Page images
PDF
EPUB

House of Stuart; and when the queen, in an interval of conscious. ness, delivered the staff of the highest office to the duke of Shrewsbury--who had been in concert with the dukes of Somerset and Argyle-her death, on the morning of the ist of August, gave the power of the government to the friends of the House of Bruns. wicke

LITERATURE AND MANNERS.

279

CHAPTER XV.

Literature and Manners of the earlier part of the eighteenth century.—The Tatler.

News-writers and Pamphleteers.-Dunton's “ Athenian Gazette.”-Defoe's Review. -The Spectator and the Guardian.-Influence and objects of the Essayists.- Low state of education.- The Essayists diffusers of knowledge. - Joint labours of Steele and Addison.—The Spectator's Club.-Fiction.-Reading for females.- Literary Piracy.-Copyright Act.-Literature as a Profession.-The Poets.- Alexander Pope.

[ocr errors]

66

[ocr errors]

Addison has shadowed out an “imaginary historian, describing the reign of Anne I.,'' some two or three hundred years after his time, “ who will make mention of the men of genius and learning who have now any figure in the British nation.” He fancies a paragraph which he has drawn up“ will not be altogether unlike what will be found on some page or other of this imaginary listorian." It runs thus: “It was under this reign that the Spectator' published those little diurnal essays which are still extant. We know very little of the name or person of this author, except only that he was a man of a very short face, extremely addicted to silence, and so great a lover of knowledge, that he made a voyage to Grand Cairo for no other reason but to take the measure of a pyramid. His chief friend was one Sir Roger de Coverley, a whimsical country knight, and a Templar, whose name has not been transmitted to us.

He lived as a lodger at the house of a widow-woman, and was a great humourist in all parts of his life. This is all we can affirm with any certainty of his person and character. As for his speculations, notwithstanding the several obsolete words and obscure phrases of the age in which he lived, we still understand enough of them to see the diversions and characters of the English nation in his time.” * It was a bold effort of imagination to believe that any historian would turn from Marlborough and the Preten ler, from Mrs. Masham and Dr. Sacheverel, to “ little diur

or bestow any attention upon “the diversions and characters of the English nation." Tindal wholly leaves such frivolous matters to their own perishableness. Smollett merely notices the expulsion of Mr. Steele from the House of Commons, and only mentions Mr. Addison as Secretary of State. Our readers will pardon us in going farther than the “imaginary histo

• "Spectator," No. 101.

nal essays;'

a

rian”-in turning aside from battles and sieges, from lord-treasur. ers and ladies of the bedchamber, to linger with some of “the men of genius and learning” who illustrated this period, in companionship with the short-faced man “ who was a great humourist in all parts of his life,” and with his brother humourist who rejoiced in the name of Bickerstaff. We cannot look at one of these agreeable moralists as separated by superiority of intellect or refinement from the other. Never were two men morc fitted than Addison and Steele to be fellow-labourers in the works which have associated their names for all time. These works form a broad and safe foundation for a general outline of the minuter characteristics of the national mind and manners, in the three, and partially in the four, first decades of the eighteenth century. We offer this outline as supplementary to the graver views of England's industrial and social condition, which we have given at the beginning of this volume.

On Tuesday, the 12th of April, 1709, appeared a small folio half-sheet, of four columns, which professed to teach “ politick persons what to think," and "moreover, to have something which may be of entertainment to the fair sex," in honour of whom the title of “Tatler "was chosen. Further it was said, " forasmuch as this globe is not trodden upon by mere drudges of business only, but that men of spirit and genius are justly to be esteemed as considerable agents in it, we shall not upon a dearth of news present you with musty foreign edicts, or dull proclamations, but shall divide our relation of the passages which occur in action or discourse throughout this town, as well as elsewhere, under such dates of places as may prepare you for the matter you are to expect, in the following manner: All accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment shall be under the article White's Chocolate-house; poetry, under that of Will's Coffee-house; learning under the title of Grecian; foreign and domestic news you will have from St. James's Coffee-house; and what else I shall on any other subject offer, shall be dared from my own apartment.” This is a comprehensive scheme, and withala very complex one. But the reason of these devices is obvious. The ingenious editor desired to avail himself of the advantages of his official appointment as Gazetteer, to produce something like a newspaper; but the man of wit would also aim at something better than the conductors of newspapers proper aimed at, of which one of their fraternity said, “We read more of our affairs in the Dutch papers than in any of our own.”* This complaint of the newspapers was written in the year 1709--the year in which Isaac Bicker.

