George Hooker Colton.

The American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) online

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complish this. This we have not got, nor do we
expect to have. But we believe there is enter-
prise and means enough among our Democracy to
give our project a fair trial. The majority of our
city population is Democratic ; the majority of the
people of the Union is Democratic; and so is the
majority of the people of this State. When it is
asserted that they will not support a well-conduct-
ed journal that advocates pure Democratic doc-
trine, a stigma is cast upon the intelligence and
liberality of the Democratic party. It will be
our object to prove that this disparaging assertion
is untrue. We will labor with energy and zeal in
our new vocation. * * *

" It cannot be denied that every Democratic
journal which has been started of late years in
this city has lingered out a brief and sickly ex-
istence, and then yielded up the ghost, without
even a natural spasmodic struggle to prolong its
life, and without much seeming disappointment
on the part of the proprietors, or regret of the
party to whose service its columns had been de-
voted, as the exponent of their principles. So
common has been the failure of Democratic



1851.



Journalism in Neio-Yorlc.



413



journals in this city, that it is generally supposed
that after the election is over the paper must go
down. So often has this prediction been verified,
without even a single exception, that the people
appear to be anxiously awaiting the anticipated
result, as though it were a fixed fact. We have
no doubt that there are a great many honest and
well-meaning Denaocrats who would, for the mo-
ment, feel disappointed if our paper did not break
down immediately after the election. We can see
no good reason why a Democratic paper should
not succeed in a city of more than half a million
of inhabitants, and with a natural majority of
Democrats. At all events, we intend to try what
industry, energy, and perseverance will do." — Na-
tional Democrat, Vol. I., No. 1.

It is even true that a city wliicli yields to
none other in the world in readiness to im-
bibe political feeling and foment political
excitement, has for many years supported
more or less neutral papers, while with a
solitary exception those journals that have
been devoted to one of its two great parties
have languished and died. The " Sun," a
neutral sheet, possesses a larger daily circu-
lation than any other journal in New- York,
and perhaps than any other in the world.
The Herald has never suffered from lack
of patronage, and several smaller neutral
papers within the shadow of the Sun and
Herald establishments are enjoying the
stimulus of very healthy incomes. We are
not aware of any other city whose journal-
ism presents so anomalous a feature.

The weekly papers of New-York . are
many in number, and of various charac-
teristics, exhibiting in a marked degree the
enterprise that distinguishes our daily press.
They outnumber the dailies some two or
three to one, and one who is disposed to
ascertain their exact number by personal
research will weary himself in stumbling-
through the intricacies of Nassau and Ann
streets before he has half completed his task.
Although English writers are apt to speak
of their weekly journalism as the most perfect
in the world, we are persuaded that our digni-
fied and serai-naturalized " Albion " will not
yield to the " Examiner," memorable though
it be in the name of Albany Fonblanque ;
and that the " Spirit of the Times " may
very well compare with " Bell's Life in Lon-
don." We must, however, confess that our
various hebdomadal imitations of inimitable
" Punch " have been failures. We are of
the opinion that a paper precisely like
Punch cannot be sustained by us at
present. The experiment has been tried,



often and faithfully, and " our first humor-
ists " have been engaged to contribute, but
such dismal sheets as " Yankee Doodle "
and " The Town " have been the sole con-
sequences. Punch's wit is emphatically the
wit of society ; society of long duration,
complex institutions and clearly defined fea-
tures, open alike to the most trenchant and
the most delicate satire, and sufliciently rigid
to be often attacked at the same points
without losing those peculiarities that have
provoked assailants. Foreigners are obtuse
to the wit of Punch. It plays wholly on
the national, and would cease to exist if it
ceased to be English. But as a matter of
fact, we have as yet no society, if we may
in the term include those different conditions
of ancestry, education, modes of thinking
and modes of living which make up the
social life of a body of people whose dispo-
sition of circumstances has not been broken
in upon by revolutions or immigration.
And so it results that when our pictorial
satirists have used up the " B'hoys " of the
Bowery and the " Suckers " of the West,
they have very little left to fall back upon.
This may partly explain our lack of a na-
tional Charivari ; and it is also true that we
cannot at once change Brother Jonathan's
long face to a round one, or occupy our-
selves in hunting up materials for laughter
when each one of us has quite enough to do
at getting his dinner.

Most of the New- York weeklies, like their
contemporaries of Philadelphia and Boston,
are intended expressly for country circula-
tion, and are of large size and very hetero-
geneous contents. It is not uncommon to
find one of them devoted to a dozen or
twenty different objects of interest, taste or
study, among which literature and the fia©
arts have hardly enough elbow room to
make themselves visible. Very many of
our cheap " blood and thunder " novels,
written by " Harry Hazel," or " a distin-
guished naval officer," or "the most emi-
nent of our rising novelists," have first ap-
peared serially in the columns of certain of
these weekhes, where, we doubt not,, they
gave great satisfaction. We have also seen
in the columns of these identical sheets valua-
ble disquisitions on the deepest matters of
philosophy, essays on religious subjects that
might have been penned by a Doctor of Di-
vinity, agricultural treatises whose perusal
would benefit a thorough-bved farmer, and.



414



Journalism in New -York.



November,



candid reasonings on politics and the affairs
of the nation. This versatihty, or compre-
hensiveness, as Bulvver Lytton would style
it, has been also profitably adopted by the
Sunday press, in whose columns, in addition
to their overwhelming mass of town gossip,
theatrical criticism, and serial fiction, one
often meets with sermons from our cele-
brated clergymen, appearing a little awk-
wardly, it must be owned, among their
unwonted companions ; like a sober youth
suddenly tossed into a party of gay royster-
ers whose amusements he is somewhat puz-
zled to share.

Notwithstanding the reputation of hard
work and inadequate remuneration attend-
ant upon the profession of a journalist in a
large city, and the precarious future which
is ever represented as forming the bounding
horizon ot" his path, there is no lack of re-
cruits of all ages and of all degrees of talent
to the great army of writers for the press
who find subsistence in New- York. The
advice constantly given to all such eager
aspirants for the honors and rewards of lit-
erature by our leading editors and journal-
ists, is regarded by them as Mlacious and
unfounded ; and never having been called on
to undergo the difficulties against which
they are cautioned, and from which it is in
their own power to remain aloof, they feel
very little hesitation in committing them-
selves to an undertaking which presents so
many attractive features to the man of
talent without capital, and yet in whose suc-
cessful prosecution capital is so largely and
vitally concerned. Upon the establishment
of a new paper, therefore, in this city, offers
of service in its various departments are
sure to come in upon the proprietors with
most perplexing obtrusiveness, and with a
pertinacity that in most cases seems to ad-
mit of no denial. As an instance of this,
we may mention that the conductors of the
Times, in addition to the numberless nega-
tives which they dispatched to applicants
during the summer preceding the appear-
ance of their journal, were obliged to let
sixty or seventy applications lie over to be
publicly answered in their first number, owing
to sheer want of time to attend to them by
letter. And there is no one of our leading
journals tha": does not daily receive offers of
literary service from writers in various parts
of the country, many of them proposing



quantities of labor and terms of compensa-
tion which, it is not too much to say,
would not be submitted to by one artisan
or day laborer out of a hundred.

To one of impulsive sentiments and little
forethought, the profession of a writer for
the city press is undoubtedly fascinating.
In sober truth, and without arrogating to
newspapers any purities of honor or digni-
ties of thought which our common sense
tells us they can never possess, the position
of a journalist, and especially a journalist in
a large and influential city, is necessarily
even more than respectable, and can be
made of eminent reputation if its incumbent
practise those manly virtues which are
deemed necessary to the integrities of pri-
vate life. It disowns all circumstances of
wealth and fashion, and bespeaks for the
man who holds it a reception into the so-
ciety of refined and intelligent men and
women, which property, unaided by educa-
tion, might seek after in vain, and which
can only be forfeited by violations of good
breeding, or derelictions from personal
honor. It at once inducts him into the
free-masonry of intellect and art. It throws
him professionally among authors, paintei-s,
musicians, and the favored few whom for-
tune makes the Maecenases of current ge-
nius. It gives him the entree of the concert
room, the gallery, the senate chamber, and
the studio. It spreads before him an array
of privileges, whose purchase would demand
a fortune, and which renders him for the
time contented with what pecuniary recom-
pense he may receive, and oblivious of all
drawbacks which the future may have in
store for him.

