining of the license of the news-writers and pamphleteers, and calling for measures of repression. At this time, however, and down to the Restoration, public affairs continued to be discussed very warmly in printed publications of all kinds, and there were pretty regular, though very meagre, accounts of the proceedings in parliament.
But with the Restoration came a long scene of persecution and oppression for the journalists. In the reign of Charles the Second they were almost entirely suppressed. The old papers disappeared, and the new ones which succeeded them had individually but a brief and precarious existence, although it did so happen, that the journal which is now the oldest in the kingdom was first published in this reign for the amusement of the king and his courtiers, when they fled to Oxford from the plague. Whenever the court had an object to gain, some few ephemeral publications were suffered to appear, in order to work on the public mind; but no opposition prints were permitted, or rather, any print which ventured to reply brought down ferocious vengeance on its authors; and the licensed prints were discontinued as soon as the particular object for which they had been issued had been obtained. The licensing act, which existed so long, enabled the successive parties who swayed the mind of the vacillating Charles, to deal as they pleased with the
Mr. J. K. Knight Hunt, the present editor of the Daily News, observes, in his able work The Fourth Estate, to which we are indebted for some of the dates and facts contained in this article, that the very earliest newspapers only communicated intelligence, without giving comment; subsequently we find papers giving political discussions without news; but in the publications subsequent to 1700, we find these two elements of a journal more frequently united. It was not
in reality, until after the period last mentioned, that there appeared any thing like a regular continuance of papers possessing the main characteristic of the journals of the present day; and Mr. Hallam is nearly right when he says in his Constitutional History, that the publication of regular newspapers partly designed for the communication of intelligence, partly for the discussion of political topics, may be referred, upon the whole, to the reign of Anne, when they obtained great circulation, and became the accredited organs of different factions."
Thus, the birth of the Fourth Estate, so far as regards the uses to which it is applied in modern times, can hardly claim a more ancient date than the eighteenth century. This circumstance would seem to present some color of argument against those who ascribe modern political freedom to the liberty of the press; to whose views it may be replied that instead of political freedom having been achieved by a free press, the free press was produced by political freedom. A great deal may be said on both sides; for though some periods of our history in which the press was most harshly persecuted, were those in which the community was making persistent advances towards freedom, it is probable that the efforts of the press, and the spectacle of its wrongs, tended to keep alive a stubborn and indignant spirit of resistance to oppressors. Perhaps truth may lie between, and political freedom and press freedom react on each other-doubtless favorably. It is certain, at all events, that the enfranchisement of the English people commenced its slow but certain march forward, ages before newspapers existed either in embryo or in development.
Simultaneously, it may be said, with the fall of the Stuarts, the newspaper press began to take that active and open part in public affairs which was afterwards to become developed in results of such important good, mingled with certain proportions of inconveniences. Just one hundred years before the Times was started, appeared the Orange Intelligencer, a paper, as the title indicates, devoted to the Prince of Orange. This was in 1688. The Intelligencer was published twice a week. It was a single leaf of two pages, and contained as much matter, perhaps, as one page and a half of the magazine now in the hands of the reader. Mr. Hunt informs us, that a copy which he had seen, dated December 9th, 1688, has the imposing number of two advertisements. But from this time forward, the increase of newspapers
was rapid, though the press was still kept under very stringent restrictions. In the reign of Queen Anne, as has been above observed, newspapers began to fight party battles, which have ever since formed a principal part of their staple material. Some of the most famous men in history, whether as statesmen or littérateurs, contributed to them. Lord Bolingbroke supported his party inletters to the Tory Examiner, and was vigorously replied to by Lord Chancellor Cowper in the Tatler.
But these great men were, when it pleased them, very summary in their manner of dealing with the instruments which they used. We find, for example, Mr. Secretary St. John (Lord Bolingbroke), the newspaper contributor, sending off to Newgate batches, by the dozen, of editors, printers, and publishers. In few cases does it appear that statesmen or politicians recognized the journalists in any other light than as tools to be employed or kicked off at pleasure; and this is perhaps not so much to be wondered at, seeing that men so eminent as Addison (who, after all, was himself a journalist-for the Spectator and kindred publications originally gave some news and advertisements as well as essays) made the occupation the theme of unmeasurable ridicule.
