Charles Knight.

Passages of a working life during half a century: with a prelude of early reminiscences online

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tants of each town. The result of my examination
was, that there were 350 populous to^vns tuithout any
Local Paper, viz. —

99 Towns witli population above 2000 — under 3000.

106 „ .,, ,, 3000— „ 5000.

63 „ „ „ 5000— „ 7000.

82 „ ,, „ 7000 and upwards.

These were statistical facts of deep significance.

The amount of the change which has been pro-
duced in eight years by the abolition of the News-
paper Stamp and the Advertisement Duty — in some
degree also by the repeal of the tax upon paper — is
sufficiently indicated by the following figures : —
There were published in England, at the commence-
ment of the present year, 919 journals. Of these
240 belonged to London ; and these included 13
daily morning papers, 7 evening, and 220 published
during the week and at intervals. But these London
Journals, not daily, comprise the purely literary and
scientific papers — the legal and medical, and more
numerous than all, the religious journals. Further,
since I. made my abstract of Local Papers, there have
started into flourishing existence no less than 32
district journals of the Metropolis and its suburbs.
Taking these 240 metropolitan and suburban papers
from the total 919 published in England, I find that
there are now 679 Country Newspapers, instead of
the 261 which I found existing in 1855. I may
infer, therefore, without going into a miaute exami-
nation of the matter, that the 350 populous places
which, at that time, had no newspaper of their own,
are now not left without a vehicle for the publication
of their local affairs, whether important or frivolous,
whether affecting a nation or a parish. To finish this

L 2


summaiy, I may add that Wales has 37 journals ;,
Scotland 140 ; Ireland 140 ; the British Isles 14 ;
making up for the United Kingdom a total of 1250.
Of the aggregate circulation of these Journals, it is
impossible to arrive at any accurate estimate. At
the beginning of the century, the annual circulation
of newspapers in England and Wales was 15 millions.
In 1853, as was shown by the Stamp-Office returns,
the annual circulation of England and Wales was
72 millions, and of Scotland and Ireland, each
8 millions. Even the circulation in 1853 was an
astounding fact, and I then wrote, "Visit, if you can,
the interior of that marvellous human machine the
General Post Office, on a Friday evening from half-
past five to six o'clock. Look with awe upon the
tons of newspapers that are crowding in to be dis-
tributed through the habitable globe. Think silently
how potent a power is this for good or for evil. You
turn to one of the boxes of the letter-sorters, and
your guide will tell you, 'this work occupies not
half the time it formerly did, for everybody writes
better.' " Some of the elder countiy newspapers and
some that have started into life since the repeal of
the Stamp, have a circulation that is to be numbered
by thousands. But if we only assign a sale of 1000
each to the 679 country papers in England, we have
a total annual circulation of 235 millions. The Scotch
and Irish Journals will probably swell the aggregate
annual circulation of the United Kingdom to 250
millions. Taking the entire population at 30 millions,
this estimate would give eight newspapers in the
course of the year to every person : and assuming
that every newspaper has six readers, there is no
present want in these Kingdoms of the literary


means of keeping the entire mass of the people
informed upon every current event and topic. But
there may be other wants to be met besides those
which are supplied by the vast increase of journalism
before the newspaper can be within the reach of the
whole of the adult population. There are thousands
growing into men and women who, during the last
decade, when newspapers have been rising up for an
almost universal use, have acquired the ability to
read. The numbers of those wholly uninstructed
must be very few in populous districts compared
with the days when the newspaper was the most
highly taxed article of necessity or luxury. Now
that it has become one of the cheapest of inventions
for the supply of a general want, it may be well to
inquire into the causes which interfere with an
universal supply.