Nor are the duties of the novitiate jour-
nalist so severe as to discourage his ambi-
tion, or his ardor for his vocation. Youth
is strong and healthy, and the effects of the
close atmosphere amid which he performs
his work, and the sedentary constraints he
is obliged to undergo, may be nullified by
that exercise in the fresh air, and whole-
some carelessness in hours of recreation,
which is common to most young men who
are placed within reach of the stimulating
activities of busy life. His duties have not
yet palled upon him, and he has not
reached those anxieties of existence, those
murmurings at the superior success of
others, those solicitous longings after better
fortune, which pertain so invariably to men



1851.



Journalism in New-YorTc.



415



of middle age. He sees other young men
about him working harder than himself, and
receiving less pay ; young lawyers drudging
at copying for the mere privilege of a good
" seat ;" newly-created M. D.'s toiling through
hospitals and private sick-rooms in back-
streets, with no other reward than " seeing
practice ;" clerks in their third and fourth
years barely clothing themselves from their
salaries ; and he congratulates himself on
his easy and profitable occupation. And at
this time of life, while ahead in the race and
feeling no diminution of vigor in view of
the ground yet to be passed over, it would
seem that at least an equality in social cir-
cumstance and possession of this world's
goods might be attained in after years by
one so highly favored at the commencement
of his active life.

But, unfortunately, men of the press rare-
ly possess those habits of economy and cal-
culation that attend the progress of rising
business men, with whom it has at first
been a matter of great difficulty to earn
their living. Indeed, as a class, they are
noted for extravagance, for disproportionate
and heedless expenditure, for carelessness of
the future, and for a constant enjoyment of
empty pockets. Their habits of life are not
calculated to produce caution in spending
money or forethought in saving it. The
younger emjyloyes of a newspaper establish-
ment are paid weekly, and are in conse-
quence exposed to the almost irresistible
temptation of a small and constantly-recur-
ring surplus ; in each case a trifle in itself,
a few dollars more or less, yet a noticeable
aggregate in the course of the year, and
which if laid up would swell to a firm and
useful capital by the time its owner possessed
sufficient experience in his profession to
make it available. But such savings are
rarely practised. What remains after main-
tenance disappears amid suppers, recrea-
tions of the turf and water, expensive pres-
ents, and importunate companions ; and the
end of the year finds the journalist as poor
as at the beginning. And such courses of
life rarely fail to perpetuate themselves. If
with abundant means of saving, you have
accumulated nothing at the expiration of
one year, the chances are that with increased
facilities you will have saved nothing at the
end of another. If for a length of time you
have suflered irreo-ular hours and irretrular
overflows of pocket to conquer your notions



of steadiness and economy, you will find it
difficult in future to be steady or to save.
It is melancholy to see men growing old as
hack-writers, as poor as when they com-
menced their career; fortunate indeed if
year by year they are permitted to retain
their places, and are not ousted by fresher
and younger rivals. And such is almost
sure to be the destiny of men of the press
in large cities, imless they overcome early in
life the injurious influences of their profes-
sion of Avhich we have just spoken. They
cannot expect to be exempt from those con-
ditions under which they live in common
with other men. In our centres of civiliza-
tion, cajDital is a rigorous deity, whose favor
must be propitiated, no matter by how
great sacrifices. Clerks, to be merchants,
must have capital, must have saved, if they
have not inherited it. We ask pardon for
uttering so obvious a truism, but it is a
text equally applicable to hired journalists,
and we think pretty generally forgotten by
them. The writer who has capital enjoys
an advantage over his brother writer who
has nothing but his salary to depend upon,
precisely like that of the moneyed business
man over the salesman or book-keeper
whose expenditure constantly equals his in-
come. One is independent, and the other
dependent. One has it in his power to
order ; the only option of the other is obe-
dience. One, having the power to plan,
finds pleasure in contemplating his future ;
the other, possessing very little on which to
build his hopes, narrows himself to the du-
bious existence of the moment. The income
of one is continually increasing in arithmeti-
cal ratio, while that of the other, after a cer-
tain lapse of time, remains invariably fixed.
Spendthrift clerks do not often rise to the
command of establishments ; and the writers
who eventually become editors and proprie-
tors of city journals will, in most cases, be
found to have saved their money, and to
have relied as much on their pecuniary as
on their mental capital.

