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Mr. Miller continued “to sleep secure,” for the House in this matter never moved again. There were, indeed, slight occasional skirmishes between particular newspapers and individual members; as, for instance, when Mr. Wilberforce rose from his place in the House, and complained that he had been reported as having said —“Potatoes make men healthy, vigorous, and active; but what is still more in their favour, they make men tall! more especially was he led to say so, as being himself rather under the common size; and he must lament that his guardians had not fostered him upon that genial vegetable.” Or, as when Colonel Silthorp also made complaint in the House against the “Times,” that that journal maliciously interspersed his speeches with fictitious interjections, so that they were eruptive all over with provoking parentheses, such as “ laugh), “(laughter)," "continued laughter), " (bursts of laughter)," "Oh, oh)," "(Question, question), “(Order, order)."
The question, however, of the right to report, was never raised again; and long before the new Houses of Parliament were erected, a room in the House was set apart for reporters, and full provision made for their convenience. Thus, once more, the Parliament was finally beaten by the Press.
The next great fight between the Parliament and the Press, was upon the question of the right of the press to discuss the conduct of the government, or in any way comment upon public affairs. We have seen that newspapers began by giving a meagre summary of stale or doubtful foreign news. We have seen that by-and-bye they added to the foreign news the news of home; and we have seen that to this again they ultimately ventured to add reports of Parliamentary debates. The next step was inevitable. It was not in human nature to resist the opportunity of stating opinions, and of giving advice, thus afforded by the collection and distribution of such a body of intelligence. So the editor mounted the rostrum, and began to preach ; but Parliament most solemnly asseverated that it was incredible presumption, declaring, by endless votes, that so long as it had the power to punish, such a thing should never be. One Dyer, who has been already named as being amongst the first to publish the proceedings of the House, seems to have been also amongst the first to comment on
what he published. He suffered summarily. He had presumed in his paper to name the name of Lord Mohun; whereupon his lordship, it is written, “finding him at one of his factious coffee-houses, and showing him a letter wherein his lordship was named, Dyer owned it, not knowing my lord, who immediately laid on him with a cudgel he had provided for that purpose, and made him swear to have no more to say of the Lord Mohun.” In 1704, John Tutchin, the editor of the “Observator," who in his earlier life had been notable as one of the victims of Judge Jeffreys, ventured to remark upon the mismanagement of some public business: the House, hot with indignation, immediately passed a resolution for his arrest. Tutchin, however, kept out of the way, and continued writing : thereupon a proclamation was issued, offering a reward for his apprehension. He also, in the end, suffered summarily. He was waylaid one night, and so severely beaten, that he shortly died. It was, indeed, so undesirable a thing to mention names, or remark on things of public interest, in a newspaper, that on the 11th of March, 1702, on which day was published the first number of the “Daily Courant,” the first daily morning paper, the editor expressly commends his new enterprise to public patronage, on the ground that he shall not attempt to make any original remarks at all. He thus adroitly escapes the difficulty: “Nor will he,” I quote a sentence from his programme—“ nor will he take upon himself to give any comments or conjectures of his own, but will relate only matters of fact, supposing other people to have sense enough to make reflections for themselves.” In the one year 1711, no less than fourteen editors, printers and publishers, were committed to Newgate, for suffering the newspapers with which they were connected to be a little too frank in their expression of opinion. In 1718, a man named Mist, in a comparatively insignificant journal, ventured to ask the government these four questions about the impending war :-“Who are we going to fight for? What have we to do in the quarrel ? What will be the consequences ? Whether the French will not run away with our trade ?” For these not very unnatural queries, the inquisitive gentleman's house was searched, and his journeymen and apprentices taken into custody. The courage of this Mr. Mist, however, did not by any means evaporate. Nothing daunted, he proceeded in his journal
to make reflections on the king. For this he had to pay a fine of £50, to stand twice in the pillory, to be imprisoned for three months in the King's Bench, and to give security for his good behaviour for seven years.