An ingenious and instructive " Newspaper Map of
the United Kjingdom," accompanies Mitchell's News-
paper Press Directory. It is suggestive of several
important facts in our social condition, which we are
apt to pass over in looking at its multifarious details.
The several districts of the kingdom are indicated
by different colours, not only as manufacturing,
mining, and agricultural, but by other colours, where
two or more of these large classes of occupation are
combined. When we glance at the Agricultural
Counties, twenty-three in number, extending from
Somersetshire to Lincolnshire, and bounded by the
inland Manufacturing and Agricultural Counties, five
in number, we feel something like wonder that
amongst these agricultural communities there should
appear so great a number of towns having one or
more newspapers. It is no matter of surprise that


the Manufacturing and Mining Counties, with theii-
enormous populations, should be dotted with a circular^
mark, indicating the publication of one paper,
or with a square mark, indicating more than one.
Nor are we surprised that where there is a mixed
population, in which farms, and factories, and under-
ground operations, supply the funds for the main-
tenance of labour, the newspapers should be as
numerous as in the seats of the Woollen and Cotton
Manufacture, and in the great ports associated with
them. A minuter investigation into this map will
show how the purely Agricultural Districts so abound
with Local Newspapers. The places in which they
are published are, with scarcely an exception, situated
on the lines of railway. The Railway and the Local
Newspaper seem to have sprung up together into an
extension which, even ten years ago, it would have
required some effort of the imagination to consider
possible. How is it, then, that the agricultural
labouring population must be held as very imper-
fectly supplied with the same means of information
as the residents in towns ? Look at this Newspaper
Map, and observe what large blank spaces lie between
every thread of the great network of railways. In
the North Riding of Yorkshire, which is almost
purely agricultural, these blanks are as remarkable
as those of Wales when we get away from the Mining
Districts, or Scotland, when we have passed from the
seats of manufactures and commerce into the moun-
tainous districts. In the blank spaces thus indicated,
where dwell the great food-producing population, in
small villages and hamlets, the newspaper never
comes except by the post. The extension, of late years,
of the operations of the Post-ofEce, has rendered the


number of those partially excluded from communi-
cation with the outer world, much less than it was
long after the introduction of Penny Postage. But,
with the extension of the Post, the delivery of news-
papers by special messengers from the towns has
almost ceased. Bearing in mind the cost of communi-
cation, whether by direct delivery or by a postage
stamp, we need not be surprised that the newspaper,
London or provincial, is not often to be found in the
labourer's cottage.

The behef that newspapers would be necessarily
instruments of evil has passed away. That any local
journal of the present day, however unmarked by
literary abihty, could fail to be an instrument for
rousing the labourer's mind out of its sluggishness
I cannot readily understand. Books, however stre-
nuous and in some degree successful may have been
the exertions of book-hawking associations, have
scarcely yet sufficiently interested the cottager to
induce him to become a purchaser. Village Lending-
Libraries are, I fear, not very numerous. The various
modes of awakening the reasoning or imaginative
powers have hardly satisfied the hopes of the bene-
volent, that a time was coming when the instruction
of the village school would have some durable influ-
ence in after life. As a mere matter of national
profit, to say nothing of higher motives, the practical
education of the agricultural labourer ought not to
terminate with the school form. The country has
less demand than ever for the mere digger and
delver. The whole system of agricultural operations
is being changed by that great power of steam, which
a hundred years ago revolutionised our manufacturing
processes. The cry on every side will be for skilled


labourers. It is not so much that we shall want
chemists and mechanicians amongst the wearers of
the smock-frock, but that we want young men with
minds apt to learn, and fit to superintend. The
taste for reading books has yet to be formed amongst
this class. The desire for knowing what is going on
in the world through the newspaper is natural and
almost instinctive. The ordinary details of intelli-
gence are now associated with something more than
the " common things " which a nobleman, whose loss
we have so recently deplored, was desirous to have
taught. We can imagine no more useful task for
the Clergjrman, the Squire, or the intelligent Farmer
than that of giving a weekly lecture upon the News-
paper. I mentioned, ten years ago, in my book on
the Modern Press, that a witness of well-known intel-
ligence told the Committee on Newspaper Stamps
that in his village he tried the experiment of reading
" The Times " to an evening class of adult labourers,
and that he could not read .twenty lines without
feeling that there were twenty words in it which
none of his auditors understood. He vvanted, there-
fore, cheap newspapers, that would be so VTitten as
not to puzzle the hearers or readers by such wdids as
" operations," " Channel," or " fleet." Surely this
dense ignorance must now have passed away, and it
is not necessary to make an attempt to reach the
minds of the least instincted class by having news-
papers " like school primers, containing words of one
or two syllables." The difficulty is not to imderstand
tuords but to comprehend unfamiliar things. The
Newspaper awakens curiosity, but some intelligent
friend will always be needed by the uneducated gra-
dually to lead them forward to the knowledge which