• Prospectus of Evening Post.--Andrews' “ History of British Journalism,” vol. i. po

103

NEWS-WRITERS AND PAMPHLETEERS.

281

[ocr errors]

staff was making provisions against “a dearth of news ;” the year of negotiations for peace, which ended in the carnage of Malplaquet; the year in which the adverse camps of High-church and Low-church, of Tory and Whig, were alive with the keenest excitement of preparation for a great coming struggle. “A dearth of news” at such a period ! Yet if we consider of what materials the newspaper of the beginning of the eighteenth century was constructed, we shall cease to be surprised at the machinery which Steele devised to make his quasi-newspaper entertaining. Cumbrous as that machinery may now appear to us, it was contrived with considerable skill. The real news-writer was surrounded with a hundred difficulties and perils. The “ Tatler" pretended that he was obliged to keep "an ingenious man to go daily to the coffee-houses to pick up his intelligence ; and no doubt such was the mode in which the greater part of the news of the “Observator," of the “ Postboy,” of the “ Flying Post,” of the News Letter,” was concocted. The news-writer was shut out of the House of Lords and out of the House of Commons; he never went into the law courts, for, except on great occasions, the people took no interest in their proceedings; he ran extreme risk in giving any political news, for the "publisher of false news ” was a person for whom the pillory was an especial terror; he had no correspondents in distant parts of England ; at the beginning of the century, Stamford and Norwich were the only towns that had their especial papers, from which he could transfer their meagre paragraphs about a murder or an execution ; Scotland and Ireland had as little

a intelligence to furnish the London journalist as bad the American colonies : and so the coffee-house, with its rumours about public events, became the “ Staple of Newes," and the discreet reporter always prefaced his information with “We hear"-"It is said ”"There is a talk "_" They continue to say.” The cheap tractwriter tasked his imagination to produce much more exciting narratives than the dull paragraph-monger. The pamphleteer was the ** Penny-a-liner” of the time of the “ Tatler.” He had the same inexhaustible materials to work upon as the “penny-a-liner” of our own time ; although the mode in which this form of genius is now developed is somewhat changed. He of the earlier day is thus described : “ His brain, which was his estate, had as regular and different produce as other men's land. From the beginning of November until the opening of the campaign, he writ pamphlets and letters to members of parliament or friends in the country. But sometimes he would relieve his ordinary readers with a murder, and lived comfortably a week or two upon ştrange and lamento

[ocr errors]

able accidents. A little before the armies took the field, his way was to open your attention with a prodigy; and a monster, well writ, was two guineas the lowest price. This prepared his readers for his great and bloody news from Flanders in June and July." Steele tried to interest the town in a different way. The worthy quidnunc, attracted by the name of Bickerstaff, to which name Swift had given popularity, gladly received the first number of the “ Tatler” which was delivered without charge, or he expended a penny when the “gratis stock ” of the first number was exhausted. But he must have been wonderfully surprised when reading the opening “relation of the passages which occur in action or discourse throughout this town,” he found a brief narrative of "the deplorable condition of a very pretty gentleman.” which article “may be of great instruction to all who actually are, or who ever shall be, in love."

The “Athenian Gazette,” of the eccentric bookseller, John Dunton, had given the public of the time of William III. some notion of a weekly paper without politics. It professed to resolve “all the most nice and curious questions proposed by the ingenjous ;” but it fell far short of the magnificent intention of its projector, “ to raise the soul, as 'twere, into daylight, and restore the knowledge of truth and happiness.” \ It commenced in 1691, and was continued till 1696-a jumble of quaint nonsense with occasional gleams of meaning. The “Review" of Defoe appeared, in penny weekly numbers, five years before the " Tatler.” It was subsequently issued twice a week. The “ Review was principally occupied by Defoe's earnest speculations on political affairs. It also contained lighter matters, in describing the proceedings of a “Scandal Club.” Some of these papers on manners are valuable, chiefly because their writer looked upon the town from another point of view than that of the wits and gossipers of the coffeehouses. But he saw only the broader aspects of society ; felt little interest in its amusements; despised its frivolities; and confined his observation to the green pastures of virtue and wisdom, and the sands and morasses of vice and folly, without caring much for that great border-land which supplied “ human nature's daily food.” Defoe was no model for Steele, although the honour of being the leader in the march of the essayists has been assigned to him. Defoe was indeed the only writer of high talent who first saw the power of the periodical mode of publication. Dunton had preceded Defoe in this discovery, which ultimately revolutionized the entire system of our lighter literature, and turned an age of pamphlets • "Tatler," No. 101.

't Dunton's "Life and Errors," p. 248.

[ocr errors]

a

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »