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date 1579. You may therein read “News from Scotland, declaring the damnable life of Doctor Fian, a notable sorcerer, who was burned at Edenburgh in January last;" or “Wonderful news out of Suffolke and Essex, where it rayned wheat the space of six or seven miles ;” or “Woful newes from the west parts of England, of the burning of Tiver
;" or Strange newes from Lancaster, containing an account of a prodigious monster, born in the Township of Adlington, in Lancashire, with two bodies joyned to one back.” As often as not, indeed, these pamphlets were laden with tidings from abroad, and bore such titles as “Newes from Spaine,” “Newes out of Germany,” and “Good newes from Florence.” But, as may be imagined, they were very poor things at best, seldom giving other than most insufficient and inaccurate information. Here then, so far as it is traceable in history, is the first slight germ of the English press,—the news ballad for the poor, the news letter for the rich, and the news pamphlet for the public at large.
Growing naturally out of these, the next step brings us for the first time face to face with the sheet of news periodically published, and the sheet of news periodically published is that which, by legal definition, makes the newspaper. Some years ago, a gentleman named Chalmers was busy mining in some of the dark caverns of the British Museum, and, to his great joy, he unexpectedly came upon what seemed to him true golden ore. It was a batch of seven newspapers, entitled “the English Mercurie," and dated A.D. 1588. It appeared to have been published in the reign of “ Her Most Gracious Majesty Our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth,” and was long believed to be the first extant specimen of the English press. It reports the movements of the Spanish Armada, it sets forth the loyal address of the Corporation of London to the Queen, it records her Majesty's public thanksgiving in St. Paul's for her naval successes, and contains advertisements of pamphlets and new books. Great, naturally great, was the cackling and crowing on its discovery, and loud was the praise awarded to the sagacity of Elizabeth and the wisdom of Burleigh. Strange to say, that paper is a forgery. Keen eyes sedulously sifting it, found amongst other things that the type was modern, and that the paper bore as water mark the arms and initials of King George. · They found, moreover, from comparison of facts and dates, that its records were fictitious, and that the handwriting of its original manuscripts was as modern as the type. The
English Mercurie” was an audacious imposition, and poor Mr. Chalmers was utterly deceived.
It was not until the 23rd of May, 1622, that a real English Newspaper first saw the light. Upon that day was issued the first number of "The Weekly News.” It was published by one Nathaniel Butter, at the sign of the “Pyde Bull,” St. Austin's-gate, St. Paul's Churchyard; consisted of one ingle sheet, and contained nothing but questionable intelligence from foreign parts. Its title even was not till long afterwards finally fixed. It was headed sometimes The Last News--sometimes More News--sometimes News from most parts of Christendom and sometimes The Weekly News continued-remaining steadfast only in its title to the one word News; and it was not until after the lapse of a year from its first publication, that the separate issues were continuously numbered. Nevertheless it contained News—it was issued periodically; and it was thus distinguished from all news publications that had preceded it, and, by legal definition, claims to be historically the first of English newspapers, and Mr. Butter is the father of the English press. For this distinguished privilege he had to pay his price. Men laughed at the strange new-fangled seheme of issuing news by weekly dose; and it was a thing so eminently amusing to “Rare Ben Jonson,” the wit and laureate of the time, that he made Mr. Butter the hero of a new comedy, the whole action of which was centred in his news office, and the chief actors his paid contributors of news; and one or two of the jokes, pleasant puns on Mr. Butter's unfortunate name. The comedy was entitled “The Staple of News," was produced in 1625, and played in the Old Globe Theatre. In so far as it is to be trusted,-and it is of course in great part a caricature,—we learn from it, that Mr. Butter now ventured to publish home news as well as foreign ; that he gathered his home news from four chief quarters—the Court, the Exchange, Westminster, and St. Paul's; and that for each of these quarters he employed a special emissary to collect the news. From the Court of course came the fashionable on dits; commercial tidings from the Exchange; legal irtelligence from Westminster; and from St. Paul's, the old gothic cathedral, which was at that time a daily lounge for all the gay idlers and quidnuncs of the city, whatever general rumours might happen to be uppermost. Here is a fragment of the first scene of the play in question,
[Pennyboy, a spendthrift heir; Thomas, his barber; and Fashioner, his tailor, are holding dialogue together.]
Pennyboy:-Set the things upon the board, and spread the cloths ; lay all forth in procintu, and tell's what news ?
Tho.-0 sir; a Staple of News, or the New Staple, which you please.
