Page images



MATTHEW HENRY, born in Flintshire in 1662, studied law, but afterwards became a Nonconformist minister. Chester and Hackney were the scenes of his labour. His name is now remembered chiefly for that Commentary on the Bible, which his death in 1714 prevented him from finishing.

RICHARD BENTLEY, who was born in 1662 and died in 1742, became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Regius Professor of Divinity in that university. He has been called the greatest classical scholar England ever produced. Editions of Horace, Terence, and Phædrus are among his principal works. He also edited Milton, but with very small success.

SIR JOHN VANBRUGH, born about 1666, was a sugar-baker's son, who produced architectural designs, and wrote witty but licentious comedies. Under Queen Anne he was Clarencieux King-at-arms; and under George I., Comptroller of the royal works. The Provoked Wife is, perhaps, his best play. Blenheim and Castle Howard were his chief works as an architect. Vanbrugh died in 1726.

JOHN ARBUTHNOT, born in Kincardineshire in 1667, was noted in London as a physician, a writer, and a wit. He wrote, besides several other things, much of Martin Scriblerus, published in Pope's works—the History of John Bull (1712), which was a fine piece of ridicule aimed at Marlborough-treatises on the Scolding of the Ancients, and the Art of Political Lying. The very titles of his works express their humorous tone. He was physician in ordinary to Queen Anne, and died in 1735.

WILLIAM CONGREVE was an exception to the common lot of his dramatic brethren, for he lived and died in opulence and ease. Born in Yorkshire about 1670, he became at twenty-two a dramatic author. But he had the good fortune to obtain several government situations, which, when swelled by the emoluments of the secretaryship of Jamaica, received in 1715, were worth about £1200 a year. The same calamity that darkened the old age of Milton, fell on the latter days of Congreve ; but the licentious dramatist had not the same pure, angelic visions, to solace his hours of blindness as passed before the mental eye of the great Puritan.



Congreve wrote one tragedy, The Mourning Bride. His comedies are steeped in vice. How much this writer was idolized in his own day, may be judged from the strange honours paid by a Duchess of Marlborough to his memory. Having caused images of the dead poet to be made, one of ivory and one of wax, she placed the former daily at her table, and caused the feet of the latter to be regularly blistered and rubbed by her doctors, as had been done for the gouty limbs of the dying man, when he was a member of her household. Congreve's life came to a close in 1729.

GEORGE FARQUHAR, born in Londonderry in 1678, was an actor, a military officer, and a writer of comedies. His chief plays are The Recruiting Officer (1706), and The Beaux' Strata gem (1707). He died in his thirtieth year. Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Congreve, and Farquhar form a group of comic-dramatists, who reflect vividly in their works the glittering and wicked life which courtiers and fashionables lived during the half century between the Restoration and the accession of the Guelphs.

[ocr errors]








Earliest newspapers.
Papers of the Civil War.
London Gazette.
The Newsletter.
Liberty of the Press.

Parliamentary debates.
Early reporting.
The Times.
High pressure.
Addison and Steele.

Periodical writers.
A literary contrast.

THE Acta Diurna of ancient Rome, the Gazetta of Venice, and the Affiche of France contained the germs from which grew the modern newspaper or journal. Small sheets or packets of news began to appear in England during the reign of James I. ; and when the Thirty Years' War set all Britain on the qui vive, one of these, entitled The News of the Present Week, was established in 1622, to give the latest particulars of the great Continental struggle. This may be considered our first regular newspaper. The earlier newspamphlets had no fixed time of publication.

The Civil War between Charles and his Parliament gave a political tone to this infant journalism. Each party had several organs; and a furious paper war kept pace with the sterner conflict that convulsed the land. Very curious and often comical are the titles of these news-books—for papers they can scarcely be called, being chiefly in the form of quarto pamphlets. Once, twice, thrice a week there came out a host of bitter and malicious Scotch Doves, Parliament Kites, Secret Owls ; and when the Weekly

[blocks in formation]

Discoverer saw the light, at once there sprang up a rival, The Weekly Discoverer Stripped Naked. Mercurys of many sorts abounded on both sides.

The reigns of Charles II. and his brother James were fruitful in newspapers of small size, and generally of short life. The fantastic folly of the age was often reflected in both title and contents. How we should laugh now at the appearance of a paper entitled, as was one of these, News from the Land of Chivalry, being the Pleasant and Delectable History and Wonderful and Strange Adventures of Don Rugero de Strangmento, Knight of the Squeaking Fiddlestick. Macaulay tells us that the quantity of matter contained in one of these publications during a whole year was not more than is often found in two numbers of the “Times.” Of The London Gazette, which came out on Mondays and Thursdays, “ the contents generally were a royal proclamation, two or three Tory addresses, notices of two or three promotions, an account of a skirmish between the imperial troops and the Janissaries on the Danube, a description of a highwayman, an announcement of a grand cockfight between two persons of honour, and an advertisement offering a reward for a strayed dog. The whole made up two pages of moderate size."

At this time the Newsletter did the work of our daily papers. News was to be learned chiefly in the coffee-houses, which were thronged all day long by the idle men, and for some hours were frequented by even the busiest men, in the capital. The evening before post-day, the correspondents of the country districts gathered all the scraps of intelligence they had collected in their daily rambles into the form of a letter, which went down duly by the post to enlighten justices of peace in their offices, country rectors in their studies, village tradesmen and neighbouring farmers in the sanded tap-rooms of rustic ale-houses. When we remember the slowness of communication a hundred and fifty years ago, it will not seem wonderful that the country was a week or a fortnight behind the town in the current history of the times. To us, who have electric wires and penny papers, this would seem intolerable.



It is not our purpose here to enter into a detailed account of the growth of the English newspaper. To do so would carry us far beyond our available space. The press, when freed in 1694 from restrictions on its liberty, advanced with rapid strides. There was something of a check, when the Tory government in 1712 laid a stamp-tax on newspapers—a halfpenny on half a sheet, a penny on a whole sheet, and a shilling on every advertisement. But through all checks its onward progress was steady

and sure.

Yet it was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the parliamentary debates began to be reported at any length. Nor was it without a fierce struggle that the London printers won this important right. Of those who did stout battle for the public in this contest, William Woodfall was most prominent. A meagre summary at first, and some days later, an elaborate version of the speeches, some perhaps written, but many certainly retouched, by Dr. Johnson or other leading littérateur of the day, formed the parliamentary debate as it appeared in print before Woodfall's reporting began. Having set up the Diary in 1789, this extraordinary man would listen for many hours, froin the strangers' gallery in St. Stephen's, to the progress of the debate, and then, going to the printing office, would write off from memory all that he had heard. His report sometimes extended to sixteen columns -each not, of course, containing anything like the matter of a column in the “ Times” of our day, but yet large enough to make the feat a rare and remarkable instance of what the educated memory can retain. This, however, was too much for a man to do for more than a few years. There are, indeed, few men who could do it at all. The employment of several reporters to divide the labour, and the subsequent introduction of reporting in shorthand, enabled the papers to furnish earlier and more accurate accounts of what was done in the Houses of Parliament.

On the first of January 1788 appeared the first number of The Times, the new form of the little Daily Register, that had already been for three years in existence. It was a puny, meagre thing, compared with its gigantic offspring, which is delivered damp

« PreviousContinue »