The first regular English journalists may be identified with the writers of manuscript 'news-letters', originally the dependants of great men, each employed in keeping his own master or patron well-informed, during his absence from court, of all that happened there. The duty grew at length into a calling. The writer had his periodical subscription list, and instead of writing a single letter wrote as many letters as he had customers. Then one more enterprising than the rest established an 'intelligence office', with a staff of clerks, such as Ben Jonson's Cymbal depicts from the life in Staple of News, acted in 1625, which is the best-known dramatic notice of the news-sheets. "This is the outer room where my clerks sit, And keep their sides, the register in the midst; The examiner, he sits private there within; And here I have my several rolls and files Of news by the alphabet, and all put up Under their heads." Of the earlier news-letters good examples may be seen in the Paston Letters, and in the Sydney Papers. Of those of later date specimens will be found in Knowler's Letters and Despatches of Strafford, and other well-known books.
Still later examples may be seen amongst the papers collected by the historian Thomas Carte, preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Of these, several series were addressed to the first Duke of Ormond, partly by correspondents in England and Ireland, partly by correspondents in Paris; others were addressed to successive earls of Huntingdon; others, again, to various members of the Wharton family. And similar valuable collections are to be seen in the library of the British Museum, and in the Record Office in London. In Edinburgh the Advocates' Library possesses a series of the 16th century, written by Richard Scudamore to Sir Philip Hoby during his embassy to Vienna. The manuscript news-letters - some of them proceeding from writers of marked ability who had access to official information, and were able to write with greater freedom and independence of tone than the compilers of the printed news - held their ground, although within narrowing limits, until nearly the middle of the 18th century. The distinction between the newsletter and the newspaper is pointed out in the preceding section.
It was at one time believed that the earliest regular English newspaper was an English Mercurie of 1588, to which George Chalmers, the political writer and antiquarian, referred in his Life of Ruddiman (1794) as being (with others of the same date) in the British Museum. The falsehood of this supposition, which was long accepted on Chalmers's authority, was, however, pointed out by Thomas Watts, of the British Museum, in 1839, in a volume with the title Letter to Antonio Panizzi on the Reputed earliest printed Newspaper, and again in 1850, in an article in the Gentleman's Magazine (n.s. xxxiii. 485-491). The documents in question are (1) a manuscript unnumbered issue of the English Mercurie, dated; "Whitehall, July 26th, 1588"; (2) a printed copy, No. 50, of July 23, 1588; (3) a printed copy of No. 51; (4) a printed copy of No. 54, of November 24, 1588; (5) and three other manuscript copies. These were included in a collection bequeathed to the Museum of Dr Birch (1766), and are incontestably 18th-century forgeries. The handwriting of the spurious manuscripts was identified by a letter among Dr Birch's correspondence as that of Philip Yorke, afterwards 2nd Lord Hardwicke, and there were trifling corrections in Dr Birch's handwriting, showing that he was a party with Yorke, the author, to the mystification. No information is forthcoming as to the object of it, but it is worth mentioning that Yorke and his brother also published a clever jeu d'esprit called The Athenian Letters, purporting to be a transcript from a Spanish translation of letters written by a Persian agent during the Peloponnesian War; so that it may be inferred that this sort of thing recommended itself to Yorke, and not necessarily for any deception.
Various English pamphlets, as well as French, Italian and German, occur in the 16th century with such titles as Newes from Spaine, and the like. In the early years of the 17th century they became very numerous; the Charles Burney collection in the British Museum is particularly valuable for this early period, the newsbooks and newspapers in it commencing with a "relation" of 1603. In 1614 we find Burton (the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy) pointing a sarcasm against the nonreading habits of "the major part" by adding, "if they read a book at any time ... 'tis an English chronicle, Sir Huon of Bordeaux, Amadis de Gaul, etc., a play-book, or some pamphlet of news". But up to 1641, owing to the fact that to print domestic news was barred by the royal prerogative, the English periodicals which are to be considered as strictly the forerunners of the regular newspaper were only translations or adaptations of foreign periodicals containing news of what was going on abroad.
There is in the British Museum a Mercurius Gallobelgicus; Sive rerum in Gallia et Belgio potissimum, Hispania quoque, Italia, Anglia, Germania, Polonia, Vicinisque Locis ab anno 1588 usque ad Martium anni praesentis 1594 gestarum, nuncius. Opusculum in Sex libris qui totidem annos complectuntur, divisum auctore D. M. Jansonio Doccomensi Frisio. Editio altera. Coloniae Agrippinae. Apud Godefridum Kempensem. Anna Mdxciv. This production of Janson's at Cologne is a fairly thick octavo book, giving a Latin chronicle of events from 1587 to 1594, and is really a sort of annual register. It was continued down to 1635. The Mercurius Gallobelgicus (1) is chiefly interesting because, by circulating in England, it started the idea of a periodical supplying foreign news, and apparently became to English contemporaries a type of the newfangled news-summaries.
In 1614 there was published in London a little square book (45 pages), by Robert Booth, A Relation of all matters passed since March last to the present 1614, translated according to the originall of Mercurius Gallobelgicus, which has the running title Mercurius Gallobelgicus his relation since March last. From a repetition of such "relations" at irregular intervals, to the periodical publication of news-books with a common title in a numbered series, was a natural development. Thus on the 1st of June 1619 Ralph Rounthwaite entered at Stationers' Hall A Relation of all matters done in Bohemia, Austria, Poland, Sletia, France, etc., that is worthy of relating, since the 2nd of March 1618 (1619 N.S.) until the 4th of May (2). Again at the beginning of November 1621 Bartholomew Downes and another entered in like manner The certaine and true newes from all parts of Germany and Poland, to this present 20 of October 1621 (3). No copy of either of these papers is now known to exist. Nor is any copy known of the Courant or Weekly Newes from foreign parts of October 9, 1621 taken out of the High Dutch, - mentioned by John Nichols. But in May 1622 we arrive at a regular weekly newspaper which may still be seen in the British Museum.
The Stationers' Registers contain an entry on May 8th of A Currant of generall newes. Dated in 14th May last; no copy of this issue is preserved, but what is presumably the next number is to be found in the Burney collection. It is entitled The 23rd of May - The Weekely Newes from Italy, Germany, etc., London, printed by J. D. for Nicholas Bourne and Thomas Archer. On many subsequent numbers the name of Nathaniel Butter appears in connexion sometimes with Bourne and sometimes with Archer; so that there was probably an eventual partnership in the new undertaking. Archer is known as a publisher of "relations" since 1603; he died in 1634. Butter had published Newes from Spaine in 1611, and he continued to be a publisher of news until 1641, if not later, and died in 1664.(5)
For details of the history of the development of the news-book down to 1641, and thence to the starting of the London Gazette in 1665, reference should be made to Mr J. B. Williams's History of English Journalism (1908), already referred to. Mr Williams, by his study of the materials preserved in the British Museum in the Burney and Thomason (6) collections, has considerably modified many of the previously accepted views as to the affiliation and authorship of these early English periodicals. The leading facts can only be summarized here.
The Weekely Newes (1622), though the - first English 'Coranto', had no regular title connecting one number with the rest; it was simply the news of the week, and so described. The first periodical with a title was a Mercurius Britannicus published by Archer (1625; the earliest copy in existence being No. 16, April 7th), which probably lasted till the end of 1627. But the activity of the Coranto-makers was checked by the Star Chamber edict in 1632 against the printing of news from foreign parts. The next step in the evolution of the newspaper was due to the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641, and the consequent freeing of the Press; and at last we come to the English periodical with domestic news. In November 1641 begins The Head of severall proceedings in the present parliament (outside title) or Diurnal Occurrences (inside title), the latter being the title under which it was soon known as a weekly; and on Jan. 31st 1642 appeared A Perfect Diurnal of the Passages in Parliament. These were printed for William Cooke, and were written apparently by Samuel Pecke, "the first of the patriarchs of English domestic journalism" (Williams). It is unnecessary here to mention every domestic journal which played its part in the verbal warfare in the Great Rebellion.
The weekly Diurnals were soon copied by other booksellers. At first they were naturally on the side of the parliament. In January 1643, however, appeared at Oxford the first Royalist diurnal, named Mercurius Aulicus (continued till September 1645, and soon succeeded by Mercurius Academicus), which struck a higher literary note; its chief writer was Sir John Birkenhead. Mercurius Civicus, the first regularly illustrated periodical in London, was started by the parliamentarian Richard Collings on May 11th, 1643 (continued to December 1646); Collings had also started earlier in the year the Kingdome's Weekly Intelligencer, which lasted till October 1649. In September 1643 appeared another Puritan opponent of Mercurius Aulicus in the Mercurius Britanicus (sic) of Captain Thomas Audley, which temporarily ceased publication on September 9th, 1644, only to be revived on September 30th by Marchamont (or Marchmont) Nedham, a writer who plays a prominent part in the journalism of this period, and to be continued till May 18th 1646.
In January 1647 was started the Perfect Occurrences by Henry Walker ('Luke Harruney'), who was not only a great journalist on the parliamentary side but is important as having originated the introduction of advertisements into the news-books. Later in the year a number of new Royalist Mercuries came into the field from which Aulicus and Academicus had now withdrawn: the first was Mercuricus Melancholicus (until 1649), and the most important were Mercurius Pragmaticus (Sept. 1647 to May 1650) and Mercuricus Elencticus (Nov. 1647 to Nov. 1649).
Mercuricus Pragmaticus was not, as has been stated, originated by Marchamont Nedham (who about this time turned his coat and became Royalist), but in 1648-1649 he was its writer until he again turned parliamentarian; "history," says Mr Williams,, "has no personage so shamelessly cynical as Marchamont Nedham, with his powerful pen and his political convictions ever ready to be enlisted on the side of the highest bidder; he even wrote for Charles II in later years." Against the unlicensed Royalist Mercuries in London, where the people were on the king's side, the parliament waged active war, but some of them managed to come out, although writer after writer was imprisoned, until the middle of 1650. Meanwhile from October 1649 to June 1650, by a new act of parliament, the licensed press itself was entirely suppressed, and in 1649 two official journals were issued, A Brief Relation (up to October 1650) and Severall Proceedings in Parliament (till September 1655), a third licensed periodical, A Perfect Diurnall (till September 1655), being added later in the year, and a fourth, Mercurius Politicus (of which Milton was the editor for a year or so and Marchamont Nedham one of the principal writers), starting on June 13th, 1650 (continuing till April 12th, 1660). After the middle of 1650 there was a revival of some of the older licensed news-books; but the Weekly Intelligence of the Commonwealth (July 1650 to September 1655), by R. Collings, was the only important newcomer up to September 1655, when Cromwell suppressed all such publications with the exception of Mercurius Politicus and the Publick Intelligencer (October 1655 to April 1660), both being official and conducted by Marchamont Nedham.
Till Cromwell's death (Sept. 3rd. 1658) Nedham reigned alone in the press, but with the Rump he fell into disgrace, and in 1659 a rival appeared in Henry Muddiman (a great writer also of "news-letters"), whose Parliamentary Intelligencer, renamed the Kingdom's Intelligencer (till August 1663), was supported by General Monck. Nedham's journalistic career came finally to an end (he died in 1678) at the hand of Monck's council of state in April 1660. The following announcement was published in the Parliamentary Intelligencer: "Whereas Marchmont Nedham, the author of the weekly news-books called Mercurius Politicus and the Publique Intelligencer is, by order of the council of state, discharged from writing or publishing any publique intelligence; the reader is desired to take notice that, by order of the said council, Giles Dury and Henry Muddiman are authorized henceforth to write and publish the said intelligence, the one upon the Thursday and the other upon the Monday, which they do intend to set out under the titles of the Parliamentary Intelligencer and of Mercurius Publicus." This arrangement with Muddiman lasted till 1663, when he was supplanted by Sir Roger L'Estrange, who was appointed "surveyor of the Press". On him was conferred by royal grant - and, as it proved, for only a short period - "all the sole privilege of writing, printing, and publishing all narratives, advertisements, mercuries,. intelligencers, diurnals and other books of public intelligence; ... with power to search for and seize the unlicensed and treasonable schismatical and scandalous books and papers." L'Estrange discontinued Mercurius Politicus and Kingdom's Intelligencer and substituted two papers, the Intelligencer (Aug. 1st) and the Newes (Sept. 3rd) at a halfpenny, the former on Mondays and the latter on Thursdays; they were continued till January 29th, 1666, but from the beginning of 1664 the Intelligencer was made consecutive with the Newes, numbered and paged as one.
