Imágenes de páginas

One stays until his sheet is full ; he proceeds with it to the printing office, where he is soon followed by another with his ; and so on, until the last arrives. Thus the debate as it advances is in progress of printing, and when finished, is all in type but the last part. Sometimes it will occupy twelve and fourteen broad, closely-printed, columns. The proprietors enlist the most able pens for editorial articles; and as correspondents, from different parts of Europe. Their pecuniary ability to do so, may be judged of from the fact, that the leading papers pay to the government an annual tax in stamps, of from twenty to fifty thousand pounds sterling. I have been told that some of them yield a profit of fifteen thousand pounds sterling a year, after paying this tax, and all expenses. The profits of The Times,are said to have exceeded eighteen thousand a year. The cost of a daily paper to a regular subscriber, is about ten pounds sterling a year; but subdivision comes in to make them cheap. They are circulated by agents at a penny an hour in London. When a few days old, they are sent to the provincial towns, and through the country, at reduced prices. In this manner, the parliamentary debates and proceedings, impartially and fully reported, go through the nation. The newspaper sheet is suited to all this service, being large, the paper substantial, and type good. No. thing can exceed the despatch with which the numerous impressions are worked off, the mechanical operations having reached a perfection calculated to astonish those who would examine them.

What is done in the courts of law, is disseminated in the same way. Every argument, trial, and decision, of whatever nature, or before whatever court, goes immediately into the newspapers. There is no delay. The following morning ushers it forth. I took the liberty of remarking to one of the judges, upon the smallness of the rooms in which the courts of King's Bench and Chancery sit, when the proceedings were so interesting that great numbers of the public would like to hear them. We sit,said he, every day in the newspapers.How much did that answer comprehend ! what an increase of responsibility in the judge ! I understood, from a source not less high, that the newspapers are as much to be relied upon, as the books of law reports in which the cases are afterwards published ; that, in fact, the newspaper report is apt to be the best, being generally the most full, as well as quite accurate. If not the latter, the newspaper giving it would soon fall into disrepute, and give way to more accurate competitors. Hence, he who keeps his daily London paper, has, at the year's end, a volume of the annual law reports of the kingdom, besides all other matter ; and what variety, what entertainment, what a fund of original discussion and anecdote, does every paper contain !

In the discussions, editorial as otherwise, there is a remarkable fearlessness. Things that in Junius' time would have put London in a flame, and things as well written, pass almost daily without notice. Neither the sovereign nor his family are spared. Parliament sets the example, and the newspapers follow. Of this, the debates on the royal marriages in the course of the present month, give illustrations. There are countries in which the press is more free, by law, than with the English ; for although they impose no previous restraints, their definition of libel is so loose, that a jury may make one out of almost any thing ; but perhaps no where has the press, in point of fact, so much latitude.

Every thing goes into the newspapers. In other countries, matter of a public nature may be seen in them; here, in addition, you see perpetually the concerns of mere individuals. Does a private gentleman come to town, or take his departure for Brighton? you hear it in the newspapers; does he build a house, or buy an estate? they give the information; does he entertain his friends; you have all their names next day in type, with sometimes also a list of the very dishes and courses; is the drapery of a lady's drawing room changed from red damask and gold to white satin and silver ? the fact is publicly announced. So of a thousand other things. The first burst of it all upon Madame de Stael, led her to remark, that the English seemed to have realized the fable of living with a window in their bosoms. It may be thought that this is confined to a class, who, surrounded by the allurements of wealth, seek this kind of publicity to their names and movements. If it were only so, the class is large, beyond all parallel, in England ; but its influence affects other classes, giving each in their way the habit of allowing their personal inclinations and objects to be dealt with in print; so that, altogether, these are thrown upon the public to an extent without example in any other country, ancient or modern. When the drama at Athens took cognisance of private life, what was said became known first to a few listeners ; then to a small town ; but in three days, a London newspaper reaches every part of the kingdom, and in three months every part of the globe.

Some will suppose that the newspapers govern the country. Nothing would be more unfounded. There is a power not only in the government, but in the country itself above them, and this lies in the educated classes. True, the daily press is of the educated class ; for its conductors hold the pens of scholars, often of statesmen. Hence, you see no editorial personalities ; which, moreover, the public would not bear. But what goes into the columns of newspapers, no matter from what sources, comes into contact with equals at least in mind among readers, and a thousand to one in 'number. The bulk of these are unmoved by what newspapers say, if opposite to their own opinions; which passing quickly from one to another in a society where population is dense, make head against the daily press, after its first efforts are spent upon classes less enlightened. Half the people of England live in towns, which augments moral as physical power; the last, by strengthening rural parts through demand for their products—the first by sharpening intellect through opportunities of collision. The daily press could master opposing mental forces, if scattered ; but not when they can combine. The general literature of the country also reacts against newspapers. The permanent press, as distinct from the daily, teems with productions. There is a great and powerful class of authors always existent in England, whose sway exceeds that of the newspapers as the main body the pioneers. The periodical literature is also effective; a match at least for the newspapers, when its time arrives. It is more elementary ; less hasty. In a word, the daily press in England, with its floating capital in talents, zeal, and money, can do much at an onset. It is an organised corps, full of spirit and always ready ; but there is a higher power of mind and influence behind, that can rally and defeat it. From the latter source it may also be presumed, that a more deliberate judgment will in the end be formed on difficult questions, than from the first impulses and more premature discussions of the daily journals. The latter move in their proper orbit by reflecting also, in the end, the higher judgment by which they have been controlled. Such are some of the considerations that strike the stranger who reads their daily newspapers. They make a wonderful part of the social system in England.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »