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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

Was more than rather disreputable


Certainly

not less, perhaps even more, distinctive of the time in history must be that development and transformation of what is broadly called the newspaper, of which the facts and details have occupied two more of these chapters. It is true that at times considerably earlier than even the earliest that here concerns us, periodical writing had been something of a power in England as regards politics, had enlisted eminent hands, and had even served once or twice as the means of introduction of considerable works in _belles lettres_. But the Addisonian Essay had been something of an accident; Swift's participation in the _Examiner_ was another; Defoe's abundant journalism brought him more discredit than profit or praise; and though Pulteney and the Opposition worked the press against Walpole, the process brought little benefit to the persons concerned. Reviewing was meagrely done and wretchedly paid; the examples of _Robinson Crusoe_ earlier and _Sir Launcelot Greaves_ later are exceptions which prove the rule that the _feuilleton_ was not in demand; in fact before our present period newspaper-writing was rather dangerous, was more than rather disreputable, and offered exceedingly little encouragement to any one to make it the occasion of work in pure literature, or even to employ it as a means of livelihood, while attempting other and higher, though less paying kinds.

The period of the French Revolution, if not the French Revolution itself, changed all

this, assisted no doubt by the natural and inevitable effects of the spread of reading and the multiplication of books. People wanted to see the news; papers sprang up in competition to enable them to see the news; and the competitors strove to make themselves more agreeable than their rivals by adding new attractions. Again, the activity of the Jacobin party, which early and of course directed itself to the press, necessitated activity on the other side. The keenest intellects, the best-trained wits of the nation, sometimes under some disguise, sometimes openly, took to journalism, and it became simply absurd to regard the journalist as a disreputable garreteer when Windham and Canning were journalists. The larger sale of books and the formation of a regular system of "pushing" them also developed reviews--too frequently, no doubt, in the direction of mere puffing, but even thus with the beneficent result that other reviews came into existence which were not mere puff-engines.

Even these causes and others will not entirely explain the extraordinary development of periodicals of all kinds from quarterly to daily, of which the _Edinburgh_, _Blackwood_, the _Examiner_, and the _Times_ were respectively the most remarkable examples and pioneers in the earlier years of the century, though as a literary organ the _Morning Post_ had at first rather the advantage of the _Times_. But, as has been said here constantly, you can never explain everything in literary history; and it would be extremely dull if you could. The newspaper press had, for good or for ill, to come; external events to some obvious extent helped its coming; individual talents and aptitudes helped it likewise; but the main determining force was the force of hidden destiny.


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