New York State Historical Association. Meeting.

Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association : ... annual meeting with constitution and by-laws and list of members (Volume 20) online

. (page 12 of 31)
Online LibraryNew York State Historical Association. MeetingProceedings of the New York State Historical Association : ... annual meeting with constitution and by-laws and list of members (Volume 20) → online text (page 12 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


thing, the intrinsic quality, the directing intelligence, the will and
skill and power to inform and influence public opinion for good or
otherwise.

That is to say, while the pile of shavings is considerably
higher in the workshop, the blade of the plane is no sharper and
cuts no deeper than it did when the figureheads of that early
American journalism were printers and booksellers and post-



122 NEW YORK STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

masters of the day ; the Bradf ords, the lesser Franklins, the Edeses
and Greenleafs and Campbells and Thomases of the Bay Colony
and the Quaker settlement; and in Manhattan the Parkers and
Zengers and Holts and Livingstons and Gaineses; and in Albany
the Kobertsons,

I have said the "figureheads" of colonial journalism because
in the most important province of journalism, as it came later to
be understood, that is exactly what these worthies were. In con-
sidering the beginnings we can not put too much emphasis on the
fact that for the most part, and with some extremely notably ex-
ceptions, the colonials who pulled the handles of the ramshackle
machine, who sat in receipt of advertising patronage, who
clipped the European intelligence from the foreign gazettes and
news letters, who compiled such scanty items of local interest as
were then deemed worthy of the compositor's elbow grease, were
not as a rule the men who chiefly built the foundations of the
Fourth Estate in America.

From behind the venerable backs of these nominal editors in
the printing shop, in the book shop and in the post office, the real
power of that early press in molding or restraining public opinion,
the editorial function as we now comprehend it in the larger sense,
was exercised and performed by the philosophers and juriscon-
sults and statesman-patriots of the time. Behind the printer-pub-
lisher, the book-shop editor, the postmaster announcer of current
news, were the James Otises, the Rip van Dams, the Josiah
Quincys, the John Adamses, the Lewis Morrises, the James Alex-
anders and the Benjamin Franklins; not to forget the "Mutius
Scaevolas," the "Centinels of Freedom," the "Akolaxes," the
"Friends of Liberty" and the countless other forms in which Old
Polyonomous of the prerevolutionary and revolutionary periods
saw fit from motives of modesty or prudence to mask his identity.
And of all the mighty ones who in colonial days helped to fashion
the most effective weapon of newspaper editorial English and to
establish the right of the American newspaper to use that weapon
fearlessly for the public good, I think you may safely agree with
me that the heaviest indebtedness of the present descendants is to
Benjamin Franklin, the philosopher of honest common sense who
was only incidentally a craftsman of the printing trade, and to
Andrew Hamilton, an unterrified Philadelphia lawyer.



COLONIAL JOURNALISM IN NEW YORK 123

Yet before dismissing to a secondary place so many of the
esteemed pioneers who figure conventionally as patriarchs of the
institution, let us attend to what they really were and what they
really did. It is true that much of the political matter that has
given them fame was merely passed by mightier hands into their
editorial fists, to be passed in turn by them to the fingers and
thumbs that held the composing stick. Theirs, however, as the
penal records often showed, was the responsibility in the eyes of
the law, or in the eyes of the provincial despot who sometimes
meant practically the same thing; theirs, too, the minor troubles
and annoyances which help to make conscientious editors bald
headed before the proper age for denudation.

It is simple justice to the printer, bookseller and postmaster
editors of the colonial period to credit them not only with a
mechanical skill in their craft at least equal to anything we find
today, but also with a technical equipment for the more perfunc-
tory duties of the sanctum deserving of our respect and admir-
ation.

Allowing for changed standards of taste, no New York news-
paper of the twentieth century is superior in beauty of type and
press work to James Rivington's New York Gazetteer, or Connecti-
cut, Hudson River, New Jersey and Quebec Weekly Advertiser,
printed at his Open and Uninfluenced Press fronting Hanover
Square" with its lovely brig in full sail; a title which for rotund
plentitude and geographic comprehensiveness rivals that of the
Paris establishment formerly known as the ' ' Hotel of the Universe
and Portugal."

