Imágenes de páginas

in all this: it is possible that the writers may be actuated by conscientious motives : and as long as there are journals on all sides, and advocates of every cause, they will serve to neutralize and counterbalance each other; and truth may at last emerge, like Venus from the froth of the ocean, from amidst the turmoil and tempest of the conflicting statements.

But, again we must say, as our judges observe from the bench, there are certain “ bounds to free and fair discussion.” There are established laws of honour, and punctilios in hostility, which every man of noble sentiment, or generous feelings is bound to observe. Yet these limits all our English Newspapers have wilfully transgressed: although while the evils, which must result from overstepping them, are undeniable and immediate, we can see no real good which can be placed in the opposite scale as an adequate compensation. It is true, that in a free country the press cannot be kept under restraint, and as no earthly advantage is unmixed with some alloy of ill, that freedom itself gives birth to some necessary inconveniences in this respect, which may however well be borne for the sake of the concomitant benefits which it confers. We admit, besides, that the political journals of this country have long indulged themselves in the utmost latitude and license. Yet, to our disgrace be it said, it is only in our age that a spirit has arisen, which threatens to extinguish the very embers of honest candour, and high-minded generosity. It is now a fine thing, a feat worthy of a civic crown, to stab with a whisper, and murder with an innuendo. Malignant slander is a sign of spirit: anonymous personalities are proofs of ability. No sex is spared, no place is sacred. We cannot trust our feelings with entering upon this subject at the close of a long and perhaps tedious discussion. Yet we pledge ourselves to treat this system and its abettors in the only manner which any system deserves, of which the very essence is secret baseness and lurking treachery ; the certain attendants, universal suspicion and distrust; and the natural consummation, private war, and duelling, and bloodshed. For this purpose we have already prepared, and shall publish either in our next report, or in a separate shape, a few honest strictures upon the whole method of proceeding, and more especially upon the conduct of that notorious paper, which has plunged deepest into turpitude, and stands most conspicuous in the distinction of infamy.

All the papers possess their influence, and have their delinquencies to answer for. It may be thought strange, however, that we attach, as we do, more importance to the weekly, than the daily, journals. Their number is not the best criterion of their effect; although it is far from being inconsiderable. The extent of the sale of newspapers was in its total amount, in the year 1821, according to the statement of Lord John Russell, about 23,600,000; and of these the number of weekly papers was upwards of 2,000,000. But the fact is, as we have said above, that they are the oracles of the poor. They are studied by the uninstructed portion of society ; and a strong infusion of heat and violence is poured into them, purposely for their market; as a quantity of brandy is mixed with the French wines, which are imported into England. Another circumstance of some weight is, that they who can only afford to look at a newspaper once a week, have less opportunities and capabilities of forming a correct opinion; and are most apt to be misled and stultified by what they read. Men, on the other hand, who take in a daily journal, have, from their situation in life, more and better data as the grounds of their own notions, and are not so likely to be the dupes of faction and misrepresentation.

For our own parts, we cannot help thinking, that it is an inexcusable neglect on the part of the Legislature to allow the publication and sale of newspapers on Sunday. Why should it be easy to buy a mass of trash and falsehoods, when it is impossible to purchase a sermon, or treatise of philosophy? Why should the day, which is set apart for sacred purposes, be employed in imbibing the poison of sedition, or catching the contagion of political frenzy. These papers are only calculated to excite angry and uncharitable emotions ; feelings the most opposite in their tendency to those which should be encouraged at the hours publicly dedicated to our Maker. We are convinced, that not a Sunday passes over our heads without the publication of some atrocious libel upon the constituted authorities of the realm, the King, or the Government, the Ministers of religion, or persons in a private station. Nor is this the worst: we have not only to complain that printers are busy, shops are kept open, and newspapers are bought, but the contents are displayed in the streets with aggravated colours, and the most shameless and daring expressions: the bill of fare is put forth in the most alluring shape: the concentrated essence of radical absurdity is exhibited in vast letters on a placard. Thus, they, who cannot even buy their seven-penny-worths of sedition, may yet have their worst feelings gratified for nothing, and their worst passions inflamed without expense. We have often observed a crowd of poor deluded wretches reading with avidity these vile and stupid calumnies; until they are absolutely brought to believe, that they are oppressed, and crushed, insulted, and spurned ; reduced to beggary by the pensions and sinecures bestowed on the most undeserving men in the kingdom ; starved, not by the incapacity, but the wilful mismanagement, and studied iniquity, of the Administration. Have our rulers no eyes that they cannot perceive these things; or have they no regard for public order and morality, that they will not stop them? The shops ought to be closed: the placards ought to be torn down. That more hatred against the establishments in Church and State, and a greater appetite for injurious anecdotes and private scandal, are now engendered on the Sabbath than all the other days of the week, is a pestilent and infectious nuisance, which calls loudly upon the Legislature for interference and correction. These remarks will be termed cant and humbug, with the other opprobrious epithets of fashionable slang: but on such an occasion we would far rather suffer under the imputation, than urge it against others.

We have now done with the Newspapers. As there was no room left for discussion, we have contented ourselves with simply stating the evils, which we are anxious to re

move. We are of opinion, on the whole, that there is no single journal managed on the plan which would be most conducive to the public welfare: there is none, to which we can confidently turn for a correct and impartial view of passing events; or a true estimate of the state of parties, and the merits and measures of the Ministry and their opponents. We will not absolutely say, that they are all festering and bloated masses of corruption; but we affirm that there is an infinity of abuses; and that the nation is gulled with accounts, at which editors and reporters laugh heartily in their sleeves. They enjoy the fruits of their own ingenuity, and chuckle over the capacious swallow of the good people of England.

Thoughts crowd upon our minds; and our materials swell at every moment to a larger heap. We are like children, who should endeavour to reach the imaginary line, which connects the earth and clouds ; but find the boundary of the horizon opening and receding before them at every step as they advance. Thus we scarcely seem to make any progress as we write : fresh topics start up

and demand consideration; and we are as far as ever from the conclusion of our labours. But we have already trespassed too long with one subject upon the patience of our readers. We had much to say upon the lucubrations of Mr. Cobbett, and Mr. Hone, Mr. Carlile, and Mr. Waddington ; upon “ Political Registers" and “ Black Dwarfs,” “ Temples of Reason," “ Political Temples," and Temples concecrated to the subversion of Religion. But these gentry and their proceedings must stand over for the present, together with the instances and examples, which it may be hereafter necessary to adduce in support of our various allegations.

We cannot, however, prevail upon ourselves entirely to omit one peculiar practice, which confers on the present age a claim to a most discreditable originality. It is now the fashion to print periodically and in cheap numbers, works, which had been previously published in an expensive volume, but of which the sentiments and principles were so completely at variance with all vulgar established notions of government and morality, that they could not be placed under the protection of the law. The process was tried in the first instance upon the most depraved productions of the English press. But by way of refining and improving upon the system, we have lately seen advertised and posted upon the walls of the metropolis a notice of “ a translation of that celebrated novel, the Chevalier de Faublas, to appear in numbers, at the price of sixpence each.” Now this is monstrous. Are we to be inundated with the filthy stream of continental profligacy? It is besides an indirect reflection upon our native purveyors of indecency. They at least should look to it. Their honour is at stake. Yet why should we borrow impurity from our neighbours? Where is the need of importing sensuality? As if we had no hotbeds of our own, where such weeds spring up and flourish without transplantation from other soils : as if there was not a sufficient growth of indigenous irreligion and debauchery, when we have Lord Byron and Mr. Shelley, Don Juan and Queen Mab.

To conclude, as we have descanted at such length upon the evils of the present system in literature and politics, we may be expected to add a few words as to the proper remedies. We can only spare a dozen sentences to this branch of the inquiry.

The usual corrective of the licentiousness of the press has been indictment at the suit of the Attorney-General. This, although often a necessary, has not been always a safe, or efficacious, mode of treatment. It generally irritates the people, and induces them to make common cause with the offender : it converts the enemy of the Government into the victim of oppression, and the martyr of liberty. The Attorney-General, however, is an indispensable assistant to the crown and the administration: and we have no wish to disparage the utility of a person, who holds the most unthankful office under heaven, which is at the same time attended with much responsibility, and requires no common share of judgment and discretion.

But unfortunately its functions have been assumed of late by an assembly of persons, who entitle themselves the Constitutional Association. We say nothing, we insinuate nothing, against the intention of its members : but we abhor all associations for the purpose of political prosecu

« AnteriorContinuar »