We come now to the origin of the famous London Gazette. Muddiman, obliged to devote himself solely to his news-letters, was associated with Joseph Williamson (under-secretary and afterwards secretary of state), who was for a time L'Estrange's assistant in the compilation of the Intelligencer (7). Muddiman organized for himself a far-spread foreign correspondence, and carried on the business of a news-letter writer on a larger scale than had till then been known. Presently L'Estrange, whose monopoly of printing was highly unpopular, found his own sources of information much abridged, while Williamson, for his own ambitious purposes, entered into a complicated intrigue (analysed in detail by Williams, op. cit. pp. 190 seq.) for getting the whole business into his hands, with Muddiman as his tool and with Muddiman's clients as his customers. To L'Estrange's application for renewed assistance Williamson replied that he could not give it, but would procure for him a salary of £200 a year if he would give up his right in the news-book (8). The Intelligencer appealed (Oct. 1665) to Lord Arlington, and pathetically assured him that the charge for "entertaining spies for information was, £500 in the first year." (9) But L'Estrange boasted that he had "doubled" the size and price of the book, (10) and had brought the profit from £200 to £400 or £500 a year (11). The appeal was in vain. At that time the great plague had driven the court to Oxford.
The first number of the bi-weekly Oxford Gazette, licensed by Arlington and written by Muddiman, was published on the 16th November 1665. It was a "paper" of news, of the same size and shape as Muddiman's news-letters. With the publication of the 24th number (Monday, February 5th, 1665-1666 O.S.) the Oxford Gazette became the London Gazette. After the 25th number Muddiman, who saw that he was not safe in Williamson's hands, seceded. Williamson had the general control of the Gazette, and for a considerable time Charles Perrot, a member of Oriel College, was the acting editor (12). L'Estrange was soon driven out of the field, being solaced, on his personal appeal to the king, with a charge of boo a year on the news-books (henceforth "taken into the secretaries' office") and a further £200 out of secret service money for his place as surveyor of the press. Muddiman, meanwhile, attached himself to the other secretary of state, Sir W. Morice, and he was authorized to issue an opposition official paper, which appeared as Current Intelligence (June 4 - Aug. 20, 1666); and though the Great Fire, which burnt out all the London printers, resulted in the reappearance, after a week's interval, of the Gazette alone, Muddiman's unrivalled organization of news-letters remained; and they continued, till his death in 1692, to be the more popular source of information.
The Gazette, however, now remained for some time the only "newspaper" in the strict sense already mentioned. For several years it was regularly translated into French by one Moranville. During the Stuart reigns generally its contents were very meagre, although in the reign of Anne some improvement is already visible. More than a century after the establishment of the Gazette, we find Secretary Lord Weymouth addressing a circular (13) to the several secretaries of legation and the British consuls abroad, in which he says, "The writer of the Gazette has represented that the reputation of that paper is greatly lessened, and the sale diminished, from the small portion of foreign news with which it is supplied." He desires that each of them will send regularly all such articles of foreign intelligence as may appear proper for that paper, "taking particular care - as the Gazette is the only paper of authority printed in this country - never to send anything concerning the authenticity of which there is the smallest doubt." From such humble beginnings has arisen the great repertory of State Papers, now so valuable to the writers and to the students of English history. The London Gazette has appeared twice a week (on Tuesday and Friday) in a continuous series ever since (14) The editorship is a government appointment.
We come now to the Revolution. The very day after the departure of James II was marked by the appearance of three newspapers - The Universal Intelligence, the English Courant and the London Courant. Within a few days more these were followed by the London Mercury, the Orange Gazette, the London Intelligence, the Harlem Currant and others. The Licensing Act which was in force at the date of the Revolution, expired in 1692, but was continued for a year, after which it finally ceased. On the appearance of a paragraph in the Flying Post of 1st April 1697, which appeared to the House of Commons to attack the credit of the Exchequer Bills, leave was given to bring in a bill "to prevent writing, printing or publishing of any news without licence"; but the bill was thrown out in an early stage of its progress. That Flying Post which gave occasion to this attempt was also noticeable for a new method of printing, which it thus announced to, its customers - "If any gentleman has a mind to oblige his country friend or correspondent with this account of public affairs, he can have it for twopence ... on a sheet of fine paper, half of which being left blank, he may thereon write his own affairs, or the material news of the day."
In 1696 Edward Lloyd - the virtual founder of the famous 'Lloyd's' of commerce - started a thrice-a-week paper, Lloyd's News, which had but a brief existence in its first shape, but was the precursor of the Lloyd's List of the present day. No. 76 of the original paper contained a paragraph referring to the House of Lords, for the appearance of which a public apology must, the publisher was told, be made. He preferred to discontinue his publication (February 1697). Nearly thirty years afterwards he in part revived it, under the title of Lloyd's List - published at first weekly, afterwards twice a week. (15) This dates from 1726. It is now published daily.
It was in the reign of Queen Anne that the English newspaper press first became really eminent for the amount of intellectual power and of versatile talent which was employed upon it. It was also in that reign that the press was first fettered by the newspaper stamp.
The accession of Anne was quickly followed by the appearance of the first successful London daily newspaper, the Daily Courant (11th of March 1702-1703). Seven years earlier, in 1695, the Postboy had been started as a daily paper (actually the first in London), but only four numbers appeared. The Courant was published and edited by the learned printer Samuel Buckley, who explained to the public that "the author has taken care to be duly furnished with all that comes from abroad, in any language ... At the beginning of each article he will quote the foreign paper from which it is taken, that the public, seeing from what country a piece of news comes, with the allowance of that government, may be better able to judge of the credibility and fairness of the relation. Nor will he take upon himself to give any comments, ... supposing other people to have sense enough to make reflexions for themselves." Then came, in rapid succession, a crowd of new competitors for public favour, of less frequent publication. The first number of one of these, the Country Gentleman's Courant (1706), was given away gratuitously, and made a special claim to public favour on the ground that "here the reader is not only diverted with a faithful register of the most remarkable and momentary (i.e. momentous) transactions at home and abroad, ... but also with a geographical description of the most material places mentioned in every article of news, whereby he is freed the trouble of looking into maps."
On the 19th of February 1704, whilst still imprisoned in Newgate for a political offence, Defoe began his famous paper, the Review. At the outset it was published weekly, twice, and at length three times a week. It continued substantially in its first form until July 29, 1712; and a complete set is of extreme rarity. From the first page to the last it is characterized by the manly boldness and persistent tenacity with which the almost unaided author utters and defends his opinions on public affairs against a host of able and bitter assailants. Some of the numbers were written during travel, some in Edinburgh. But the Review appeared regularly. When interrupted by the pressure of the Stamp Act (which came into force on the ist of August 1712), the writer modified the form of his paper, and began a new series (August 2, 1712, to June 11, 1713). In those early and monthly supplements of his paper which he entitled Advice from the Scandalous Club," and set apart for the discussion of questions of literature and manners, and sometimes of topics of a graver kind, Defoe to some extent anticipated Richard Steele's Tatler (1709) and Steele and Addison's Spectator (1711). In 1705 he severed those supplements from his chief newspaper, and published them twice a week as the Little Review. But they soon ceased to appear. It may here be added that in May 1716 Defoe began a new monthly paper under an old title, Mercurius Politicus, "by a lover of old England." This journal continued to appear until September 1720.
The year 1710 was marked by the appearance of the Examiner, or Remarks upon Papers and Occurrences (No. 1, August 3), of which thirteen numbers appeared by the co-operation of Bolingbroke, Prior, Freind and King before it was placed under the sole control of Swift. The Whig Examiner, avowedly intended "to censure the writings of others, and to give all persons a rehearing who had suffered under any unjust sentence of the Examiner," followed on the 1st September, and the Medley three weeks afterwards.
This increasing popularity and influence of the newspaper press could not fail to be distasteful to the government of the day. Prosecutions were multiplied, but with small Stamp success. At length some busy projector hit upon the expedient of a newspaper tax. The paper which seems to contain the first germ of the plan is still preserved amongst the treasury papers. It is anonymous and undated, but probably belongs to the year 1711. "There are published weekly", says the writer, "about 44,000 newspapers, viz. Daily Courant, London Post, English Post, London Gazette, Postman, Postboy, Flying Post, Review and Observator." (16) The duty eventually imposed (1712) was a halfpenny on papers of half a sheet or less, and a penny on such as ranged from half a sheet to a single sheet (10 Anne, c. xix. s1a1). The first results of the tax cannot be more succinctly or more vividly described than in the following characteristic passage of Swift's Journal to Stella (August 7, 1712): "Do you know that Grub Street is dead and gone last week? No more ghosts or murders now for love or money. I plied it close the last fortnight, and published at least seven papers of my own, besides some of other people's; but now every single half-sheet pays a halfpenny to the queen. The Observator is fallen; the Medleys are jumbled together with the Flying Post; the Examiner is deadly sick; the Spectator keeps up, and doubles its price - I know not how long it will hold. Have you seen the red stamp the papers are marked with? Methinks the stamping is worth a halfpenny." Swift's doubt as to the ability of the Spectator to hold out against the tax was justified by its discontinuance in December 1712, Steele starting the Guardian in 1713, which only ran for six months. But the impost which was thus fruitful in mischief, by suppressing much good literature, wholly failed in keeping out bad. Some of the worst journals that were already in existence kept their ground, and the number of such ere long increased. (17)
An enumeration of the London papers of 1714 comprises the Daily Courant, the Examiner, the British Merchant, the Lover, the Patriot, the Monitor, the Flying Post, the Postboy,Mercator, the Weekly Pacquet and Dunton's Ghost. Another enumeration in 1733 includes the Daily Courant, the Craftsman, Fog's Journal, Mist's Journal, the London Journal, the Free Briton, the Grub Street Journal, the Weekly Register, the Universal Spectator, the Auditor, the Weekly Miscellany, the London Crier, Read's Journal, Oedipus or the Postman Remounted, the St James's Post, the London Evening Post and the London Daily Post, which afterwards became better known as the Public Advertiser. Part of this increase may fairly be ascribed to political corruption. In 1742 the committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the political conduct of the Earl of Orford reported to the House that during the last ten years of the Walpole ministry there was paid, out of public money, no "less a sum than £50,077, 18s. to authors and printers of newspapers, such as the Free Briton, Daily Courant, Gazetteer and other political papers." (18) But some part of the payment may well have been made for advertisements.
Towards the middle of the century the provisions and the penalties of the Stamp Act were made more stringent. Yet the number of newspapers continued to rise. Dr Johnson, who in 1750 started his twopenny bi-weekly Rambler, and in 1758 his weekly Idler, writing in the latter bears testimony to the still growing thirst for news: " Journals are daily multiplied, without increase of knowledge. The tale of the morning paper is told in the evening, and the narratives of the evening are bought again in the morning. These repetitions, indeed, waste time, but they do not shorten it. The most eager peruser of news is tired before he has completed his labour; and many a man who enters the coffee-house in his nightgown and slippers is called away to his shop or his dinner before he has well considered the state of Europe." Five years before (i.e. in 1753) the aggregate number of copies of newspapers annually sold in England, on an average of three years, amounted to 7,411,757. In 1760 it had risen to 9,464,790, and in 1767 to 11,300,980. In 1776 the number of newspapers published in London alone had increased to fifty-three.
When Johnson wrote his sarcastic strictures on the newspapers that were the contemporaries and, in a sense, the rivals of the Idler, the newswriters had fallen below the standard of an earlier day. A generation before the newspaper was often much more of a political organ than of an industrial venture. All of the many enterprises of Defoe in this field of journalism united indeed both characteristics. But if he was a keen tradesman, he was also a passionate politician. And not a few of his fellowworkers in that field were conspicuous as statesmen no less than as journalists. Even less than twenty years before the appearance of Johnson's remarks, men of the mental calibre of Henry Fielding were still to be found amongst the editors and writers of newspapers. The task had fallen to a different class of men in 1750.
The history of newspapers during the long reign of George III is a history of the struggle for freedom of speech in the face of repeated criminal prosecutions, in which individual writers and editors were defeated and severely punished, Press while the Press itself derived new strength from the protracted conflict, and turned ignominious penalties into signal triumphs. From the days of Wilkes's North Briton onwards (see John Wilkes: it was started in 1761), every conspicuous newspaper prosecution gave tenfold currency to the doctrines that were assailed. In the earlier part of this period men who were mere traders in politics - whose motives were obviously base and their lives contemptible - became for a time powers in the state, able to brave king, legislature and law courts, by virtue of the simple truth that a free people must have a free press. One of the minor incidents of the North Briton excitement (Wilkes's prosecution in 1763) led indirectly to valuable results with reference to the much-vexed question of parliamentary reporting. During the discussions respecting the Middlesex election, Almon, a bookseller, collected from members of the House of Commons some particulars of the debates, and published them in the London Evening Post. The success which attended these reports induced the proprietors of the St James's Chronicle to employ a reporter to collect notes in the lobby and at the coffee-houses. This repeated infraction of the privilege of secret legislation led to the memorable proceedings of the House of Commons in 1771, with their fierce debates, angry resolutions and arbitrary imprisonments - all resulting, at length, in that tacit concession of publicity of discussion which in the main, with brief occasional exceptions, has ever since prevailed.
Evening journalism in England started originally with supplemental editions of the morning papers, giving the latest foreign war news. In July 1695, when William III was fighting France in the Netherlands, a Postscript to the Pacquet-boat from Holland to Flanders was published with special advices from the seat of war; and from that time there were frequent afternoon issues of morning journals, giving war news. In August 1706 a Six at Night evening paper was started in London. The first London evening paper of any importance, however, was the Courier (1792), which during the latter part of the Napoleonic War, with Mackintosh, Coleridge and Wordsworth among its contributors, became one of the chief papers, of the day. It was edited successively by Daniel Stuart, William Mudford, Eugenius Roche, John Galt, James Stuart and Laman Blanchard. In 1827 a twenty-fourth share in the paper sold for 5,000 guineas, but it gradually declined and came to an end in 1842, when it was incorporated by the Globe (still existing).
The principal metropolitan newspapers at different periods of George III's reign were the Public Advertiser, the Morning Post, the Morning Chronicle, the Morning Herald and finally The Times. Of these the Morning Post and The Times, still existing, are dealt with later. Of the three which eventually ceased to exist, the first was known in 1726 as the London Daily Post and General Advertiser. In 1738 the first part of this title was dropped, and in 1752 General Advertiser was altered into Public Advertiser, a name which the letters of Junius made so famous. Many of these had appeared before the smallest perceptible effect was produced on the circulation of the paper; but when the Letter to the King came out (19th December 1769, almost a year from the beginning of the series) it caused an addition of 1750 copies to the ordinary impression. The effect of subsequent letters was variable; but when Junius ceased to write the monthly sale of the paper had risen to 83,950. This was in December 1771. Seven years earlier the monthly sale had been but 47,515. It now became so valuable a property that shares in it were sold, according to John Nichols, "as regularly as those of the New River Company". But the fortunes of the Advertiser declined almost as rapidly as they had risen. It continued to appear until 1798, and then expired, being amalgamated with the commercial paper called the Public Ledger (dating from 1759). Actions for libel were brought against the paper by Edmund Burke in 1784, and by William Pitt in 1785, and in both suits damages were given.
The Morning Chronicle was begun in 1769. William Woodfall was its printer, reporter and editor, and continued to conduct it until 1789. James Perry succeeded him as editor, and so continued, with an interval during which the editorship was in the hands of Mr Sergeant Spankie, until his death in 1821. Perry's editorial functions were occasionally discharged in Newgate in consequence of repeated prosecutions for political libel. In 1819 the daily sale reached nearly 4,000. It was sold in 1823 to Mr Clement, the purchase-money amounting to £42,000. Mr Clement held it for about eleven years, and then sold it to Sir John Easthope for £16,000. It was then, and until 1843, edited by John Black, who numbered amongst his staff Albany Fonblanque, Charles Dickens and John Payne Collier, the circulation being about 6,000. The paper continued to be distinguished by much literary ability, but not by commercial prosperity. In 1849 (the circulation having fallen to 3,000) it became the joint property of the Duke of Newcastle, Mr W. E. Gladstone and some of their political friends; and by them, in 1854, it was sold to Mr Sergeant Glover. From 1848 to 1854 Douglas Cook (afterwards of the Saturday Review) was editor. At length the Morning Chronicle ended in the Bankruptcy Court, after an existence of more than ninety years.
The Morning Herald was founded and first edited by Henry Bate (Sir Henry Bate Dudley) in 1781, and came to an end at the close of 1869; for some time it was a popular Tory paper, and from 1835 to 1845 had a circulation of about 6,000.
The development of the Press was enormously assisted by the gradual abolition of the "taxes on knowledge", and also by the introduction of a cheap postal system. In 1756 an additional halfpenny was added to the tax of taxes of 1712. In 1765 and in 1773 various restrictive regulations were imposed. In 1789 the three-halfpence ledge. was increased to twopence, in 1798 to twopence-halfpenny, in 1804 to threepence-halfpenny, and in 1815 to fourpence, less a discount of 20%. Penalties of all kinds were also increased, and obstructive regulations were multiplied. In the course of the struggle between this constantly enhanced taxation and the irrepressible desire for cheap newspapers, more than seven hundred prosecutions for publishing unstamped journals were instituted, and more than five hundred were imprisoned, sometimes for considerable periods. As the prosecutions multiplied, and the penalties became more serious, Poor Man's Guardians, Democrats, Destructives and their congeners multiplied also, and their revolutionary tendencies increased in a still greater ratio. Blasphemy was added to sedition. Penny and halfpenny journals were established which dealt exclusively with narratives of gross vice and crime, and which vied with each other in every kind of artifice to make vice and crime attractive. Between the years 1831 and 1835 many scores of unstamped newspapers made their appearance. The political tone of most of them was fiercely revolutionary. Prosecution followed prosecution; but all failed to suppress the obnoxious publications.