alone can make the hard things of every-day intelli-
gence comparatively plain ; and who would, now and
then, talk good-humouredly, and even jocosely, about
the prejudices, whether of classes or individuals, that
the newspaper frequently presents in its reports of
the sayings and doings of public men. The Weekly
Lecture would perhaps be an easier matter to accom-
plish than to set up a " Gazette of the Village ;"
which, like the " Gazette " of Paul Louis Courier,
should be neither scientific nor literary, and would
call things and people by their right names. In the
"To'ftTi and Country Newspaper," I wrote a short
series of articles, which I thus introduced as " Grand-
father Smith's Lectures :" —

' ' In tlie centre of a little village about fourteen miles from
liOndon, but wMcli village is as secluded as a Highland glen, there
is a pretty old-fashioned house known to all the neighbours as
' Grandfather Smith's Cottage.' Grandfather Smith is what is
called ' a character ' — that is, he has opinions of his own ; and
having a small competency and few superfluous wants, he is not
very careful to fashion his opinions so as to please the squire or any
other rural authority. After a good deal of opposition fi'om these
authorities, and much indifference on the part of farmers and
labourers, he has succeeded in establishing a system which is an
educational experiment. He once kept a day-school ; but all his
scholars deserted him, some twenty years ago, for the National
School, and so the school-room became a lumber-room. This
spring, however, the old gentleman has been stirred into unwonted
activity by the war ; and so he cleared out the ink-bespattered
desks, arranged the worm-eaten forms, and invited all the village
to come to him once a week to hear the newspaper read. He did
this in the belief that his humbler neighbours had no inclination to
read the newspaper themselves ; but in this he was soon undeceived.
He found that the daily newspaper, although a little stale some-
times, penetrated to his solitudes ; and that the cheap weekly news-
paper was growing into request. Grandfather Smith therefore
bethought himself to give a Weekly Lecture on the Newspaper. The
notion might savour a little of presumption ; but he was indifferent
to that sort of opinion which refuses to believe that any work of a


public nature can be undertaken from a sense of duty. So, duly at
seven o'clock, is Grandfatlier Smith's ancient school-room filled by
old and young ; and, what has excited considerable surprise, the
curate and his wife, as well as the minister of the small "Wesleyan
chapel across the common, have occasionally been amongst his

In advocating the general circulation of News-
papers, and in recommending a very obvious method
of adding something to their usefulness in districts
where the hard workers have little aptitude for
digesting what they read, I can scarcely be suspected
of setting Journalism above other instruments of
knowledge. In 1851, I took part in the proceedings
of the Northampton Mechanics' Institute, at which
Earl Fitzwilliam was the Chairman. Lord Wode-
house was one of the most effective speakers, as
were my old fellow-labourer Dr. Conolly, Mr.
Layard, and Mr. George Cruikshank. At that time
Mr. Cobden had recently propounded the eccentric
advice to the young men of Manchester, not to
trouble themselves much mth the perusal of books,
but to read the newspaper. I said to the Northamp-
ton young men that, much as I respected the news-
paper, as the great instrument of civilisation, I
believed that if their reading were confined to news-
papers, excellent as was that reading in general,
various as was the information they gave, and infinite
as were their resources to convey knowledge, men's
minds would be narrowed and debased by being so
limited. I believed, moreover, if that had been the
general tone of the mind of this country, and the
reading of newspapers had superseded the reading of
all other literature, the public would never have
attained a right knowledge of what a newspaper
should be, and that newspapers theihselves would


never have become what they are. The newspaper
and the book ought to go hand in hand.