We say " most cases." We would leave
room for occasional triumphs of eminent
talent over all drawbacks of extravagance,
recklessness, and irregularity. But such tri-
umphs, every practised observer will own,
are rare. We think that intelligent indus-
try is a better guide to success than spend-
thrift talent. And, in fact, to write well for
the newspapers, does not require a very



416



Journalism in JVew-Yorh



IN'ovember,



large degree of native talent : it demands
little more than that ability whicli moderate
intelligence may acquire by faithful prac-
tice. "Men may think," says Bulwer Lyt-
ton, " that it is a deuced easy thing to write
fox- the papers ; but if they try it once, they
will see how much they were mistaken."
We agree with this remark. It is not an
easy thing to write a creditable newspaper
article. In our own observation, men of un-
doubted abilities, but of small experience in
writing, have appeared very discreditably in
print. But they would not have made a
much better figure at laying brick, or at
navigating vessels, or at any other craft with
which they were not practically acquainted.
Writing for the press is a profession — a
craft. Men of ordinary abilities may labor
at it to good advantage, and between the
respective productions of any two newspaper
writers, the eye may see no more difference
than between two contiguous brick walls
laid by different masons. And then it is
not until after years of service, that journal-
ists are allowed the privileges of the strictly
editorial columns, where genius, and certain
kinds of talent, native to but few men, and
acquired only by infinite difficulty, can alone
display themselves. One man may write a
better leader than another; may be ac-
quainted with more facts, and have a better
faculty of drawing inferences from his stock
of information ; may have a more copious
fund of allusion; may be better able to
satirize a political enemy, or dignify a party
friend ; may reason away prejudices more
skilfully, and advance doubtful propositions
with a better grace : but genius is not a
better hand at the scissors than industry ;
and "city items," fatal accidents, military
parades, freaks of mad oxen, personal ren-
contres, variations of the thermometer, and
horse-thief committals, may be chronicled as
well by unknown scribblers as by Messrs.
Greeley or Bryant themselves. It is among
such themes as these that young journalism
finds its occupation, and those of its mem-
bers are wise who seek in the exciting task
of making them known to the public a
source of pecuniary profit, as a backer in
after years, rather than a fame, whose attaia-
ment is,^ to say the least, problematical.

But if a writer be sufficiently healthy in
mind and body to withstand the wearing
effects of a long probation in duties which
often lose their interest, and seem but drud-



gery in comparison with the higher labors of
the press ; and sufficient forethought to save
his money, while there are no special drafts
upon his purse ; the eminence he will event-
ually gain in the journalism of a great city
will be both honorable and profitable, and
will seem not unworthy of the sacrifices that
have purchased its attainment. For in no
other country beside our own can the jour-
nalist — the editor — speak his mind fully on
the great topics of social and political wel-
fare, and thus perform his real and whole
duty. We would not lower the freedom of
the American press, by comparing it with
that of any of the continental monarchies;
and we shall look in vain among the servil-
ities and the aristocracy-worship of London
journals, for that independence and boldness
which characterize our own. It will be diffi-
cult to find a foreign sheet that dare speak
its real sentiments upon prominent national
subjects, till it has first ascertained that what
it may say will not provoke the active wrath,
of government. London newspapers find it
for their interest to be obsequious to court
dictates ; the Parisian press, enjoying a larger
liberty than any other in Europe, is con-
stantly watched by the police. With us, it
is needless to say, there are no such re-
straints. Our press, expected, and in most
cases disposed, to observe the rules of de-
cency and order, is privileged to speak its
mind on all subjects with which it is con-
cerned, with the assurance that its opinions
will meet with such a reception as their
honesty and value may bespeak. And al-
though no one pretends that newspapers
form public sentiment, or create creeds and
systems of belief where none before existed,
it is a grateful truth to the journalist, that
he has the privilege of laying the results of
extended information and practised reason-
ing powers before a large audience of intel-
ligent men and women, and of compelling
the assent of candid minds to what is un-
deniably true, whether fact or theory, but
which, had it not been proved, might have
ever remained disbelieved. A well-informed,
truth-loving, and independent editor has
the satisfaction of knowing that his readers
are predisposed to side with his views, re-
garding him as a closer student of public
affairs than themselves, and as a better
authority in doubtful and difficult questions.
Thus, although they may think strongly
and even obstinately for themselves, they



1851.



Journalism in New-YorJc.



41Y



are inclined for the sake of bettering and
fortifying their main conclusions, to square
with the expressed views of one whose
especial business it is to record and draw
inferences from facts with which he is better
acquainted than themselves. Perhaps their
ideas are misty about certain matters not of
every-day mention ; the refracting medium
of editorial intelligence clears away the fog,
and presents to them their former notions in
definite and tangible form. And often, for
the mere sake of convenience, they permit
opinions, of whose ultimate issue they are
careless, and whose paternity they would
deny, if at any time proved to be unfounded
or mischievous, to flow in such channels as
the practised hand of the journalist may in-
dicate.

Without assuming to the journalism of
New-York an influence over the thoughts of
this nation greater than that enjoyed by the
press of large and emulous cities on either
side, it is not too much to say that it is
vastly more influential abroad. A fact men-
tioned a few pages back readily explains
this. The papers of New-York represent
the American press throughout all Europe.
The Philadelphia " North American " and
the Boston "Atlas" may scarcely be known
at London, at Paris, or at BerHn; but the
Tribune, the Herald, the Courier and En-
quirer, are in all foreign reading rooms, on
the tables of all literary men, whether Ger-
man, English, French, or Italian ; read by
diplomatists, scholars, politicians, merchants,
and circulated to an astonishinaf extent amonc
the common people. We need not enlarge
upon the importance of the field thus open
to the inculcation of republican opinion, or
the privilege our journalism thus enjoys, of
being the medium of free opuiion from our



highly favored nation to others less advanced
in the study of those first truths which des-
potism has ever striven to keep in obscurity.
It will, indeed, be an unpardonable fault, if
a press so peculiarly honored shall ever ret-
rograde in honest thinking or honest speak-
ing, or shall content itself with looking on
while freedom is at war with ojipression.

In conclusion, we would congratulate the
entire American press on its^ many improve-
ments in style and tone which it has been
our pleasure to witness of late years. That
spirit of rancor, of jealousy, of low abusive-
ness, of unwillingness to see any thing of
good in opponents, of blind subserviency to
the basest uses of party, in which so many
of our journals were steeped, has, we are
glad to say, wonderfully diminished, and the
courtesies and refinement of education and
manliness are fast taking its place. We do
not err in saying tnat scurrility is no longer
at a premium, and that a reputation for po-
litical malice and personal abusiveness is bad
capital on which to build up a newspaper.
We are creating a name for national enter-
prise and good behavior, which the mass ot
our citizens are unwilling should be perilled
to gratify dishonest editors, or bribe-taking
publishers. Foreign advances, too, are
stimulating our own ambition, and Ameri-
can journalists are mending their style as
well as their spirit ; are learning to say what
they have to say in the best manner, and
with the aid of those graces of which their
predecessors were ignoramt. And there are
no reasons why we may not augur constant
improvements in futvu'e, and predict a time
when our journals shall be models to the
world for courtesy and literary grace, as well
as for independence, enterprise, and adapta-
tion to popular wants.



418



Evenings with some Female Poets.



November,



EVENINGS WITH SOME FEMALE POETS.

SECOND EVENING.

Scene : In the midst of our books. Table with papers, decanter, glasses, and smoking machines.
Present: Johannes; Bellows.



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) → online text (page 64 of 89)