I have looked through many numbers of Mr. Rivington's
paper, handsome as the pages of a Pickering book, without dis-
covering a single typographical error. More than that, I have
not found in his treatment of foreig-n or domestic affairs any of
those piquant lapses in general information which remind us so
often now that Salaried Omniscience is not yet in possession of
every desk. Shall I make the confession for the twentieth cen-
tury? I remember a western editor who wrote not so long ago
that a certain block of buildings in his town had retrograded un-
til it had become "worse than the infamous Rotten Row in Lon-
don." Two or three years ago one of the most carefully edited
of the great New York journals printed under the conspicuous



124 NEW YORK STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

headline ' ' Lowell is Fond of London ' ' a dispatch from the British
capital containing this remarkable literary and personal news:

The fact that James Russell Lowell is about to publish a volume
of hitherto uncollected essays recalls the fact that London has counted
few more enthusiastic admirers than him. In one of his letters he re-
fers to the London climate -as "the best in the world," and in another
he remarks, "I do like London, and it gives a fillip to my blood, now
growing more sluggish than it used to be! I love to stand in the mid-
dle of the park and forget myself in that dull roar of ever circulating
life which bears a burden to the song of the thrush I am listening to.
It Is far more impressive than Niagara."

Two years ago this month there appeared in another eminent
New York journal a spirited communication in the "Akolax" or
"Friend of Liberty" style of the eighteenth century denouncing
England for her disregard of treaty obligations in the case of
Egypt. "Did she," thundered this correspondent, "or didn't she
bombard Alexandria? What happened to the famous library
there?"

Last year a Providence paper reprinted an article discussing
the influence of Irish schoolmasters on American thought.
' ' Taney, ' ' said this writer, ' ' the great American Chief Justice, and
Daniel Webster, the great statesman and lexicographer, were,
amongst others, taught by Irishmen. But for Edward Evans, a
Connaughtman, American literature would have lost Webster's
contributions to it; and perhaps we should not have his great dic-
tionary, which, following the lines of Johnson, did so much in that
way for the English language."

I have summoned these two or three examples from among
the many which my memory affectionately retains merely to re-
mark that our esteemed contemporaries are doing some things of
which our professional ancestors, the Bradfords and the Frank-
lins and Isaiah Thomas and James Riving-ton would have been in-
capable.

It is quite true that in the case of the last mentioned colonial
there is sad evidence that the conception of editorial ethics was
as facile as the editorial intelligence. Rivington certainly could
face two ways not only for Sunday but also for every other day
in the journalistic week, according to what seemed to him to be
the main chance. But what instance of the duplex vision do we
find in his handsome files more convicting than the performance
only a fortnight ago of a New York journalist who prints the same



COLONIAL JOURNALISM IN NEW YORK 125

newspaper in two languages. In the English edition there ap-
peared a picture of British troops with the legend: "This is the
type of English soldier who is doing such tremendous work on
the battle front in France," and on the same day in the edition
for German readers the same picture of the same soldiers marked:
"British troops who are able to sprint so fast that German sol-
diers can not catch up with them."

Upon these respected figureheads there developed even in the
colonial days the important editorial function of placating the
indignant reader when he came to the office to express in person
his dissent from sentiments printed in the paper or his disapproval
of policies advocated by it. The two classic instances, of which
you have probably heard but which will bear repetition, were
both in the experience of our weatherwane friend James Riving-
ton. He had offended many Americans, but none more than the
redoubtable Ethan Allen, Rivington was sitting alone, or rather
in company with a bottle of superior old Madeira, when Ethan
Allen, in tanished regimentals, with a large cocked hat and a
monstrous long sword and a face black as a thundercloud, in-
vaded the office of the New York Gazetteer arid Quebec Advertiser,
etc., with the avowed purpose of administering bodily chastise-
ment. Rivington tells the story. "In he stalked. 'Is your name
James Rivington?' 'It is, sir, and no man could be more happy
to see Colonel Ethan Allen.' 'Sir, I have come ' 'Not an-
other word, my dear Colonel; taste this wine; I have had it in
glass for ten years; old wine you know, unless it is originally
sound, never improves by age.' He took the glass, swallowed the
wine, smacked his lips and shook his head approvingly. 'Sir, I

have come ' ' Not another word until you have taken another

glass, and then, my dear Colonel, we will talk of old affairs.' In
short, we finished two bottles of Madeira, and parted as good
friends as if we had never come to be otherwise."