The staple of a Newspaper is news. I have shown
what labour and what cost were necessary in 1812
for a Local Jotirnal to obtain even such scanty intel-
ligence as slow and imperfect communication enabled
me to present to the readers of the Windsor news-
paper. I have also indicated far more serious
diiEculties of fighting with space and time, which the
London Daily Papers had then to encounter.* The
Peace came. The character of intelligence was far
less interesting. The London Journals then bestowed
more care upon the reports of domestic affairs, espe-
cially those which indicated the current of public
opinion, when almost every community was agitating
for Reform. But the Morning Papers were often
late, especially when there was a field day in Parlia-
ment; and when there was any great meeting at
Birmingham, or Liverpool, or Manchester, to demand
a special report, it was rarely published till the second
day after the meeting had been held. Marvels, how-
ever, were occasionally accomplished by " The Times,"
and other Morning Papers, which set people asking
where all this neck-and-neck race for intelligence
would conduct us. The age of railroads came, and
then, indeed, a vast step was gained in the publica-
tion in London of provincial news. There were
occasions in which a tolerably full report of a debate
at Manchester in the Free Trade Hall, was published
in London before the dial hand had again made its
circuit of twelve hours. But these were rare
examples of a most costly and complex organization.

* "Passages." Tol. I. p. 130.


A great change was impending. In " A Guide to the
Electric Telegraph" by C. M. Archer, published in
1852, it is stated that the application of the Electric
Telegraph to the purposes of the Press is due to the
author of that handbook. He sa.ys, it was in May
1845, when there existed only one Telegraph in this
country, — that between Nine Elms and Portsmouth,
— that in the '' Morning Chronicle," with which he
was connected, appeared the first practical application
in England of the Telegraph to the purpose of report-
ing public meetings. Mr. Archer states that on the
occasion of the great anti-corn-law banquet to Mr.
Cobden, the " exti-aordinary quantity" of two columns
and a half of the proceedings, which did not termi-
nate until midnight at Manchester, was completely
printed in " The Times " as reported by telegraph,
and was at Manchester the next day by one in the
afternoon. The " extraordinary quantity " of matter
reported by the London Journals at distant places
has now become one of the most ordinary incidents
in the conduct of the Metropolitan Press. During
the summer of 1864 Lord Palmerston's Speeches at
Tiverton, Hereford, and Bradford, and Mr. Gladstone's
Speeches in Lancashire were reported through the
Telegraphic wires at as great a length as if the re-
porters had transmitted the words in the old ordi-
nary way. On several occasions the length of these
repoi-ts, as they appeared in the Morning Papers,
exceeded seven columns. So instantaneous is the
collateral dispatch to provincial towns that it is
possible for a statesman to speak at Glasgow in the
evening, and to find on his breakfast table next
morning, in the Local Paper, the comments of the
London Editors on his Speech. It is not the practice


now for every leading newspaper to have its own
telegraphic reporter, for if that were the case, the
ordinary business traffic would be seriously impeded.
If each of the Morning Papers required a report of
the same proceedings, and some of the leading Pro-
vincial Papers also wanted special reports, the wires
would be blocked. Thus it is that the Telegraph
Companies have organized an " Intelligence Depart-
ment." Few, perhaps, have any notion of the nature
and extent of this wonderful organization. Its
national importance can scarcely be over-rated.

The Electric Telegraph has become the news-
bearer of the world. It has swept away many
antiquated ideas ; it has substituted facts in the
place of conjectures ; it has destroyed the ancient
sovereignty of one of the most potent rulers of public
opinion. The great dramatic poet, who lived before
the days when this potentate swayed the world
through newspapers, thus makes her speak, full of
tongues :

" Open your ears : For which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks ?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth :
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride ;
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
I speak of peace, while covert enmity,
Under the smUe of safety, wounds the world :
And who but Rumour, who but only I,
Make fearful musters, and prepar'd defence,
Whilst the big year, swoln with some other griefs.
Is thought with child by the stern tyrant war.
And no such matter ? Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures ;
And of so easy and so plain a stop


That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still discordant wavei-ing multitude,
Can play upon it. "

[King Henry IV. Part II. Induction.]

