CHAPTER XLII. ENGLISH JOURNALISM.
Roman News Letters. The Gazette. The Civil War. Later Divisions. The
Reviews. The Monthlies. The Dailies. The London Times. Other
ROMAN NEWS LETTERS.—English serials and periodicals, from the very time of their origin, display, in a remarkable manner, the progress both of English literature and of English history, and form the most striking illustration that the literature interprets the history. In using the caption, “journalism,” we include all forms of periodical literature—reviews, magazines, weekly and daily papers. The word journalism is, in respect to many of them, a misnomer, etymologically considered: it is a French corruption of diurnal, which, from the Latin dies, should mean a daily paper; but it is now generally used to include all periodicals. The origin of newspapers is quite curious, and antedates the invention of printing. The acta diurna, or journals of public events, were the daily manuscript reports of the Roman Government during the later commonwealth. In these, among other matters of public interest, every birth, marriage, and divorce was entered. As an illustration of the character of these brief entries, we have the satire of Petronius, which he puts in the mouth of the freed man Trimalchio: “The seventh of the Kalends of Sextilis, on the estate at Cumae, were born thirty boys, twenty girls; were carried from the floor to the barn, 500,000 bushels of wheat; were broke 500 oxen. The same day the slave Mithridates was crucified for blasphemy against the Emperor's genius; the same day was placed in the chest the sum of ten millions sesterces, which could not be put out to use.” Similar in character were the Acta Urbana, or city register, the Acta Publica, and the Acta Senatus, whose names indicate their contents. They were brief, almost tabular, and not infrequently sensational.
THE GAZETTE.—After the downfall of Rome, and during the Dark Ages, there are few traces of journalism. When Venice was still in her palmy days, in 1563, during a war with the Turks, printed bulletins were issued from time to time, the price for reading which was a coin of about three farthings' value called a gazetta; and so the paper soon came to be called a gazette. Old files, to the amount of thirty volumes, of great historical value, may be found in the Magliabecchian Library at Florence.
Next in order, we find in France Affiches, or placards, which were soon succeeded by regular sheets of advertisement, exhibited at certain offices.
As early as the time of the intended invasion of England by the Spanish Armada, about the year 1588, we find an account of its defeat and dispersion in the Mercurie, issued by Queen Elizabeth's own printer. In another number is the news of a plot for killing the queen, and a statement that instruments of torture were on board the vessels, to set up the Inquisition in London. Whether true or not, the newspaper said it; and the English people believed it implicitly.
About 1600, with the awakening spirit of the people, there began to appear periodical papers containing specifically news from Germany, from Italy, &c. And during the Thirty Years' War there was issued a weekly paper called The Certain News of the Present Week. Although the word news is significant enough, many persons considered it as made up of the initial letters representing the cardinal points of the compass, N.E.W.S., from which the curious people looked for satisfying intelligence.
THE CIVIL WAR.—The progress of English journalism received a great additional impetus when the civil war broke out between Charles I. and his Parliament, in 1642. To meet the demands of both parties for intelligence, numbers of small sheets were issued: Truths from York told of the rising in the king's favor there. There were: Tidings from Ireland, News from Hull, telling of the siege of that place in 1643;The Dutch Spy; The Parliament Kite; The Secret Owl; The Scot's Dove, with the olive-branch. Then flourished the Weekly Discoverer, and The Weekly Discoverer Stripped Naked. But these were only bare and partial statements, which excited rancor without conveying intelligence. “Had there been better vehicles for the expression of public opinion,” says the author of the Student's history of England, “the Stuarts might have been saved from some of those schemes which proved so fatal to themselves.”
In the session of Parliament held in 1695, there occurred a revolution of great moment. There had been an act, enforced for a limited time, to restrain unlicensed printing, and under it censors had been appointed; but, in this year, the Parliament refused to re-enact or continue it, and thus the press found itself comparatively free.
We have already referred to the powerful influence of the essayists in The Tatler, Spectator, Guardian, and Rambler, which may be called the real origin of the present English press.
LATER DIVISIONS.—Coming down to the close of the eighteenth century, we find the following division of English periodical literature: Quarterlies, usually called Reviews; Monthlies, generally entitledMagazines; Weeklies, containing digests of news; and Dailies, in which are found the intelligence and facts of the present moment; and in this order, too, were the intellectual strength and learning of the time at first employed. The Quarterlies contained the articles of the great men—the acknowledged critics in politics, literature, and art; the Magazines, a current literature of poetry and fiction; the Weeklies andDailies, reporters' facts and statistics; the latter requiring activity rather than cleverness, and beginning to be a vehicle for extensive advertisements.