P. jun.-What's that ?
Fash.An office, sir; a brave young office set up. I had forgot to tell your worship.
P. jun.--For what?
Fash. And vent it as occasion serves ; a place of huge commerce it will be.
P. jun.- Pray thee, peace; I cannot abide a talking tailor; let Tom speak. What is'tman office, Tom ?
Tho.-Newly erected, here in the house, almost on the same floor. Where all the news of all sorts shall be brought, and there examined, and there registered, and so be issued under the seal of the office, as Staple News; no other news be current.
P. jun.— ?Fore me, thou speakest of a brave business, Tom !
Here, yet further, is a peep behind the curtain into the old newsprinter's office. Curiosity leads Pennyboy to visit it, and the following dialogue takes place between him and the news-purveyors :
Pennyboy.— In truth, they are dainty rooms: what place is this?
Cym.- 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.
P. jun.--But those two subdivided ?
Fit.—Where to, besides the Corante and Gazetti ?
Fit.-As vacation news, term news, and Christmas
Cym.-And news of the faction-
Cym.-And pontifical news; all of which several, the day-books, characters, precedents are kept, together with the names of special friends
Fit.--And men of correspondence in the country-
Cym.--Lieges that lie out through all the shires of the kingdom.
P. jun.-- This is fine, and bears a brave selection.
And here, in a last quotation, they discuss the comparative merits of the old-fashioned way of writing news, and the new-fashioned way of printing it:
Pennyboy.—Why, methinks, sir, if the honest common people will be abused, why should they not have their pleasure in the believing lies are made for them; as you in the office, making them yourselves?
Fit.-0 sir! it is the printing we oppose.
Cym.- We do not forbid that any news be made, but that it be printed ; for when news is printed, it leaves to be news ;
; while 'tis but written-
P. jun.--See divers men's opinions! unto some the very printing of 'em makes them news, that have not the heart to believe anything but what they see in print.
But the first English newspaper had to contend with a more formidable antagonist than the satirist poet. There was then a law that nothing should be printed which had not first obtained the royal license. The censorship of the press, originally claimed by the Papal church, and at the Reformation transferred from that church to the civil government, was then in the zenith of its power. “The Weekly News,” saved possibly by its early obscurity and insignificance, seems at first to have escaped all notice; and it appears, indeed, at its beginning, not seldom audaciously to have taken the field without any imprimatur at all. It was doubtless to avoid detection that it disguised itself in so many varieties of title. But under all its chameleon changes the lynx eye soon discovered it, and poor Nathaniel Butter groans audibly under the captious criticism of the
public censor, as witness the following curious address, which was published in his paper of January 9th, 1640 :“The Printer to the Reader. Courteous Reader,—We had thought to have given over printing our foreign avisoes, for that the licenser (out of a partial affection) would not oftentimes let pass apparent truth, and in other things (oftentimes) so crosse and alter, which made is weary of printing ; but he being vanished (and that office fallen upon another, more understanding in these forraine affairs, and as you will find, more candid), we are againe (by the favour of his Majestie and the state) resolved to go on printing if we shall find the world to give a better acceptation of them (than of late) by their weekly buying them. It is well kuown these novels are well esteemed in all parts of the world (but here) by the more judicious, which we can impute to no other but the discontinuance of them, and the uncertaine daies of publishing them, which, if the poste fail us not, we shall keep a constante day everie weeke therein, whereby everie man may constantly expect them; and so we take leave. Jan. 9th, 1640." From this time forth we hear no more of “ The Weekly Newes," and in the following year Mr. Butter himself also melts away. He had. been originally a stationer; coming to bankruptcy as such, he became a news-writer, and ultimately advanced from that to be a news-printer. He was, as we have seen, the first to issue a printed periodical sheet of news, and, as appears from the address just quoted, the first to use the editorial We. Moreover, he was the first to call into existence what has now grown to be a large commercial class --the news-vendors. The “Mercury-women” of whom we hear so often in old plays, as the hawkers of newspapers, were called into being by his energy and enterprise, and are the lineal commercial ancestors of Messrs. Smith. He was also the first to institute the office of editor, for besides The Weekly News," he also published half-yearly volumes of intelligence under the title of “The German Intelligencer,” and “The Swedish Intelligencer,” employing one William Watts, of Caius College, to compile them from the “Weekly Currantoes” of the respective countries. Let all, therefore, who speak of newspapers as the Fourth Estate, the educator of the people, and the palladium of English liberty, regard with reverence the name of Butter.