In the reign of Queen Anne, when the first daily paper started, manifold are the complaints made of the liberties taken by the press; and the allusions to the persons who conducted these newspapers are very far from partaking of that respectful tone which is now preserved in the high places, whenever the conduct or privileges of the "gentlemen of the press" become subjectmatter of discussion. We find the House of Commons compelling news-writers "who had presumed to take notice of the proceedings" to kneel at the bar, after acknowledging their culpability, whilst the Speaker reprimanded them for their great presumption. The doctrine of the House of Commons was, in the words of their own resolution, "That no news-writers do, in their letters or other papers that they disperse, presume to intermeddle with the debates or any other proceedings of the House."
Later still, in 1729, and again in 1738, the Commons passed resolutions to this effect: "That it is an indignity to, and a breach of the privilege of this House for any persons to presume to give, in written or printed newspapers, any account or minutes of the debates or other proceedings of this House, or of any committee thereof; and that, upon discovery of the authors, &c, this House
will proceed against the offenders with the utmost severity." In fact, the contest between publicity and non-publicity was kept up in various forms, until it was at length decided finally in the affirmative in the reign of George the Third.
ing scandalous pictures of the personal character of their brethren. Conspicuous amongst the revilers was Dr. Johnson. "An ambassador," he tells us in his Idler, "is said to be a man of virtue sent abroad to tell lies for the advantage of his country; a news-writer is a man without virtue, who writes lies at home for his own profit. For these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightnews-liness; but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary." Could it be that the latter section of this sentence was spoken feelingly by the great moralist under the influence of the recollection of his own performances in connection with reporting? The conjecture is at all events not discountenanced by his own acknowledgment, that he was in the habit of writing "reports" of debates, of which he never heard a word. If it were not scandal against the doctor, one might be inclined to think it possible that such proceedings had some share in provoking the storm of indignation which sprung up in the House of Commons, in consequence of the false and fabricated reports which sometimes appeared in the newspapers and journals.
The severities of the Stuart times were sometimes fearfully reproduced in the earlier Georgean era. Thus, in 1719, an unfortunate youth named John Mathews was hanged at Tyburn for publishing, not a Jacobite paper, but a Jacobite pamphlet. A narrator describes the poor lad as "a conceited youngster, whose vanity led him to seek notoriety by issuing opinions which the majority of the people had grown out of." There is no reason to suppose that the first two Georges would have had any insurmountable objection to treat after a similar fashion many more of their literary opponents; and there is no room at all for doubting that, if the improved spirit of the age had not made such high-handed measures of blood unsafe, and even impossible, many of the writers who rendered themselves "obnoxious" between 1760 and 1820 would have had a hard tussle for the safety of their necks.
It is not necessary to follow in detail the history of the conflicts between the press and the political authorities; the expulsion of Steele from the House of Commons, and, two generations afterwards, the expulsion of the more unscrupulous Wilkes; the fight between the House of Commons and the corporation, on the memorable occasion of the arrest of the printers; and the struggles through which the long-denied privilege of publishing the reports of Parliament was at length virtually conceded. These matters are interesting; but as they belong as much to the general annals of the nation as to the particular story of the newspaper press, and are dwelt on at some length in several histories of England, we may pass them by with the remark that, in the middle of the eighteenth century, men who rose to the highest eminence, amongst whom were Burke, Johnson, and a host of great names, were contributors for their livelihood to the journals a circumstance which did not prevent editors and printers from being sometimes punished ignominiously for writing what was not in all cases perhaps far from the truth.
Whilst the newspapers were expanding in intelligence, influence, and prosperity, and whilst the power of government was exerted from time to time in attempts to keep them under, men who had themselves played the part of journalists were often found ungenerous enough to aid official hostility by draw
The history of the Public Advertiser, in which the seventy letters of Junius appeared, has been told so repeatedly in connection with the controversies respecting the authorship of those celebrated pieces of invective, that it is quite unnecessary to say any thing about it here. The career of the modern daily newspaper press of the metropolis may be said to commence with the publication of the Morning Chronicle, in 1769. The Chronicle was started in great measure for the purpose of publishing the parliamentary debates, in defiance of the standing orders and resolutions of the two Houses. Such scanty reports as appeared had previously been chiefly confined to "allegorical" sketches in monthly and annual publications. The mainstay of the Morning Chronicle was William Woodfall, whose memory was of a quality which Major Beniowski himself might envy. Mr. Woodfall used to go down to the House, and after standing listening for hours, with no sort of accommodation, retire to his office and write out a report of the proceedings. His reports were necessarily very brief, and sometimes did not appear for a day or two after the delivery of the speeches. This, however, was rapidity and completeness compared with the old plan of publishing the debates in an allegorical form (through fear of the penalties) in monthly and annual periodicals.
After some time, Woodfall left the Chronicle, and established a paper of his own, called the Diary, which failed in consequence of Perry-the famous "Perry of the Chronicle"-having struck out the new and superior system of reporting "in turns," whereby the debating was reported in parts by several persons. This plan enabled the printers to produce the paper with the debate in a few hours after the delivery of the speeches -a vast step in advance, which established the prosperity of the Morning Chronicle, but would have been impossible before the standing orders against reporting had been suffered to become a dead letter.
cellany of general news, poetry, and light gossip. Its full title was "The Times, or Daily Universal Register, printed logographically;" and the imprint informs us that it was "Printed for J. Walter, at the Logographic Press, Printing-House Square, near Apothecaries' Hall, Blackfriars, where advertisements, essays, letters, and articles of intelligence will be taken in; also at Mr. Metteneus's, confectioner, Charing Cross; Mr. Whitecarese's, No. 30, opposite St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet Street; Mr. Axtell's, No. 1, Finch Lane, Cornhill; at Mr. Bushby's, No. 1, Catharine Street, Strand; Mr. Rose's, silk-dyer, Spring Gardens; and Mr. Grives's, stationer, No. 103, corner of Fountain Court, Strand." This humble and anxious direction, to the silk-dyers and the other shops where the paper could be heard of, presents an amusing contrast to its high tone at the present time. The outlandish expression, "logographic printing," refers to a peculiar system which Mr. Walker had tak en up, and which he made strenuous, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to bring into favor, though it is once more, after a sleep of fifty or sixty years, again made the subject of agitation under the auspices of Mr. Greene, the member for Kilkenny.
The original name of the paper had been the Universal Register, and the reason for the change of title is given in an elaborate essay of very labored facetiousness, of which the following extracts are specimens. We retain the italics, in which the writer indicates his shrewd jokes:
The introduction of systematic reporting, and of free and independent comments on public men and events, soon brought the newspaper press into unprecedented repute and prosperity. The Morning Post, which, dating from 1772, is, amongst the daily journals, next in seniority after the Chronicle, was for a long time rather a sporting than a fashionable paper. Fifty years ago the Post was probably at the head of the London press in point of circulation. Its income from sale of copies was large, its receipts from advertisements something enormous; and it is said that the British Press, morning paper, long since defunct, and the Globe, evening paper, which still maintains a prosperous existence, were set up by the bookselling interest in opposition to the Morning Post and Courier, because these two journals, owned by the brothers Dan and Peter Stuart, did not please the powerful bibliopolists in the mode of writing their advertisements. Coleridge and Charles Lamb are amongst the notabilities who contributed to the Morning Post. This paper was directly or indirectly the parent of several; amongst others, of the Morning Herald, which was started in 1780, by the too notorious, duel-fighting clergyman, Dudley Ball, in consequence of his disagreeing with his co conductors of the former paper.
That great event in the newspaper annals, the first publication of the Times, took place on the 1st of January, 1788. It is therefore approaching the round age of sixty-seven years. Mr. John Walter, father of Mr. John Walter who made the fortune of the paper, and grandfather of Mr. John Walter, its present proprietor, was the original projector and proprietor. It consisted of four small pages, each containing, on an average, less than half the quantity of matter comprised in a page of the Times of 1854. There were sixty-three advertisements, a fair mis
The Universal Register has been a name as injurious to the logographic newspaper as Tristram was to Mr. Shandy's son. But Old Shandy forgot he might have rectified by confirmation the mistake of the parson at baptism-with the touch of a bishop, turn Tristram to Tristmegestus.
The Times!-what a monstrous name! Granted-for the TIMES is a many-headed monster, that speaks with an hundred tongues, and displays a thousand characters; and, in the course of its transformations in life, assumes innumerable shapes and humors.
The critical reader will observe we personify our new name, but as we give it no distinction or sex, and though it will be active in its vocations, yet we apply to it the neuter gender.
The TIMES, being formed of materials and possessing qualities of opposite and heterogeneous natures, cannot be classed either in the animal or vegetable genus, but, like the polypus, is doubtful, and in the discussion, description, dissection, and illustration, will employ the pens of the most celebrated amongst the literati.'
The indefatigable joker, not content with treating his readers to these laughter-com
in this brisk fashion:
pelling specimens of his wit, must take a fling | sustain a morning paper, as was tried and at his contemporaries, whom he "wakes up" proved in the Daily News, which long hung doubtfully in the scales of life or death, and, after sundry Protean evolutions, and an expenditure (it has been said) of some £80,000, only succeeded in placing itself on a sound basis by strengthening its commercial character, at the sacrifice of some of its peculiar literary pretensions.
The evening papers at present in existence are (besides the Shipping Gazette, a purely class publication) the Globe, to which allusion has already been made, the Sun, the Express, which is nearly an abbreviated reprint of the Daily News, and the Standard, which is chiefly a reprint of the Morning Herald. The Sun and Express are of Liberal politics, whilst the Standard takes the extreme Conservative side. The Courier was formerly a leading evening paper, and enjoyed an enormous circulation; but it changed sides so repeatedly as to disgust the public, and some years ago ceased to exist. One of the curious reminiscences of the early history of the defunct Courier, is the occasion on which the law officers of the Crown came forward with plethoric zeal to prosecute it for criticizing the conduct of the Russian Autocrat of the day. The Courier had said, that "the Emperor of Russia was a tyrant among his subjects, and ridiculous to the rest of Europe.' For this the proprietor was prosecuted by the British Government lawyers, and sentenced to pay a fine of £100, to be imprisoned for six months, and to find bail for his good behavior for five years. But editors have on innumerable occasions undergone severe punishment on pretexts still more unsubstantial than this. Indeed, the history of newspaper. progress, down so late as the close of the reign of George IV., is continually varied by passages illustrative of the efforts of governments to check, intimidate, and put down free expression of thought; with what success is confessed in the fact that such a thing as a government prosecution of a newspaper, or indeed of any printed publication, is now virtually unknown.
The alteration we have made in our head is not without precedents. The WORLD has parted with half its caput mortuum, and a moiety of its brains. The HERALD has cut off half its head, and has lost its original humor. The POST, it is true, retains its whole head, and its old features; and as to the other public prints, they appear as having neither heads nor tails.
To people accustomed to regard with a reverential awe the majestic mystery which now enwraps the commanding "we" of the leading journal, these gentle artifices of the good old printer to woo the smiles of his "noble and generous patrons," will sound strangely enough. The enemies of the paper will probably be ready to admit that one portion, at least, of the prospectus has been borne out by results-that which announces that "The political head of the TIMES, like that of Janus, the Roman deity (erudite explanation!), is double-faced," whilst its admirers will be equally ready to accept the description interpreting it in a sense complimentary to the patriotism and independence of the paper.
It was in the hands of the second John Walter that the Times attained its popularity and its decided lead amongst the morning papers. In its course towards this goal it had undergone many vicissitudes. Mr. Walter, senior, was repeatedly fined heavily for libel, and underwent lengthened imprisonment, besides being sentenced to stand in the pillory for saying sundry unpleasant things about the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Clarence, and other scions of royalty. On one occasion, he was sixteen months in Newgate; but it is said the pillory sentence was never carried out. He made many efforts, and almost exhausted his pecuniary resources, in the introduction of machine-printing, and at length had the satisfaction of effecting his object.
Several morning papers have been set on foot since the establishment of the Times, some of them, the New Times in particular, for the avowed purpose of competing with it; but though enormous sums were expended on the new journals, nome of them succeeded, with the exception of the Morning Advertiser, which has thriven on the support of the licensed victuallers; and the Daily News, established about eight years ago, with an unprecedented phalanx of literary genius. But literary genius alone will not
Springing from very humble beginnings, the newspaper press has, within a century, but more especially within the last half century, risen into a power which, but for those internal divisions amongst its component members, which is its inseparable characteristic, would be stronger than all the other estates of the realm put together. Public opinion, it is abundantly certain, is the all-potent lever in England; and a united newspaper press could weld and wield public opinion at its