The enormous reputation for both power and ability which our leading newspapers possess is due in a considerable degree to the impatience which every one feels of being governed in a prosaic way. No one likes to believe that the commonplace, unexciting scenes which he witnesses, or hears of, in the House of Commons really constitute the process of governing a great nation. People look for something more striking, and they find it in the notion of an invisible power called " Public Opinion," produced as we suppose by a set of unknown persons of prodigious genius, whose names are mysteriously concealed by the editors of the leading London papers, by whom they are from time to time invoked for the purpose of directing the different branches of human affairs with which they happen to be specially familiar. Few people have a definite notion of what a newspaper really is, of the different classes of persons who write it, and of the real extent of its influence on the course of affairs.
Newspapers are composed of two principal parts—the original matter and the news. These two parts occupy different proportions in different papers. Daily papers are composed principally of news, and weekly papers of original matter. The original matter may be further subdivided into leading articles upon political subjects or incidents of the day, and reviews of books; and the news might also be divided into that which is provided for serious and businesslike purposes, and that which is provided for amusement. The words Intelligence and Gossip would describe not inappropriately the elements of which it is composed. Each of these departments of a newspaper is written by different people on different principles, and requires the employment of different kinds and degrees of ability; and in order to get an adequate notion of the complex whole called a Newspaper, it is necessary to know something of each of these different heads.
There is, however, one great leading principle which underlies all the rest, and which affects, and, indeed, may be almost said to determine, the character of every separate branch of journalism, though hardly any one who writes or thinks on the subject appears to keep it in sight. This is the fact, that a newspaper is beyond everything else a commercial undertaking. Whatever else it does or omits to do, it must either pay or stop. This is an alternative which it is impossible to evade. Here and there, possibly, a rich man, who can indulge his fancies without reference to his money profit, may amuse himself by setting up a paper simply for the expression of his own views; but this is not only a mere exception and anomaly, but it is an apparent exception which, in the strictest sense of the words, proves the rule. Even in such a case the paper cannot be sold, unless the public are disposed to buy it, though it may be printed; so that unless it complies with the conditions of commercial success it can exercise no sort of influence, and give no currency to the opinions which it expresses. This principle ultimately determines the character of all periodical literature whatever. A paper may guide, or bully, or flatter, or instruct, or amuse the public, or it may do all these things at different times and in different degrees, but unless it does for the public something which the public likes it does nothing at all. Whatever may be the tone and bearing of journalists, they are in reality the servants of the public, and the course which they take is, and always will be, ultimately determined by the public.
To this general observation there are limitations of considerable importance; but the observation is true, on the whole, and in reality determines the whole character of newspapers, and influences in different ways every one of the parts of which they are composed. Of these parts, the leading articles are unquestionably the most characteristic and conspicuous, though, perhaps, in a commercial point of view, they are less important to the success of a paper than the news. They, however, are the part of the paper by which its standing and influence are determined; for it would be easy to mention journals which have an immense circulation, and form most valuable properties, though they are absolutely without any political or literary influence whatever. This is the case with several country papers which circulate over many counties, and contain little else than advertisements and petty local news. Really good leading articles are remarkable productions, and deserve more careful and impartial criticism than they receive. In the state of society in which we live at present, they form the greater part of the reading even of the most educated part of the adult members of the busy classes. In our days, men live like bees in a hive. They are constantly occupied in ingenious efforts to produce small results, in which for the most part they succeed. This leaves men very little time to use their minds upon any other subjects than those which their daily round of duties presents, and accordingly they are forced to live upon intellectual mince-meat. Their food must be chopped up small before they eat it; and it must be so prepared as at once to tempt the appetite, and assist the digestion. Leading articles have been brought to their present perfection, in order to meet this want. This condition determines both their substance and their form. As to their substance, they must refer to the topics of the day; as to their form, they must be perfectly clear, attractively written, and relevant throughout to some one well-marked point. Each of these conditions contributes materially to the general effect which they produce.