To Bulwer Lytton, the novelist and politician (Baron Lytton), and subsequently to Milner Gibson and Richard Cobden, is chiefly due the credit of grappling with this question in the House of Commons in a manner which secured first the reduction of the tax to a penny on the 15th of September 1836, and then its total abolition at last in 1855. The measure for the final abolition of the stamp tax was substantially prepared by W. E. Gladstone during his chancellorship of the exchequer in 1854, but was carried by his successor in 1855. The number of newspapers established from the early part of 1855, when the repeal of the duty had become a certainty, and continuing in existence at the beginning of 1857, amounted to 107; 26 were metropolitan and 81 provincial. Of the latter, the majority belonged to towns which possessed no newspaper whatever under the Stamp Acts, and the price of nearly one-third of them was but a penny. In some cases, however, a portion of these new cheap papers of 1857 was printed in London, usually with pictorial illustrations, and to this was added a local supplement containing the news of the district.
Amongst the earliest results of the change in newspaper law made in 1855 was the establishment in quick succession of a series of penny metropolitan local papers, chiefly suburban, of a kind very different from their unstamped forerunners. They spread rapidly, and attained considerable success, chiefly as advertising sheets, and as sometimes the organs, more often the critics, of the local vestries and other administrations. One of them, the Clerkenwell News and Daily Chronicle, so prospered in the commercial sense, being crowded with advertisements, that it sold for £30,000, and was then transformed into the London Daily Chronicle (28th May 1877). Another conspicuous result of the legislation of 1855 was an enormous increase in the number and influence of what are known as "class papers" and professional and trade papers. The duties on paper itself were finally abolished in 1861.
"Taxes on knowledge" having thus been abolished, the later developments in newspaper history are mainly connected with the increase in number, due largely to the spread of education, the improvements in machinery and distribution and in collection of news, the constant adaptation to the new demands of a wider public, and the progress in the art of advertising as applied to the Press.
(1) The title Mercurius or Mercury - as representing the messenger of the gods - thus became a common one for English periodicals.
(2) Registers of the Stationers' Company, as printed by Edward Arber, iii. 302.
(3) Ibid. iv. 23.
(4) Literary Anecdotes, iv. 38.
(5) It is to him that a passage in Fletcher's Fair Maid of the Inn (Act iv. Sc. 2) obviously refers (written in 1625): "It shall be the ghost of some lying stationer. A spirit shall look as if butter would not melt in his mouth; a new Mercurius Gallo-Belgicus." The quotation also illustrates the contemporary regard paid to the Mercurius Gallobelgicus.
(6) George Thomason (d. 1666) was a London bookseller who in 1641 began collecting contemporary pamphlets, etc. His collection was ultimately bought by George III. and presented to the British Museum in 1762. A catalogue was completed in 1908, with introduction by Dr G. K. Fortescue. There is also a catalogue of early English newspapers in the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, Collections and Notes No. 5, of Lord Crawford (1901).
(7) This help seems to have been given at the request of the secretary of state, Lord Arlington (then Sir H. Bennet), in 1663; State Papers, Domestic, Charles II., lxxix. 112, 113.
(8) State Papers, Domestic, Charles II., cxxxiv. 103 (Rolls House).
(9) Ibid. 117.
(10) In 1664 he had halved them, so that this really only means he had now restored the original size.
(11) State Papers, Domestic, Charles II., cxxxv. 24.
(12) Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, "Perrot".
(13) Calendar of Home-Office Papers, 1766-76 9, p. 483 (1879).
(14) A complete set is now of extreme rarity.
(15) Frederick Martin, History of Lloyd's, 66-77 and 107-120. The great collection of newspapers in the British Museum contains only one number of Lloyd's News; but sixty-nine numbers may be seen in the Bodleian Library. Of the List, also, no complete series is known to exist; that in the library of Lloyd's begins with 1740.
(16) A Proposition to Increase the Revenue of the Stamp-Office, Redington, Calendar of Treasury Papers, 1708-1714, p. 235. The stamp-office dated from 1694, when the earliest duties on paper and parchment were enacted.
(17) See the Burney collection of newspapers in the British Museum; and Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, iv. 33-97.
(18) Fourth Report of the Committee of Secrecy, etc., in Hansard's Parliamentary History, xii. 814.
Extracted from the entry for NEWSPAPERS in the 11th edition Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain. The entry notes that this "account of early British newspapers certain portions of the article by E. Edwards in the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica have been incorporated."