This general division has been since maintained; but if the order has not been reversed, there can be no doubt that the great dailies have steadily risen; on most questions of popular interest in all departments, long and carefully written articles in the dailies, from distinguished pens, anticipate the quarterlies, or force them to seek new grounds and forms of presentation after forestalling their critical opinions. Not many years ago, the quarterlies subsidized the best talent; now the men of that class write for The Times, Standard, Telegraph, &c.
Let us look, in the order we have mentioned, at some representatives of the press in its various forms.
Each of the principal reviews represents a political party, and at the same time, in most cases, a religious denomination; and they owe much of their interest to the controversial spirit thus engendered.
REVIEWS.—First among these, in point of origin, is the Edinburgh Review, which was produced by the joint efforts of several young, and comparatively unknown, gentlemen, among whom were Francis (afterwards) Lord Jeffrey, Lord Murray, Mr. (since Lord) Brougham, and the Rev. Sydney Smith. The latter gentleman was appointed first editor, and remained long enough in Edinburgh to edit the first number. Thereafter Jeffrey conducted it. The men were clever, witty, studious, fearless; and the Review was not only from the first a success, but its fiat was looked for by authors with fear and trembling. It became a vehicle for the efforts of the best minds. Macaulay wrote for it those brilliant miscellanies which at once established his fame, and gave it much of its popularity. In it Jeffrey attacked the Lake poetry, and incurred the hatred of Byron. Its establishment, in 1803, was an era in the world of English letters. The papers were not merely reviews, but monographs on interesting subjects—a new anatomy of history; it was in a general way an exponent, but quite an independent one, of the Whig party, or those who would liberally construe the Constitution,—putting Churchmen and Dissenters on the same platform; although published in Edinburgh, it was neither Scotch nor Presbyterian. It attacked ancient prescriptions and customs; agitated questions long considered settled both of present custom and former history; and thus imitated the champion knights who challenged all comers, and sustained no defeats.
Occupying opposite ground to this is the great English review called the London Quarterly: it was established in 1809; is an uncompromising Tory,—entirely conservative as to monarchy, aristocracy, and Established Church. Its first editor was William Gifford; but it attained its best celebrity under the charge of John Gibson Lockhart, the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott, a man of singular critical power. Among its distinguished contributors were Southey, Scott, Canning, Croker, and Wordsworth.
The North British Review, which never attained the celebrity of either of these, and which has at length, in 1871, been discontinued, occupied strong Scottish and Presbyterian ground, and had its respectable supporters.
But besides the parties mentioned, there is a floating one, growing by slow but sure accretion, know as the Radical. It includes men of many stamps, mainly utilitarian,—radical in politics, innovators, radical in religion, destructive as to systems of science and arts, a learned and inquisitive class,—rational, transcendental, and intensely dogmatic. As a vent for this varied party, the Westminster Review was founded by Mr Bentham, in 1824. Its articles are always well written, and sometimes dangerous, according to our orthodox notions. It is supported by such writers as Mill, Bowring, and Buckle.
Besides these there are numerous quarterlies of more or less limited scope, as in science or art, theology or law; such as The Eclectic, The Christian Observer, The Dublin, and many others.
THE MONTHLIES.—Passing from the reviews to the monthlies, we find the range and number of these far greater, and the matter lighter. The first great representative of the modern series, and one that has kept its issue up to the present day, is Cave's Gentleman's Magazine, which commenced its career in 1831, and has been continued, after Cave's death, by Henry & Nichols, who wrote under the pseudonym of Sylvanus Urban. It is a strong link between past and present. Johnson sent his queries to it while preparing his dictionary, and at the present day it is the favorite vehicle of antiquarians and historians. Passing by others, we find Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, first published in 1817. Originally a strong and bitter conservative, it kept up its popularity by its fine stories and poems. Among the most notable papers in Blackwood are the Noctes Ambrosianae, in which Professor Wilson, under the pseudonym of Christopher North, took the greater part.
Most of the magazines had little or no political proclivity, but were chiefly literary. Among them are Fraser's, begun in 1830, and the Dublin University, in 1832.
A charming light literature was presented by the New Monthly: in politics it was a sort of set-off to Blackwood: in it Captain Marryat wrote his famous sea stories; and among other contributors are the ever welcome names of Hood, Lytton, and Campbell. The Penny Magazine, of Knight, was issued from 1832 to 1845.
Quite a new era dawned upon the magazine world in the establishment of several new ones, under the auspices of famous authors; among which we mention The Cornhill, edited by Thackeray, in 1859, with unprecedented success, until his tender heart compelled him to resign it; Temple Bar, by Sala, in 1860, is also very successful.