■" From the orient to the drooping west " a " post-
horse " infinitely more fleet than the wind, brings
us facts, sometimes indeed mixed up mth "false
reports," which may deceive for a few hours " the
blunt monster with uncounted heads," but which are
very quickly scattered by the same agency which
brought them. These facts may be meagre, may
require to be verified and corrected by the more
comprehensive narratives of that ubiquitous eye-
witness "Our own Gon'espondent," and may be
explained and illustrated by the lucid commen-
taries of such papers as the " Times," never at any
period equalled in breadth of view and felicity of
exposition. But these rapid communications veiy
rarely indeed are founded upon " surmises, jealousies,
conjectures," except where misjudging politicians
choose to prostitute the power which ought to be
essentially the vehicle of truth. Happily such do
not exist, and cannot exist, in our own country.

I have a friend, — once amongst the most useful and
trustworthy of my fellow-labourers, — who is the pre-
siding mind of the Intelligence Department of one of
the two Telegraph Companies. It is not that he has
any concern with the actual working of the great
machinery which daily and hourly transmits through-
out our three kingdoms foreign and colonial news ;
summaries of debates in Parliament; returns of
markets of every kind ; shipping news ; racing news;*

* Sporting News, as I am informed, constitutes a great item with
the Telegraph Companies. There are about 180 subscribers, chiefly
publicans ; and the subscription from each is 20Z. a year.


states of the weather at the different ports ; and last,
but not least important, those despatches from al-
most every quartter of the world, which constantly
meet the eye ®f the newspaper reader as " Renter's
Telegrams." My friend is not responsible for carry-
ing through the marvellous operation of transmitting
by the electric wire a Queen's Speech of 965 words,
in thirty-one minutes, — au advance of speed which
we can scarcely deem less than marvellous compared
with the record in the " Daily News " of 1847, that
the Queen's Speech of that November was telegraphed
at the rate of fifty-five letters in a minute, the whole
730 words being disposed of in two hours. The rate
of speed has thus been quintupled in seventeen
years. Nor is my friend responsible for the summa-
ries of Parliamentary Debates which now constitute
such an important feature in the seventy-one Daily
Papers in the United Kingdom. The two Telegraph
Companies — the Magnetic and the Electric — have
each an Instrument-room at the Houses of Parha-
ment, but only one report of the debates is prepared,
which is transmitted by both Companies. The
regular occupation of my friend, as intelligence-
reporter, is sufficiently onerous to demand the most
unremitting assiduity, the most watchful observation,
the clearest judgment. He has ceased to be con-
nected with what we call the literary world, but his
duties, in many respects, require the exercise of
higher quahties than those which ordinarily direct
the pen of a merely ready writer. Let me present
an imperfect outline of the routine of his daily life.
The intelligence-reporter has an office and a bed-
room in a house which adjoins and communicates
with the Central Office of the Electric Telegraph.


Winter and summer he is at his desk at 6 a.m., at
which hovir, to a minute, he receives a copy of the
" Daily News ;" at 6-20 a copy of the " Times ;" and
about 6-45 the rest of the Morning Papers. A
messenger waits to take slips from him into the
Instrument-room, and about 6-10 the transmission
begins. It is sometimes finished at 7-1 5 ; but an
effort is always made to have everjrthing completed
before 8. This is tlie "morning express," which
varies from fourteen hundred words to fewer than four
hundred. I have before me the second Edition of
the "Liverpool Daily Post," dated October 13th, 9 a.m.
The Telegi'aphic portion occupies about 150 lines
of very close printing, and consists of five separate
articles ; namely, two from Renter's Telegram, one
headed " Mr. W. E. Gladstone in Lancashire," stating
that the London Papers contain reports by telegraph
of his speeches at Bolton and Liverpool the day
before, and that most of them devote a leading
article to the Lancashire visit. Of the leading articles

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Online LibraryCharles KnightPassages of a working life during half a century: with a prelude of early reminiscences → online text (page 11 of 24)