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"public writing! About that fact there “Public writing" must mean all writ“is no question at all!” No question ing that is published. But, taking the at all! Then the less said the soonest words in their narrowest sense, are they mended, and we had better lie quietly true then ? By no means.
To go no where we have fallen, and look placidly farther than the Times itself, what up into the sky. But presently, when portions of it are the most effective ? Leviathan has passed right over us, and I believe that the letters on important we are conscious that we have still some questions, signed by persons who are power of discerning what is and what known to understand their subjects, are is not left in us, we sit up, and far more effective than leaders. Take look the matter in the face again. one question which has been up lately,
Anonymous the only effective form “ rifled ordnance." Does not a letter of public writing?” Why, who are in signed “ Armstrong,” or “Whitworth,"
fact the most effective living public carry more weight here than a dozen writers
, the few men who are moulding leaders, and ought it not to do so ? the thought of our day ? Maurice in Besides, to judge by my own experitheology, Mill in political science, Dar ence, so far from there being no doubt win in natural science, Ruskin in art, that anonymous writing is the only and the rest of them! Take what realm eligible and effective form of newspaper of thought we will, and what do we writing, I find the persons amongst find ? The effective men, the most whom I live constantly debating the serious writers, scarcely ever write point whether anonymous writing ought anonymously ; several of those above to be tolerated. There is none named, never. Come down a step lower which opinions are more honestly and to current literature and what do we widely divided ; but I must say that, on find ? Why, that the custom of signing, the whole, the persons who are generally or at any rate of ear-marking articles in the right lean against anonymous and dropping the impersonal, is coming writing, or at most hold it to be an into use more and more in periodical unavoidable evil. literature, in the monthly and weekly There is in fact, then, a very grave magazines more especially. Surely this question on this point, where the l'imes is one form of public writing, and an says there is none at all. Let us now look eligible and effective one for certain at the other half of the proposition. purposes, or it would not be so much “The only question is, whether public in demand.
writing should be allowed to be powerBut on this point of the comparative “ ful or not-in other words, whether efficiency of anonymous writing take “ the action of a free pres3 should or the most notorious case in point for the " should not be tolerated.” I should last dozen years—the volume of Essays say that, on the contrary, here there is and Reviews. There is no one of them no question at all. In England, it is that would not have passed unnoticed our great boast and blessing that, in one or other of the Quarterlies had
"girt by friend or foe, they been published anonymously. Their effectiveness lay, somewhat per
A man may say the thing he will." haps in the grouping, but chiefly in the Public speech and public writing are, names which were affixed to them. Has and must be allowed to be, just as it been for the good of the nation, the powerful as they can manage to become. Church, the writers themselves, that Not only the most absolute freedom their names were published ?
of speech and writing is tolerated, but have no hesitation in answering, yes. no single voice in the nation is lifted up
If, however, by “public writing," against that freedom. And the question writing for newspapers only is intended, of the freedom of the press has nothing surely it is throwing dust in our eyes whatever to do with, and should be kept to put the proposition in this form. wholly apart from, that of anonymous
writing. It may be a question indeed some single man, and, if an honest one, whether I, having in my own person contains as forcible a statement as that and name the acknowledged right of man can make of what he thinks on a saying and printing whatever I please, given subject. No doubt the responsishould have the further right of doing bility of publishing it rests with the it without giving my name, behind an conductors; that is to say, with the abstraction called we,” which may editor or editors. They can accept or mean anybody, or every body, or nobody. reject it; the writer can consult with Just as in the case of voting, I have now them, and may modify some of his the unquestioned right of giving my opinions in deference to theirs. He has vote openly at an election for any candi access to any books or documents which date I please. The most bigoted advo- belong to the establishment, and has cate of the ballot will not deny this, thus facilities for getting at facts which although he will contend that I ought he would otherwise be without. But to have the further right of giving it after all the article is his, and the more secretly; in which contention the Times, his responsibility for it is brought home and the greater part of the nation, to him the better for himself and his would be against him. I cannot see readers. It is no more a fraud on the why the same rule should not be good public to issue it as the work of a single for voting and for writing.
man than it is to issue the speech of a Again, while we are on the question Secretary of State as his speech : the of the power of “public writing,” it fraud, if any, lies in issuing it as the does not matter how powerful writing work of a mysterious “we.” The is, provided the power be genuine. Any notion that he is to put aside his own power which a man gains from his individuality, that he is to “reflect " character for ability, honesty, disinter the opinions of a journal, or of the conestedness, is of the right sort. It has ductors of a journal, or, indeed, that been fairly earned, and may fairly be he is to “reflect” anything, is about used. Abuse of it will soon tell, and as mischievous a he will lose it. But power which a have in his head when he sits down man gains from being shrouded in to write ; and it is this which lowers mystery—which he owes, not to his own the character of so much of our public character, but to the vague sort of belief writing. that he is the representative of some The Times then returns to its text, great unknown which haunts the majo- and tells us that the French press may rity of readers of newspapers-is not trace many of its misfortunes to "the genuine, and can benefit neither himself
neglect of that impersonality by which nor any one else.