Such continued to be the spirit and action of the government towards the press. It was ruled to be a breach of privilege to do so slight a thing as print in any newspaper the name of a member of the House of Peers, and a fine of £100 was levied for every such offence. Lord Marchmont, it is said, was in the habit of daily examining the papers, “with the ardour that a hawk prowls for prey. Whenever he found any lord's name printed in any paper, he immediately made a motion in the House of Peers against the printer for a breach of privilege. In this way he once obtained for the Exchequer £500 in a single day. It was treason to write a word in any newspaper that was not in perfect accord with the mind of the ministry of the day. "I declared,” writes one of the judges in 1719, "in all my charges, that now the Government will not be so much troubling itself to find out the authors of the
papers obnoxious to it; but as often as any such papers are found on the tables of coffee-houses, or other news-houses, the master of the house shall be answerable for such papers, and shall be prosecuted as the publisher of them; and let him find out the author, letter-writer, or printer; and take care at his peril what papers he takes in.” Although it was long before the rulers grew wise, and this kind of persecution altogether ceased, there were, nevertheless, very soon indications that, with all its powers of prosecution, it felt itself no sufficient match for its persistent antagonist. The surest sign of this is in the fact that it began to pay as well as punish. Dr. Webster, of the “Weekly Miscellany," asserts that in 1734 he was offered by the government £300 a-year and preferments, if he would change the politics of his paper. Arnall
, of the “Free Briton,” used to boast that in four years he received £10,997. 6s. 8d. for abusing in his paper everyone opposed to Walpole. It appears, moreover, from the report of the Secret Committee for inquiring into the conduct of Robert, Earl of Orford, that no less than the incredible sum of £50,077, 1 Ss. of good public money was paid to authors and printers of newspapers in the ten years from February 1731 to February 1741. Bribes always betray a conscious weakness.
Already, therefore, the government was feeling its weakness before the press. As years rolled on, the disparity of strength between the two became more and more apparent. From the days of Fielding, and especially from the time of Junius, whose first memorable letter appeared in the April of 1767, the press proved itself to be a thing of power. Its life became more vigorous; it began to gather into its ranks the highest culture and intelligence of the times; manifesting in some instances such moral courage, as well as such intellectual ability, as could not but place it foremost amongst the social and political influences of modern civilization. No government, without risk, could long keep under pressure such a power; and the government of England discovered at last that it was the wisest policy to give way, ultimately turning to foster and encourage that which it had so long endeavoured to repress. This change in the position of the press may perhaps be dated from about the year 1770. The great American War was just impending; and when the war broke out, and this whole land was filled with bitter and excited feeling, England, for the first time, had proof that at length her press was substantially free. “The tone,” says an authority, speaking of this period, “the tone which the newspapers assumed, was strong, decisive, and even violent: but it was a sign of the times, that although the public mind was heated almost to combustion, they were allowed to scatter the most explosive materials about almost unchecked. Government had discovered that newspapers spoke the voice of the people, and that to put them down would require an army-not a few Crown counsel!” The long fought for right to take its part in the councils of the nation--the right of free thought and free speech upon the action of the ruling powers, and upon everything bearing on the common weal--this long fought for right was at length conceded; once more the Press was victor, and from that moment truly rose to claim the title which Burke has happily given to it—"THE FOURTH ESTATE."
I have left myself very little time to speak of the last of the conflicts between the government and the Press, -the conflict on the question of taxation. I can only remind you that a tax on newspapers was first imposed in 1712, that it was originally a half-penny upon every sheet, that it ultimately rose to fourpence; so that the cost of a single copy of the “London Gazette” in the time of the great railway mania, was more than twelve shillings; and that of that tax no vestige now remains. In this also the press has become the victor. In its origin there can be little doubt the government deliberately put the tax upon the press to keep it down, in order that in the struggle for power, the newspaper, being heavily weighted, might find its work the harder. For every newspaper is, of course, to some extent a commercial speculation ; so that if you limit its chances of pecuniary success, you most effectually clip its wings. The tax, no doubt, was in after time continued, in part at least, for satisfactory fiscal reasons; but authorities agree that in its origin the tax was a fetter put upon its limbs that it might move the less freely. We are all competent to say, that the very opposite feeling prompted its abolition. That abolition was the best of all proofs that we live in days when rulers no longer fear the press, but welcome it rather as a powerful and intelligent ally, to aid them in the difficult and onerous task of guiding the destinies of one of the mightiest nations in the world.
Ne er have I left myself any time to speak of those manifold influences which have been so contributive to the present position of the Press, that without them, despite its victories, it could not have occupied the place it does. Let me number and name the chief of them. 1. We must place first, I think, as aiding the diffusion and development of the power of the Press, the coffee-houses of the latter half of the 17th century, through which newspapers first became thoroughly accessible to the middle and the lower middle class. 2.–Next we must place the rapid increase in facilities of travel; the stage coach, the steam boat, and the railway, which gave such a mighty impulse to the power of postal communication. 3.—The mechanical improvements in the art of printing, especially the power of printing by steam, and the reporting facilities afforded by shorthand 4.—The unprecedented commercial prosperity of the last fifty years; the consequent necessity for the earliest possible home and foreign intelligence; and the rapid rise in the importance of newspapers as the media for advertisements. 6.-The great national political agitations which, from the first French Revolution, have made the period one of the most marked in the history of the world. 6.-The progress of education among