« AnteriorContinuar »
THE NEWSPAPER PRESS.
The Fourth Estate. By F. Knight Hunt. (Bogue.)
The works of the late Mr. Hunt and of Mr. Andrews supply materials which have been badly handled. meagre and incomplete, and there is an elaboration of details in the book by Mr. Andrews, which is intolerably tiresome. From Mr. Hunt something better might have been anticipated, had he lived to prepare another edition of what he modestly designated as “Contributions towards a History of Newspapers and of the Liberty of the Press.” Mr. Andrews has not turned to good account the preliminary labours of his predecessor. Mr. Hunt lacked method, but he was an able pioneer; his data will be always useful and highly interesting, as regards the early days of English journalism. The struggles to secure publicity for public proceedings are eloquently described, and he steers an independent course between the royalists and the puritans, in their respective efforts to “better regulate printing” on the one hand, and the seizure of the presses of the “malignant” on the other. The political pamphleteering of Prynn, Lilburn, Nedham, Twyn, Tutchen, Defoe, Swift, Bolingbroke, Addison, Steele, Wilkes, Churchill, &c., down to the days of William Hone, is brought under notice pleasantly as well as forcibly. It is in modern journalism that Mr. Hunt has signally failed ; and the sins of omission and commission on the part of Mr. Andrews, in his details of the newspapers of the day, are absolutely ludicrous. His redeeming quality as a compiler is the index; without this guide his "history” would be endless confusion. Dr. Johnson's specimens of the “Acta Diurna," show that Romans had their MS. news.
For a long period we claimed the English Mercurie, 1588, as the earliest newspaper printed; but Mr. Watts in 1839, in his letter to Mr. Panizzi, exposed the forgery, and Mr. Hunt establishes that the Weekly News, 1622, was the first journal
printed in this country, and that to Nathaniel Butter must be ascribed the honour of being the founder. At this epoch James the First's reign was nearly over, and Mr. Hunt reminds us that Cromwell was then a brewer at Huntingdon, Hampden a Buckinghamslire squire, Milton a boy scholar, and Ben Jonson poet laureate. Even at the establishment of the first newspaper, rare Ben Jonson laid down the fundamental principle of the getting up of a journal.
“ News of the morning ? I would fain hear some
Fresh from the forge." Even in 1861 the news must be fresh from the forge, or woe betide the paper which gives intelligence a day old. News in 1622 was the capital of a newspaper, as it is in 1861. Telegraphing has equalized the facilities of editors; but the paper which is first in the field with authentic details relative to the event of the day, whether it be political or social, will maintain its prestige with the public. In the management of modern journalism, the acquisition of early and exclusive intelligence is much lost sight of. No stamp duties being imposed in the early days of the press, there were “farthing posts” and “halfpenny posts.” The licensing system began in 1637, but it ended in 1695. The Oxford Gazette appeared November 13, 1665, and the London Gazette, which has continued to this day, the 5th of February, 1666. We hear of the next provincial paper, the Lancaster, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury, in 1695. It is still in existence--a prosperous journal and without leading articles. The Edinburgh Gazette, founded in 1699, was the first paper in Scotland, and the Dublin Gazette appeared in 1711. The first metropolitan daily paper was the Daily Courant, in 1702, the first year of Queen Anne's reign. The dates of existing morning papers are the Public Ledger, 1759; the Morning Chronicle, 1770; the Morning Post, 1772; the Morning Herald, 1781; the Times, 1788 (first published as the Daily Universal Register in 1785); the Morning Advertiser, 1794; the Daily News, 1846; the Daily Telegraph, 1855; the Morning Stur, 1856; and the Standard, 1857 (first published as an evening paper). The dates of existing evening papers, three times per week and daily, are the St. James' Chronicle, 1761; the Evening Mail (Times), 1789; the Sun, 1792; the Globe, 1803. The Express (Daily News), the Evening Star, the Evening Herald, and Evening Standard, are all of modern date; but the longevity of English journalism is sufficiently proved in citing the above dates. And yet it is a common observation in society, that newspaper property is so fluctuating and variable. Changes in proprietary may be so, but still, the attachment of readers to the journals they have been accustomed to is undeniable. There have not been any great changes in the getting up of a newspaper from its original formation in this country.