The second historic invasion of Rivington 's office, even more
formidable and much less fortunate in the result, was in Novem-
ber 1775, soon after the Protean editor had omitted from the title
of his Gazetteer the proud boast that his establishment was ' ' open
and uninfluenced." Captain Isaac Sears came down from Con-
necticut at the head of seventy-five horsemen, who, having dis-
mounted (as we may reasonably presume) entered the odious



126 NEW YORK STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

sanctum, demolished the press and carried off the beautiful fonts
of Royalist type to be melted down into patriot bullets.

In all the history of journalism a more energetic protest has
rarely been registered by Old Subscriber. We are now more apt
to be beset by cranks than by cavalry ; by men who want to argue,
by men who want to instruct, by all sorts of people to be classed
as those whom the French call the fous litteraires. We are per-
haps better able than Rivington was to avert the onset, thanks to
a more enlightened system of preparedness and office boys.

It was likewise the editorial privilege of these printer editors
to go to jail on occasion for the audacities of others, in their own
inky persons. Dr. Benjamin Franklin recorded, many years after
the event, the fact that the New England Courant, of which his
brother James was the proprietor and nominal editor, was ac-
tually edited by a "club of writers" whose Addisonian essays and
brilliant libels on the Reverend Increase Mather and others, he,
young Benjamin, had the honor of introducing to the ink rollers.
"My brother," says Doctor Franklin, "had some ingenious men
among his friends who amused themselves by writing pieces for
his paper, which gained it credit and made it more in demand."
James Franklin's press issued not only the newspaper but also a
fine line of printed calicoes, which he advertised in the Courant
as of "good Figures, very lively and durable colours, and with-
out the offensive Smell which commonly attends the Linens printed
here." But when James's club of editors produced little pieces
of literature which drew upon the Courant the disapproving at-
tention of the Massachusetts authorities it was he, and not his
ingenious friends, who was clapped into jail and not allowed for
weeks even the liberty of the prison yard for exercise; until the
house of representatives and council, on the health certificate of
Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, adopted a half-merciful resolution emanci-
pating him to that extent upon his giving bond not to jump the
fence. IModern newspaper proprietors and editors sometimes
suffer in a different way for the too lively pieces of their ingeni-
ous colleagues; but they have at least this advantage over James
Franklin that their intellectuals are not diverted from the busi-
ness of editing out the scandalous matter with blue pencils by the
simultaneous job of getting to press an edition of durably colored
fabrics for feminine wear.



COLONIAL JOURNALISM IN NEW YORK 127

So, also, a dozen years later, when the stolid and uneducated
German printer from the Palatine, John Peter Zenger, publisher
and nominal editor of the New York Weekly Journal, was lending
the columns of his newspaper to the spirited attacks upon the
despotic and rapacious Governor Cosby, attacks not only inspired
but actually written by Chief Justice Lewis Morris, Counsellor
James Alexander, William Smith and others, it was neither
Morris nor any of his fellow champions of the people's cause, but
Zenger, the printer figurehead, who was arrested for seditious
libel, yanked into prison under the roof of the city hall at Wall*
street and Nassau and haled to trial before the packed court which
attempted in vain to throttle an independent jury. And Printer-
Editor Zenger, dazed if not intimidated, sat in the dock while his
octogenarian counsel from Philadelphia, the Andrew H^amilton to
whom our press is indebted more than to any other individual save
Benjamin Franklin for its franchise and form of editorial expres-
sion, uttered with a larynx mightier than the pen our Magna
Charta.

Bear with me while I quote a single passage from Hamilton's
address; and note it not only as the declaration of the press's
freedom from Star Chamber censorship, but as a specimen of the
literary style which in the editorial writing of these times, as of
those, rises superior to the graces of the finest Addisonian and
asserts its place as the best vehicle for thought that needs no
feathers :