In 1850 Dickens began the issue of Household Words, and in 1859 this was merged into All the Year Round, which owed its great popularity to the prestige of the same great writer.
Besides these, devoted to literature and criticism, there are also many monthlies issued in behalf of special branches of knowledge, art, and science, which we have not space to refer to.
Descending in the order mentioned, we come to the weeklies, which, besides containing summaries of daily intelligence, also share the magazine field in brief descriptive articles, short stories, and occasional poems.
A number of these are illustrated journals, and are of great value in giving us pictorial representations of the great events and scenes as they pass, with portraits of men who have become suddenly famous by some special act or appointment. Their value cannot be too highly appreciated; they supply to the mind, through the eye, what the best descriptions in letter-press could not give; and in them satire uses comic elements with wonderful effect. Among the illustrated weeklies, the Illustrated London News has long held a high place; and within a short period The Graphic has exhibited splendid pictures of men and things of timely interest. Nor must we forget to mention Punch, which has been the grand jester of the realm since its origin. The best humorous and witty talent of England has found a vent in its pages, and sometimes its pathos has been productive of reform. Thackeray, Cuthbert Bede, Mark Lemon, Hood, have amused us in its pages, and the clever pencil of Leech has made a series of etching which will never grow tiresome. To it Thackeray contributed his Snob Papers, and Hood The Song of the Shirt.
THE DAILIES.—But the great characteristic of the age is the daily newspaper, so common a blessing that we cease to marvel at it, and yet marvellous as it is common. It is the product of quick intelligence, of great energy, of concurrent and systematized labor, and, in order to fulfil its mission, it seems to subsidize all arts and invade all subjects—steam, mechanics, photography, phonography, and electricity. The news which it prints and scatters comes to it on the telegraph; long orations are phonographically reported; the very latest mechanical skill is used in its printing; and the world is laid at our feet as we sit at the breakfast-table and read its columns.
I shall not go back to the origin of printing, to show the great progress that has been made in the art from that time to the present; nor shall I attempt to explain the present process, which one visit to a press-room would do far better than any description; but I simply refer to the fact that fifty years ago newspapers were still printed with the hand-press, giving 250 impressions per hour—no cylinder, no flying Hoe, (that was patented only in 1847.) Now, the ten-cylinder Hoe, steam driven, works off 20,000 sheets in an hour, and more, as the stereotyper may multiply the forms. What an emblem of art-progress is this! Fifty years ago mail-coaches carried them away. Now, steamers and locomotives fly with them all over the world, and only enlarge and expand the story, the great facts of which have been already sent in outline by telegraph.
Nor is it possible to overrate the value of a good daily paper: as the body is strengthened by daily food, so are we built up mentally and spiritually for the busy age in which we live by the world of intelligence contained in the daily journal. A great book and a good one is offered for the reading of many who have no time to read others, and a great culture in morals, religion, politics, is thus induced. Of course it would be impossible to mention all the English dailies. Among them The London Times is pre-eminent, and stands highest in the opinion of the ministerial party, which fears and uses it.
There was a time when the press was greatly trammelled in England, and license of expression was easily charged with constructive treason; but at present it is remarkably free, and the great, the government, and existing abuses, receive no soft treatment at its hands.
The London Times was started by John Walter, a printer, in 1788, there having been for three years before a paper called the London Daily Universal Register. In 1803 his son, John, went into partnership, when the circulation was but 1,000. Within ten years it was 5,000. In 1814, cleverly concealing the purpose from his workmen, he printed the first sheet ever printed by steam, on Koenig's press. The paper passed, at his death, into the hands of his son, the third John, who is a scholar, educated at Eton and Oxford, like his father a member of Parliament, and who has lately been raised to the peerage. The Timesis so influential that it may well be called a third estate in the realm: its writers are men of merit and distinction; its correspondence secures the best foreign intelligence; and its travelling agents, like Russell and others, are the true historians of a war. English journalism, it is manifest, is eminently historical. The files of English newspapers are the best history of the period, and will, by their facts and comments, hereafter confront specious and false historians. Another thing to be observed is the impersonality of the British press, not only in the fact that names are withheld, but that the articles betray no authorship; that, in short, the paper does not appear as the glorification of one man or set of men, but like an unprejudiced relator, censor, and judge.
Of the principal London papers, the Morning Post (Liberal, but not Radical,) was begun in 1772. The Globe (at first Liberal, but within a short time Tory), in 1802. The Standard (Conservative), in 1827. The Daily News (high-class Liberal), in 1846. The News announced itself as pledged to Principles of Progress and Improvement. The Daily Telegraph was started in 1855, and claims the largest circulation. It is also a Liberal paper.