The Spectator of Nov. 26, 1714, gives a sketch of the newsreporter of the day, which will stand for the present period “ The one early in the antechamber, his head thrust into the thick of the press, catching the news at the opening of the door while it is warm, laying the ear close to the wall, sucking in many a valuable whisper.” The Reuters and the Havas's of 1712, are described by Addison. - There are about half a dozen ingenious men who live very plentifully upon the curiosity of their fellow subjects. They all of them secure the same advices from abroad, and very often in the same words; but the way of cooking it is very different. These several dishes of news are so very agreeable to the palate of my countrymen, that they are not only placed with them when they are served up hot, but when they are again set cool for thein by these penetrating politicians, who oblige the public with their reflections and observations upon every species of intelligence that is sent us from abroad. The text is given us by one set of writers, and the comment by another. But, notwithstanding, we have the same tale told us in so many different papers, and, if occasion requires, in so many articles of the same paper; notwithstanding, in a scarcity of posts, we hear the same story repeated by different advices from Paris, Brussels, the Hague, and from any great town in Europe ; notwithstanding the multitude of annotations, explanations, reflections, and various readings which it passes through, our time lies heavy on our hands till the arrival of the fresh mail: we long to receive further particulars to hear what will be the next step, or what will be the consequences of that which we have already taken.” What a capital editor
Addison would have made even in 1861! Every body laughs at the Eatenswill Gazette, and the Eatenswill Independent, whose interchange of editorial civilities Charles Dickens has described so humorously, but in the Britannicus, the Aulicus and Aquaticus of 1642, the exchange of epitaphs was pretty stiff; for instance, one writer thus apostrophizes his contemporaries :
“To vindicate the honour of a parliament I took my pen. I have discovered the lies, forgeries, insolences, impieties, prophanations, blasphemies, popery of the two sheets, and now I have done.” The Daily Telegraph of 1861, attacking a lord or a bishop, could not be more complimentary.
The wordy warfare was not always confined to the profes sional journalist. There were aristocratic gladiators, such as Lord Cowper in the Tatler, in reply to Lord Bolingbroke in the Examiner. Statesmen in these days do not condescend to write to journals for the settlement of their differences, but they write “ letters” destined for publicity. Pitt wrote “ leaders,” and had the political sagacity to appreciate the importance of a free distribution of any articles which he considered ought to be extensively read. No minister in this country ever took greater pains to secure a large circulation throughout the country of newspapers supporting his views; and no editor ever understood better than Pitt the tone to be taken, both on foreign and domestic policy. The great mistake of modern writers for newspapers on foreign affairs is, that they will argue from the purely English point of view, rarely qualifying their judgment of actions of public men on the continent, by recollecting what the nature of the nation really is—what are its customs and its peculiarities—and how far the idiosyncrasy of a foreigner differs from that of an Englishman. Could any leading article be more irresistibly ludicrous, for instance, than that one in the Times on the news of Garibaldi's entry into Naples, when the Printing-House Square oracle actually recommended the Italian patriot at once to attack the St Januarius' miracle? No journal makes greater blunders than the Times in the discussion of continental affairs. After getting together, at an enormous expense, and with infinite skill, the most authentic information, the fruits of the industry and intelligence of its able correspondents are negatived in one leader, filled with absurdities which make it the laughing-stock of the statesmen of the country, the affairs of which it undertakes to settle, but which not the less is accepted as graphic and powerful by the readers who are profoundly ignorant of foreign politics.
Mr. Hunt's history of the Times is interesting, inasmuch as it establishes that the inconsistency so often displayed by that powerful organ is, in point of fact, the essential element of its policy from the foundation of its present title. The original prospectus is cited, from which we extract the following :
6 The Times. “Why change the head?
“ The question will naturally come from the public; and we, the Times, being the public's most humble and most obedient servants, think ourselves bound to answer :- - All things have heads, and all heads are liable to change.'
“ The Times ! what a monstrous name! Granted ; for the Times is a many-headed monster, that speaks with a hundred tongues and displays a thousand characters; and in the course of its transformations in life assumes innumerable shapes and humours.
“ The political head of the Times, like that of Janus, the Roman deity, is double-faced.”
Has not the first John Walter found consistent descendants ?
The question is often debated, whether the Times will maintain its present position, with the increase of the cheap press, after the doomed paper duties are repealed? We have heard for many years that the circulation of the Times could be pulled down, but we have never witnessed the slightest approximation to the realization. It has been beaten in news, it has been beaten in expresses ; but in continuity of fresh and powerful writing it has never been surpassed. Its political changes do not affect the advertisements, and therein is its strength. There must be found another Smith & Son to pull down the Times. Smith & Son are to journalism what Mudie is to the novelists. The good public little suspect the unseen dictation exercised in enabling them to read a newspaper or a novel. “Wheels within wheels," as Sam Weller philosophically remarked on the caged bird in the prison. There are fetters for the inind, which the purchaser of a newspaper or a book at a railroad stall little dreams about. A speculator in a newspaper property,