In the first place they must refer to the topics of the day. This consideration shows one set of limits which the nature of the case imposes on the power of newspapers. A newspaper can deal with the subjects which its contributors care for only under the forms in which the subjects present themselves, and the course of events may be such that the most honest and ablest writer will not get the chance of speaking his mind upon those parts of the matter which he considers most important, or of justifying, or even explaining, the principles on which his views are based. Take as an illustration the civil war in America. A newspaper writer has to make a series of observations on every phase of the struggle which presents itself, each of which comments must be in substance the expansion of some one more or less apposite and weighty remark. For example, he has to say some one thing about President Lincoln's Message, about the battle of Bull Run, about the effect of the blockade on the cotton trade, about the campaign in Virginia and on the Mississippi, and so forth; but he never, or hardly ever, gets the chance, even if he had the power, of taking a comprehensive view of the whole subject, reducing the whole matter to order and principle, and setting before his readers something like a real judgment upon it. The reader of a long series of leading articles in the same paper on such a subject generally gets the impression that the writer of them probably knows little more about the matter when he finishes than he did when he began. Such articles never form a connected whole. They rarely show traces of gradually increasing knowledge; they are simply more or less clever and sensible passing remarks made by a man whose business it is to reduce his observations into a particular sort of form. No doubt there is a general consistency about them. They are usually written by one author, who naturally looks at the subject from his own point of view, and bases his different remarks upon the same principle; but many are as completely the creatures of the particular circumstances which suggest them as the speeches of barristers in court are the creatures of the particular incidents of each successive case. The analogy between the speeches of counsel and leading articles is almost perfect, and is derived from the fact that the speaker and the writer are in essentially the same position. Each is speaking from a particular point of view, and with the purpose of effecting a particular result. The object of the advocate is to promote the interests of his client. That of the journalist is to apply to the special facts with which he has to do the principle on which his paper has hitherto dealt with facts of that class. This is a sort of advocacy the advocacy of a view or a principle instead of a person—the conclusion being given, the premisses are to be shown to fit into it. The way in which different papers have treated the principal incidents of the war in America illustrate this. Some of these, which have favoured the North throughout, see in every instance in which the Northerners succeed a confirmation of their views. Others, whilst they admit the facts, do it with apparent reluctance, and dwell by preference on the difficulty which the North will find in governing the South when they have conquered it.
Many of the peculiarities which distinguish leading articles from other literary compositions may be explained by bearing in mind their circumstances, which go far to explain most both of their strong and weak points, as well as their peculiar style, and the degree in which they guide, or are guided by, public opinion. The strong point of a leading article is almost invariably the same, namely, its talent. The ability with which such articles are written is not only generally admitted, but is almost always exaggerated. Even those who complain of the way in which newspapers are written, and of the sort of influence which they exercise over the general course of affairs, usually couple their complaints with the strongest recognition of their ability. The editor and his contributors are called "able" and "brilliant" just as a lawyer is called "learned," or an officer "gallant." Indeed, the manner in which leading articles are generally spoken of, even amongst people of considerable education and acquirements, is almost slavish. The better class of them are constantly referred to as if there were something altogether strange and unattainable to ordinary persons in the power of writing them. That men should be found whose practice it is to write three or four such essays every week is sometimes considered as a sort of intellectual wonder; and surprise is expressed, or affected that any one should have a sufficient variety of knowledge and command of language to write impressively and instructively on so great a variety of subjects. The truth is, that the degree of ability which leading articles display, and the sort of talent required to write them, admit of being measured with a considerable precision. The best leading articles that are written are nothing more than samples of the conversation of educated men upon passing events, methodized and thrown into a sustained and literary shape. They seldom or never rise above this level, except under very uncommon and peculiar circumstances. In order to appreciate their character fully, it is necessary to have a correct notion of the character and position in life of their authors. They form a small but important class of society, and one which is almost peculiar to our own time and country. The leading articles of our leading newspapers—those which exercise any sort of influence over the opinions of the public at large—are written, probably, by not more than a hundred people. At least, that number would include all those who form the permanent staff of the papers in question, and are habitually relied upon by the proprietors for the supply of articles. They are, generally speaking, able and educated men, who, from some cause or other, have as it were been caught in some of the eddies of the main streams which are navigated in search of wealth and distinction, or have reached comparatively early secure shelves which connect them with the business of life, and leave them a certain degree of leisure, and an appetite for some additional income. Our leading journalists are barristers waiting for business, or resigned to the want of it; clergymen unattached, who regret their choice of a profession which their conscience or inclination forbids them to practise, and which the law forbids them to resign; Government officials, whose duties are not connected with party politics, and do not occupy the whole of their time; and in a few cases men of independent means, who have a fancy for writing, and who wish to increase their incomes. It is difficult to illustrate the description of a class so small and peculiar without personality, but Mr. Carlyle's account of the late Captain Stirling will give to those who are not acquainted with the members of this class a sufficiently definite notion of the sort of persons of whom it is composed. His description of the manner in which his articles were written, accounts both for the merits and defects of such compositions. He used, says his biographer, to pass a great part of his time in talking over the affairs of the day with men actively engaged or interested in their management. He then, by an effort which constant practice rendered very easy, reduced into a definite shape, and as it were brought to a point, the general result of what he had been hearing and saying through the day. This exactly illustrates the specific distinguishing faculty, in virtue of which men become first-rate journalists. It is the power of filling the mind rapidly and almost unconsciously with the floating opinions of the day, throwing these opinions into a precise, connected, and attractive form, and above all, of bringing them to a definite point. Without this power no one can write a leading article at all, but those who possess it may employ it with endless degrees of knowledge and skill. No amount of information or thought will enable a man to write a readable leading article without it; but the goodness of the article, when written, will depend entirely upon the degree of information and reflection which the writer brings to the subject. It is not so much the knowledge and the thought, as the faculty of composition, which surprises ordinary readers, for they can to some extent appreciate the difficulty of composing, while few of them are able to form any estimate of the degree of special knowledge which a writer may possess. This surprise, however, is ill placed. The faculty of composing leading articles is merely a form of technical skill, like the handiness of a mechanic, the fluency and readiness of a barrister, or the delicate touch of a musician. By a certain amount of practice a man gets to see daily at a glance whether or not a topic is of the proper size to fill a column and a quarter of the type in which his articles are printed. At any odd time—whilst taking a walk, or in reading the newspaper, or smoking a cigar—he gets into his head the point of the article, and one or two of the main topics which are to illustrate and enforce it in a paragraph a piece, and when this is once satisfactorily done, it flows from the end of his pen with perfect and almost unconscious ease. Of course, when a man has reached this point, little substantial improvement in his productions is to be expected, though long experience will no doubt add something to the accuracy of his judgment and much to the readiness and confidence with which his opinions are formed; subject to this, he writes on the Saturday pretty much what he wrote on the Monday, and in December as he did in January.
This account of the authors of leading articles explains not only the reason why they are anonymous, but the jealousy and pertinacity with which the most influential newspapers always vindicate the practice of anonymous journalism. The common phrase about stabbing in the dark, cowardice, and the like, are ludicrously untrue. Probably most of the ablest and permanent contributors to important newspapers know perfectly well that scores, perhaps hundreds of people—and those, too, the very persons on whose opinion they set most value—can identify to a moral certainty every article they write, and many of them make no kind of secret of the fact that they do write them. They are thus subject, as it is, to the same sort of responsibility as the practice of signing their names would involve. What they object to is the very consequence which many of those who are anxious to establish the practice of signatures secretly like, namely, notoriety. A man whose social or professional position or prospects are already good, dislikes nothing so much as parading his name before the public in connection with pursuits which form only a part of his life, and probably the part which interests him least. He has as little wish that ten or twenty thousand people should have their attention directed to his name at the bottom of a column of type twice or three times a week, as he has to see it labelled all over the walls in connection with a quack medicine.
Nothing can be more characteristic of the difference between French and English journalists than the difference of sentiment and habit on this point. In its palmy days under Louis Philippe, journalism in France was not only a profession, but was the principal avenue to political power; and the consequence was, that long before the passing of the law making signatures compulsory, means were taken by the principal newspaper writers to give the widest possible publicity to their connection with their respective journals.
The general character of leading articles may also be explained in the same way. In almost all the most influential papers, their tone is conservative in the extreme upon all essential points, however they may favour political liberalism. It is easy to trace in every one proof of the fact that its author has a strong interest in the maintenance of all the chief principles and institutions of society, and a general conviction that alterations in them are rash. Experience has seldom proved anything more conclusively than the proposition that, in a rich and intelligent country, a perfectly free press is one of the greatest safeguards of peace and order. Under such circumstances it is nearly certain that the ablest newspapers will be both read and written by and for the comfortable part of society, and will err rather on the side of making too much of their interests than on that of neglecting them.
From what has been said, it is easy to describe the degree in which newspapers form and in which they follow public opinion. In the first place the paper must sell. Hence opinions highly distasteful, and altogether unfamiliar to the public, cannot be expressed at all. For example, it would be practically impossible to establish a newspaper in the present day on avowedly anti-Christian principles. One or two attempts of the kind have been made, and have failed utterly and speedily. A second restriction is, that the matter written must refer to the events of the day, and that closely and pointedly. This prevents a journalist from expressing many of his opinions, and ties him down to expressing such of the opinions he holds on particular subjects as can be thrown into a definite and pointed form. If M. de Tocqueville were now writing in The Times, he would be able to give definite opinions about the military prospects of the North and South respectively, but he would not be able to impress upon the public at large his philosophical theories about the strong and weak points of democratic institutions. Thirdly, a journalist loses his power over the public if he ceases to be a journalist, and puts himself forward as the organ of a particular party or cry. The theory of journalism, as accepted by the public at large, is, that the writers of leading articles bona fide observe upon the events of the day, without any particular bias other than that which is involved in the peculiarities of their own personal character. If a paper pertinaciously sticks to a particular point, in season and out of season, its readers attach no weight to what it says. They say it is the organ of a party, and that its view upon the matter in question is owing to some personal theory, or fancy or connection of the proprietors. Some ten years ago, for example, the Morning Chronicle was most ably written, and exercised considerable influence on many subjects; but in the midst of many articles which were obviously written as the bond fide expression of opinion on current, events, there was a current of High Church theology which stood entirely alone, contrasted in the strongest way with the rest of the paper, and exercised no influence whatever with the public beyond dissuading them from reading it. The line taken by The Times for many years on the subject of the poor laws was another example of the same thing. On almost every other subject the opinions expressed were those which intelligent and educated men might well deduce from current events, but as to the poor laws the paper had a sort of twist or crotchet, and the consequence was that the public attached very little weight to what it said on the subject.
Subject, however, to these restrictions, the liberty which individual journalists enjoy, and their power to influence the public in the direction of their own views, are very considerable. It no more follows that because a paper must sell, its contributors will write whatever sells best, than it follows that because a man must live he will direct all his efforts to living as long as possible. On the contrary, when a newspaper has become an established concern, and has a recognized position, it is usually conducted with far more independence, and with a much greater reference to the honest individual opinion of particular writers, than people usually suppose.
The editor is almost always paid by a fixed salary; the contributors are paid either by salaries or by the article; so that neither the one nor the other has any strong immediate interest in the sale of a few hundred copies more or less. Moreover, neither editors nor contributors are to be hired like labourers in any required quantity. It is a work of considerable time and difficulty to form a good staff of writers, and to bring them into satisfactory relations with the editor and with each other; and when such a staff is formed it is animated by a strong esprit de corps, and like all other such bodies has, generally speaking, very decided opinions, and strong likes and dislikes. Of course their feelings find expression in the political and literary views of the paper, and its goodness and spirit are, generally speaking, in direct proportion to their originality and vivacity.
Besides this, both the public who read and the managers who conduct the paper know that men whose writings are worth having will not write what they do not think, and that if they did they would not write well; and that, on the other hand, the goodness of an article may be measured with accuracy by the degree of satisfaction which the author took in writing it. The general result of this is that nearly every article in a paper of standing influence is sure to be the genuine expression of the opinion of the person who wrote it.
Up to this point, and in this sense, the leading articles which appear in a paper may be said to form and to follow public opinion; but a very important qualification to this must be borne in mind. The editor determines which of his staff of contributors is to operate on public opinion, and of course he makes his selection with a view to the state of public opinion at the time when the selection is made. For example, if he had to determine which of his contributors should write about India, and if two of them knew a great deal about the subject, and one of those two looked at the whole matter, say from a missionary point of view, he would probably put the question into the hands of the other, unless the general tendency of the paper were to treat such subjects in a theological spirit. On the other hand, he might say to the other contributor, "Write about India by all means, but don't touch the religious side of the question." In either case the articles would be fair and truthful, as far as they went, though the selection of the man who was to write them, or of the mode in which he was to handle them, would be determined less by reference to the editor's own opinion of the merits of the case than by his own view of the state of public feeling on the matter.
Though the leading articles are, perhaps, the most important and characteristic part of a newspaper, the goodness of its news has perhaps even more to do with its commercial success. People who like the curiosities of civilization (to borrow the title of an entertaining book lately published) are never tired of dwelling upon the marvels of newspapers. We are bid to admire the variety and extent of the different articles of information extracted for our daily instruction and amusement, almost as often as our astonishment and reverence are bespoken for works like the Britannia or Victoria Bridges, or for the arrangements of manufactories or railways. Every morning, it is said, a mass of print, containing as much matter as a thick octavo volume, is laid on our breakfast-tables. It contains an accurate report of speeches which were made some hours after we went to bed, and of the incidents which took place up to a late hour of the night; it gives us on the same day letters from persons specially employed for the purpose of writing them, about the Chinese, the Americans, the Italians, the enfranchisement of the Russian serfs, and scores of other subjects; and besides this, it puts before us a sort of photograph of one day's history of the nation in which we live, including not only its graver occupations, such as legislation and commerce, but every incident a little out of the common way brought to light by police courts or recorded by local newspapers. This goes on till at the end of the year its story is comprised in a book larger than all the classics and all the standard histories of the world put together. This picture may be amplified and re-arranged in a thousand ways. There are persons who will count up the number of acres which a single number of The Times would cover if all the copies were spread out flat, or illustrate the quantity of copies by telling us how long the same weight of coal would serve an ordinary household, or enumerate the people who in different ways depend upon it for their livelihood. But when all is said and done, it is a mere question of money. There is really nothing at all extraordinary about the largest and best managed paper in the world, except the fact that it should be worth while to spend so much about it. Take, for example, the miracle that a speech delivered at two in the morning is sent by the six A.M. trains to every part of the country. What is there in it after all? The short-hand writer takes it down by a mere exercise of mechanical skill, and then writes out what he has taken down, and passes it to the printers, who stand ready to set it up. Given the capital to pay for short-hand writers and printers in sufficient number, it is what any one can do; nor is there really anything more astonishing in the fact than in the circumstance that a great contractor will be able to send a thousand navvies with all their tools to the scene of a railway accident on the shortest notice. Even in the editing, which is usually looked on with a sort of awe, there is no real difficulty, or at least not more than there is in other highly-paid professional labour.
The editor of a London daily paper has to turn night into day; but with that exception he is in much the same position as any other gentleman in his own class of life. He goes to his place of business, the office of the paper, in the course of the afternoon, or towards evening, looks over and corrects the leading articles, sees contributors, or people who call on business, and settles any matter requiring his interference that may arise in the mechanical departments of the paper, which are under the charge of inferiors. As soon as the printing oft' of the paper has begun, he writes letters about his leading articles for the next day, and goes home to bed. All this requires a considerable exercise of discretion and judgment, and the habits of a man of business.
For the subordinate duties in the management of a paper, no great ability is required, and none is displayed. To look through and condense the accounts given by reporters of public meetings, exhibitions, ceremonies, and incidents of various kinds, is a very prosaic employment; the highest qualification which it requires is an acquaintance with the law of libel, one result of which, in its present state, is to make the proprietors of a paper exceedingly careful as to the reports which they publish. The only part of the news of a paper which requires particular notice, are the letters of "special correspondents," which have now become an established institution. They are written with a lower form of the same sort of talent which is displayed in leading articles. As a general rule, the model on which their style is formed is peculiar, but not good. It is the characteristic style of reporters, who by nature are as verbose as attorneys and as glaring as scene-painters. In most cases the faults of style affect the substance, which is frequently composed of masses of glaring descriptions of perfectly trivial facts. It must, however, be admitted that special correspondents have their strong as well as their weak side. When they really have something definite and important to tell, and can persuade themselves to leave out what they call their photography, they tell it at times extremely well, and almost always with a surprising degree of authenticity. Sometimes they rise with the occasion, and describe important events as well as mere eye-witnesses who have to write on the spur of the moment, and cannot see everything that passes, can be expected to describe them. In all the stirring events which have been minutely described by special correspondents within the last few years, hardly a single instance can be mentioned in which they have not been substantially right as to matters of fact. This is a matter for which they deserve the highest praise, notwithstanding their style, which is for the most part vicious and gaudy.
Special correspondents are the most successful and eminent members of a class which is called into existence by the newspapers, and which in its turn contributes largely to their support—journalists, pure and simple, men who have no other occupation or position in life than that which they derive from newspapers, and no other prospects than those which lie in their success. They often begin their connection with papers in a very humble capacity, generally as clerks or reporters, and from that position they work their way forwards to a better position without much other education than the newspaper itself supplies. Such men at times rise to considerable eminence. Indeed in one or two instances they have acquired permanent and high distinction; but when they stop on the road they fall into very objectionable habits, for it is to writers of this kind that the public are indebted for most of the nonsense which pours in a ceaseless stream from the press. This nonsense is for the most part conceived in a peculiar shape. It constantly suggests that the writer himself has long since learnt by awful experience what he would call the dread secret of existence, but that he is merciful as well as strong, and that for the sake of his fellow-creatures he will not reveal what he knows. Hence he diffuses a gentle spirit of humanity and religion over his writings. He is the sort of person who calls an honourable man a "true heart" or a "loyal gentleman," and describes Dr. Johnson as "grand old Samuel." In a lighter mood, which is equally familiar to him, he becomes the lounger at the clubs, or the London correspondent who enlightens the readers of country newspapers as to the ways of the London world. In this character he is worth a moment's notice, for his performances suggest very curious inquiries as to the state of mind which they pre-suppose in his readers. What do they imagine, for example, "the clubs" really are, and to how many of those institutions is the lounger supposed to belong? It would frequently be interesting to know not only what the readers' views upon these subjects might be, but also what were the views of the writer himself; and indeed these are more easily ascertained than the others.
The writer who hears it "rumoured in the clubs" that A (he is far too familiar with every distinguished person to give any one of them the most modest handle to his name,) is going to write a new novel, and that B has paid him £10,000 for the copyright, probably imagines that the buildings in Pall Mall, with the outside of which he is so well acquainted, form a sort of republic to which all the fortunate members have access, and where they argue high on all matters political and literary. He would be astonished if he could see what the inside of a club is really like, and if he knew how few rumours the real loungers there set in circulation. The real and the ideal lounger form the strongest contrast. The ideal lounger is always hearing that Gladstone did this, and that Lewis said that, and that if Palmerston (whom he perhaps calls our noble viscount) had not done something else, Grey might or might not have said something to Derby. Then "turning to literary matters," he heirs that one eminent novelist has bought a new pair of boots, and that another has had his hair cut, and that the daughter of a third is going to have an offer of marriage from the son of a fourth. The real lounger is quite a different sort of person. He is probably a middle-aged, and rather stupid man, of moderate means, who eats a mutton-chop at two, reads newspapers, and dawdles till seven, then dines, and ponders and dozes over a book till bedtime, without hearing any rumours whatever. Sometimes the "lounger at the clubs" goes to the House of Commons as a "silent member," or a "voice from the gallery," or "whisper from the backstairs," and if so, his familiarity with all the affairs of the nation, and the people who manage them, is indeed wonderful to behold. He knows the exact reason for every part both of the words and of the silence of every member of the House, and calls them all not only by their names, but by their nicknames. In short, he acts on paper, though he probably does not know it, just the same part as the fellows in red coats and cocked hats at Epsom races, who are on familiar terms with every one on the course, especially if he is a nobleman. It must have been a gentleman of this class, hard-up for a dinner, who tried the other day to get one out of the keepers of the refreshment-room at the Exhibition, by threatening the exhibitors with his vengeance unless they treated him.
These worthy persons have several peculiarities, one of which is, that they are in the habit of selling their wares several times over. If any one will take the trouble to go to Peel's Coffee-house, where all the country papers in England are filed, he will find on inspection that there is a supernatural similarity between the leading articles and reviews, and London correspondence of journals in the most different parts of the country. He will find, for example, that the gentleman who addresses the fens lounges at the same clubs, and hears the same rumours in precisely the same words as his friend who enlightens Cornwall and Devonshire, whilst leading articles, with only colourable alterations, are addressed, say to Cheshire and Kent. A little practice will make a man so expert in this new art of manifold-writing that he will learn at last to write three or four articles at once, dictating, like Julius Caesar, one to his wife, and others to two of his daughters, whilst he himself writes a fourth. The intellectual feat, however, is not so great; as in Caesar's case the subjects were different, and the style of treatment was probably superior. Some little time ago, a ludicrous instance of the inconvenience of this mode of proceeding occurred. Two country papers published in the West of England, which we may call the Mercury and the Journal, carried on an internecine war like the Eatans will papers in Pickwick. One day the Journal accused the Mercury of having copied an article bodily without acknowledgment from a very popular London weekly paper. The Mercury replied with scorn that the article in question was supplied by a gentleman of "eminent literary acquirements," with whom an engagement had been made for that purpose, and added that probably the gentleman in question was connected with the London paper as well, and that his thoughts had flowed in the same channel twice over. Just as the paper was going to press, a letter arrived from the gentleman of eminent literary acquirements, which the editor appended to the article. He fully admitted that he was a contributor to the well-known paper in question, and that he did not see why he should not write for both. The letter itself supplied a conclusive answer to the question, for, unless the writer of the article had two completely different sets of style, grammar and language, it was utterly impossible that he should have written the letter. The whole transaction gave a good notion of the way in which the lowest department of newspaper writing is conducted.
Cornhill Magazine, July 1862.