I beg leave to insist, That the right of complaining or remonstrating
is natural: and the restraint upon this natural right is the Law only,
and that those Restraints can extend only to what is false: For it is
Truth alone that can excuse or justify any Man for complaining of a
bad Administration. I as frankly agree, that nothing ought to excuse a
Man who raises a false Charge or Accusation, even against a private
Person, and that no matter of Allowance ought to be made to him who
does so against a publick Magistrate. Truth ought to govern the whole
affair of Libels, and yet the party accused runs Risque enough even
then; for if he fails of proving every Tittle of what he has wrote, and
to the satisfaction of the Court and Jury too, he may find to his Cost
that when the Prosecution is set on Foot by Men in Power it seldom
wants Friends to Favour it. . . . You see I labour under the weight
of many Years and am born down with great Infirmities of Body: yet
Old and Weak as I am, I should think it my Duty, if required, to go to
the Utmost Part of the Land when my Ser^ace could be of anv Use in
Assisting to quench the Flame of Prosecutions upon Informations, set
on Foot by the Government to deprive a People of the Right of Re-
monstrating (and complaining too) of the arbitrary attempts of Men
In Power. . . . The Question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of
the Jury, is not of small nor private concern, it is not the Cause of a



128 NEW YORK STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

Poor Printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying: No!
It may in its Consequences affect every Freeman that lives under a
British Government on the main of America. It is the best Cause. It
is the Cause of Liberty; and I make no doubt but your upright Con-
duct, this Day, will not only entitle you to the Love and Esteem of
your Fellow Citizens; but every Man who prefers Freedom to a life of
Slavery will bless and honour you, as men who have battled the At-
tempt of Tyranny; and by an impartial and uncorrupt Verdict, have
laid a noble Foundation for securing to ourselves, our Posterity, and
our Neighbors, That to which Nature and the Laws of our Country have
given us a Right, the Liberty both of exposing and opposing arbitrary
Power (in these Parts of the World, at least) by speaking and writing
Truth.

What a leader writer Andrew Hamilton would have made!
Nay, what a leader writer he was; for this notably eloquent law-
yer's speech to a jury which has so much of the spirit and form of
the essays of Francis Bacon and so little of the spirit and form of
the elegant essayists of the "Spectator," is in fact the leading
article of American journalism for all time. The men in news-
paper offices and the men outside newspaper offices writing for the
press who have most powerfully imprinted their ideas on the pub-
lic mind for the making of history at every important epoch of
the nation's life have written about such English as Andrew Ham-
ilton wrote and spoke; and this is true from Ben Franklin to
Horace Greeley.

I recall — if you will be gracious enough to let me be remin-
iscently personal for a very few minutes — I recall that when in
the early seventies I was reading with keen curiosity, from the
outside, Mr. Dana's Sun, it puzzled me to decide which of three
salient and very distinct styles of editorial English was Mr.
Dana's own. They were as essentially different, I will not say as
sugar is different from alspice, or alspice from citric acid, but at
sugar is different from sunset, or sunset from the sound of a
trumpet. No man could conceivably have written more than
one of these three styles, and which was Dana's?

Style Number One was the modified Addisonian, infused
with a well-bred humor, sometimes gentle, sometimes sly, some-
times even mordant, but never depositing venom where it bit. It
was most frequently employed on that wide range of subjects
which includes the minor moralities, the questions of sentiment,
of nonpolemic theology, of conscience, of common sense and
everyday affairs in the way of living. Like Addison at his nat-
ural best, this writer's almost conversational tone seemed to ad-
mit the reader to an equal share of the pleasurable discussion.



COLONIAL JOURNALISM IN NEW YORK 129

This surely must be Dana, I thought, forty odd years ago;
for what sort of writing fitted better what we all had heard of the
genial eussedness of that eminent editor's art of newspaper mak-
ing and his splendid indifference to the conventional standards?

Yet when I turned to style Number Two my opinion wab-
bled. Here was a gorgeousness of rhetoric blazing like the even-
ing sky in the tropics. The adjectives, the adverbs, the super-
latives, the tropes, the quotations, the illusions historical and
imaginative, scintillated like heavenly fireworks. It was the
other aspect of Addison, plus John Milton. The lushness of it
might have cloyed but for the vigor of the thought and the
definiteness of the purpose underlying the wealth of verbal or-
nament. Here was a throat so muscular that it could afford to
wear an incandescent necktie.

The master of style Number Two displayed so profound a
knowledge of the politics of that time, and particularly so inti-
mate an acquaintance with the true inwardness of the then re-
cent Civil War period, that the more I thought about it the more
I was convinced that the florid writer with the strong clear voice
was Mr. Dana.

There was still another conjecture. Style Number Three
carried heavier guns than either One or Two. Some of the arti-
cles in style Number Three were masterpieces of direct, power-
ful English. The short word always had the preference over
the long, other things being equal, the Saxon word over the Latin
or Greek, the homely word over the pretentious; and the use-
less word was systematically absent. It seemed to me that no-
body could put more into a sentence, into a paragraph, into a
short series of paragraphs, with so trifling a depletion of his cur-
rent account with the dictionary. Very little of Addison, some-
thing of Bacon and Milton, a good deal of John Bunyan, very
much of "Poor Richard," quite enough of Dean Swift: if I had
the secret of the exact proportions, I think I should be selfish
enough to keep it to myself.

Inasmuch as it seemed that the really important things the
paper had to say editorially — the "markers," to use the shop
phrase — were said by the Sun in the style just indicated, it was
natural that after further deliberation I should positively iden-
tify Number Three with Mr. Dana.



130 NEW YORK STATE HISTORICAIi ASSOCIATION

Not long afterward it so happened that I came to know the
provenance of these three styles, typical alike of colonial and of
contemporary journalism. The fabricants of them are all long
since beyond the reach of praise or criticism, and I may speak
unhesitatingly my admiration of their respective fabrics.

Number One, the clarified Addisonian, was Frank Pharcellus
Church, the younger brother of the yet active veteran of New
York journalism, the dean of the profession. Colonel William
Conaut Church of the Army and Navy Journal. Under Mr. Dana,
and after Mr. Dana's death, Frank Church conceived a hundred
things as well deserving to live in literature as that example of
his genius which has come in a way to be his monument, the edi-
torial reply to the little girl Virginia, who wrote in good faith to
the Sun asking if there was really a Santa Claus. Some of you
may chance to know this exquisite justification of Faith as against
Cold Reason; for, a score of years after it was written in the
course of the day's work and without premeditation or special
care, not a December comes when it is not reprinted in fifty or
a hundred daily and weekly papers all over the land as the classic
expression of the Christmas sentiment. Perhaps no other news-
paper article ever written by any newspaper writer in any lan-
guage has attained so wide a circulation or has been read by so
many tens of millions of delighted readers.

Number Two, the more rhetorical variety of the Addisonian
style, belonged to General Fitz Henry Warren, who had been on
the Trihune with Greeley and Dana, and who was the actual
author of the famous "On to Richmond" articles of passionate
protest against the earlier military policy of the Lincoln govern-
ment; articles not reflecting Mr. Greeley's ideas, and generally
attributed to Dana and regarded as having produced that division
of sentiment between the two editors which lead to Dana's retire-
ment from the Tribune and sent him to the War Department as
Stanton's assistant.

The possessor of the third editorial style, which I attempted
a moment ago to describe as the most straightforward and com-
pelling of all, was William 0. Bartlett, a lawyer of distinction,
the counsel and friend of Mr. Dana and the father of the present
Chief Judge of our Court of Appeals. The accident of proximity
on the program of your annual meeting makes it necessary for
me to say in the presence of the distinguished son that about



COLONIAL JOURNALISM IN NEW YORK 131

his father which is recognized by every discerning journalist
with a memory going back to the eighties and seventies and late
sixties of the last century. His — the elder Bartlett's— vocation
was the law and the newspaper merely his avocation; but in his
avocation he was not only the peer of any of the group of great
editors whose undivided energy went into the newspaper page
but the master of most of them and the teacher of all of them,
and of hundreds who came after. When John Bigelow, in the
middle of the eighteen hundreds, undertook to put new vigor into
the venerable Evening Post, it was William 0. Bartlett who con-
tributed most to the surprising infusion of modernity and spunk.
When Dana bought Beach's Sun in 1868 Mr. Bartlett became
not only his legal advisor but also his principal editorial writer.
Of all the writing journalists I have known in my short and
shortening time, he came perhaps the nearest to uniting in one
powerful personality the qualities of which Andrew Hamilton,
the advocate, and Benjamin Franklin, the common sense phil-
osopher, were the earlier types. No man has Avritten editorial
for the American press, in any period, with saner judgment, with
humor more effective and knack of phrase-making more original,



Online LibraryNew York State Historical Association. MeetingProceedings of the New York State Historical Association : ... annual meeting with constitution and by-laws and list of members (Volume 20) → online text (page 12 of 31)