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deception of others and self-though the assumption of the first person, the dated address at the head and the signature at the end, and the supposition of that privacy which secures the letter-writer to his correspondent, are well known to be nothing but a form-has come to be the great prerequisite of the letter essayist. Though he is a public person writing for publication about something which perhaps never happened, he must appear to be a private person who scribbles leisurely to a friend concerning things which have occurred.
The history of the letter essay is closely connected with that of journalism; journalism began with the news-letter. The germ idea of the newspaper came into existence when accounts of the imperial armies of Rome were sent to generals serving in the provinces. These Acta Diurna were passed on by the generals to the officers under their command, and by the officers to their next inferiors, and so on, thus laying the foundation of a newspaper circulation. In Germany in the fifteenth century small newssheets in the form of letters were issued in Augsburg, Vienna, Ratisbon, and Nuremburg. These are the earliest traces as yet found of journalism in Europe. Not until 1566, however, when the official Notizie Scritte were established at Venice by order of the Venetian Government, do we find a news-sheet at all answering to our present conception of the newspaper. Venice was at war with the Turks, and it was thus, by means of written sheets of limited number, that the Government communicated to the public the latest military and commercial information which it had received. About the same time, offices were set up in France, at the suggestion of the father of Montaigne, for making the wants of individuals known to one another. The advertisements received at these offices were sometimes pasted on walls in public places, in order to attract
more attention. This led in time to a systematic and periodical publication of advertisements in sheets. In the reign of James I. packets of news of extraordinary interest were occasionally published in pamphlet form; these were entitled News from Italy, Hungary, France, etc., according to the country from which the tidings were supposed to come. Often they purported to be translations from the Low Dutch. In 1622, when the Thirty Years' War of Gustavus Adolphus had excited curiosity, these irregular pamphlets were converted into a regular weekly issue, having for editor Nathaniel Butter. The weekly pamphlet arose out of the exigencies of a crisis, conveyed news concerning that crisis, and when the necessity which had given it birth was at an end, degenerated into an uninteresting, meagre chronicle. If a squire in the country desired to keep in touch with town happenings, he hired a professional correspondent-a man who sent him news-letters. “In the capital," writes Lord Macaulay, “the coffee-houses supplied in some measure the place of a journal. Thither the Londoners flocked, as the Athenians of old flocked to the market-place, to hear whether there was any news. There men might learn how brutally a Whig had been treated the day before in Westminster Hall, what horrible accounts the letters from Edinburgh gave of the torturing of Covenanters, how grossly the Navy Board had cheated the crown in the victualling of the fleet, and what grave charges the Lord Privy Seal had brought against the Treasury in the matter of the hearth money. But people who lived at a distance from the great theatre of political contention could be kept regularly informed of what was passing there only by means of news-letters. To prepare such letters became a calling in London, as it now is among the natives of India. The news-writer rambled from coffee-room to coffee-room,
collecting reports, squeezed himself into the Sessions House at Old Bailey if there was an interesting trial, nay, perhaps obtained admission to the gallery of Whitehall, and noticed how the King and Duke looked. In this way he gathered materials for weekly epistles destined to enlighten some country town or some bench of rustic magistrates. Such were the sources from which inhabitants of the largest provincial cities, and the great body of the gentry and clergy, learned almost all that they knew of the history of their own time.” During the civil war in the reign of Charles I. many new papers sprang into existence, called forth by the crisis. The differences of opinion which prevailed, clamouring for some public mode of expression, helped to make them more numerous. Another significant development was that many of them were published in the provinces; such were News from Hull, Truths from York, and Warranted Tidings from Ireland. We find in one of these newspapers a notice of the death of Captain Oliver, Cromwell's son, who had died of smallpox in his quarters at Newport. “He was a civil young gentleman,” says the writer, "and the joy of his father.” As the war proceeded, desire on the part of the country for early intelligence became more eager, consequently the intervals between publication were shortened and the papers began to be issued twice and thrice weekly. So important an auxiliary was the press considered, that each of the rival armies carried a printer along with it. During the Protectorate the newspaper press enjoyed the luxury of freedom, and there was a considerable increase in the number of political journals; but with the restoration of a monarchy which was not entirely popular with every section of the country, the press was put under a licenser. The newspaper censorship was established in 1662, and was continued down to 1695, when the press licensing law was
abolished. “While the Licensing Act was in force,” says Lord Macaulay, “there was no newspaper in England except the London Gazette, which was edited by a clerk in the office of the Secretary of State, and which contained nothing but what the Secretary of State wished the nation to know. There were indeed many periodical papers; but none of those papers could be called a newspaper.” The way in which this attitude toward the press operated at a time when any man who did not fully approve of each separate action of Majesty, and of Majesty's office-bearers, was likely to be attacked as a traitor, is seen in the case of L'Estrange, editor of the Observator, who procured to be issued "a proclamation for suppressing the printing and publishing unlicensed books and pamphlets of news, because it has become a common practice for evil-disposed persons to vend to his majesty's people all the idle and malicious reports that they could collect or invent, contrary to law; the continuance whereof would in a short time endanger the peace of the kingdom.” Another instance of this sensitiveness of government men in authority to any shadow of criticism is absurdly illustrated in the case of John Milton, who experienced very great difficulty in procuring a license for the publishing of Paradise Lost, because the censor imagined that in the noble simile of the sun in an eclipse he had discovered veiled treason. In an age when the papers contained nothing but what the Secretary of State wished the nation to know, when a suspicious, crabbed official played paterfamilias to a great people, the value of the news-letter is self-evident; the things which the Secretary of State did not wish to tell the nation were precisely the gossipy items which the nation was most eager to know. These tidings the professional news
monger conveyed to his provincial correspondent, together with countless delectable titbits of scandal, in his news-letter. Such weekly or fort
nightly epistles must sometimes have approximated to the standard of excellence soon to be established by the letter essay when it dealt with a topic of contemporary interest, 8.e., gave or discussed news. In 1695 the press licensing law was abolished, the immediate result of which was the fusion of the newspaper and the news - letter, which produced the letter essay, usually in the character of a leading article, and ultimately modern journalism. In 1695 the Flying Post announced that "if any gentleman has a mind to oblige his country friend or correspondent with this account of public affairs, he may have it for two pence of J. Salisbury, at the Rising Sun in Cornhill, on a sheet of fine paper; half of which being blank, he may thereon write his own private business, or the material news of the day.” Still more inviting is the announcement published in Dawkes's News-Letter, that “this letter will be done up on good writing-paper, and blank space left, that any gentleman may write his own private business. It will be useful to improve the younger sort in writing a curious hand!” So, at the start, one-half of the newspaper was still a newsletter, only now the friend in town, and not the professional, might write the news-letter. This provision was probably made for the expression, on the part of the sender, of current criticism of the ungarnished facts stated in the paper, which criticism, if included in the printed portion, would have been actionable as seditious libel, although the licensing law had been withdrawn; and, if too freely indulged in, might have had the effect of bringing the law into force again. For the first few years after its abolition the press was on its good behaviour. On March 8, 1702, the Daily Courant appeared, the first regular daily paper, "giving all the Material News as every Post arrived." But Defoe was the earliest of his age to take proper advantage of the opportunity for thinking in public which this