press is necessarily characThe Times goes on to state its own terized.” One is rather puzzled to theory on the subject of the responsi- get it clear in one's head how any thing bility of journalism :
can be characterized—that is, distin“sibility of an article rests with the guished from any other thing—by “ conductors of a newspaper. It reflects impersonality. But assuming that it « the opinions of the journal, and it can be so in some sense, how can it be “ would be nothing but a fraud on the more real for being impersonal ? “ public if it were issued as the work The chief writers for the French “ of a single man.” The statement that press were men who were aiming at an article reflects the opinions of the political power and promotion, and journal in which it appears has no real found their work as writers tell for this meaning, for a journal can
end. “ The result was,” says the Times, have opinions than the printing press “ that a French journal, instead of being which is used to bring out each succeed “ what an English paper is, was simply ing number. A thing can have no
of a particular section, conopinions. Each article is the work of “ ducted not for the instruction or
as a man
" advantage of the public, but for the as a rule, it is a professional man, or " benefit of certain individuals.”
man of business, who rises to high office, Here again it is not easy to under and not a public writer. Reputation as stand what is meant. All English an anonymous journalist would be more papers which give correct news are so likely to hinder than help him. Our far conducted for the instruction or ad system has its bad side, no doubt, but vantage of the public. Beyond this, the good greatly outweighs the evil ; every English paper is conducted for and, at any rate, it is undeniably our the instruction and advantage of the system. It might be different if our public, which honestly and ably advo- public writing were not anonymous. cates certain definite views. For that Then, if a man had been known for part of the public which does not years as a consistent and clear-sighted hold with such views is nevertheless writer on politics, he would very probenefited by having them well and bably be recognised as a fit man for distinctly put, though it may not ac office. But as there is the open arena of knowledge the obligation. But, after political life where he must win his thus much has been allowed, I must say spurs in his own name, it would tell that the sort of paper here shadowed out against him ; his competitors would as the typical English newspaper does think (and with good reason) that he was not seem to be at all the kind of thing not fighting fair if he were known to be we want. What are we to make of a playing his own game, and writing up newspaper conducted for the “instruc himself and his own doings anonymously, tion and advantage of the public,” and
in a newspaper. “not for the benefit of certain indi But, to return to the character of our viduals ? " You don't know where to English journals; one must gladly admit have such a paper. It is neither fish, that there are several which are conflesh, nor fowl. The description is ducted in a larger sense than has been rather grand, but too vague. One is hitherto admitted, " for the instruction reminded of the creed of the Yankee and advantage of the public." But candidate
why? Because the chief writers are, so
far as internal evidence goes, men of “Kind o promiscuous I go it
strong convictions and large views, who For the whole country, and the
think on the questions of the day by ground
the light of certain fixed principles, and I take, as fur as I can show it,
are bent on making those principles is, pretty generally all round."
triumphant, whatever temporary popuThe warning drawn from the French larity they may sacrifice in the process. press is not in point. The cases are But these are just the journals to which not parallel. Our social organization, the Times' definition, if I understand it, our customs and habits, are so different will not apply. They do not in the from theirs, that what was a danger for least set up for representing or reflecting them, while they had a free press, is public opinion; they constantly run none for us. Their leading writers were counter to it, and aim at directing, and scrambling for political power; success not at reflecting. The value and comful journalism was recognised as a step fort of them is, that you are sure of the ping-stone to high office. There is happily, ground they stand on. You turn to as yet, nothing of the kind amongst us. them with the certainty that, in discusThe aspirants to office have to make their sing any new question, they will start claims good in another field altogether. from old principles which you know, In nine cases out of ten our ministers and get to their conclusions by processes are chosen from those men of a certain which you recognise, and are familiar rank and social position who have taken with. You are sure that, even when in up public life as a profession, and who doubt from the deficiency or-conflict of can afford to do this. In the tenth case, evidence, they will never be sending up
No. 26.- VOL. V.
balloons to see which way the wind is nursing his already sufficiently strong likely to blow. These journals make belief that he is quite the freest and no pretence whatever of representing finest Bull on the earth's pastures, but the public, or reflecting public opinion, leaves him without any fixed principles and therein lies their worth. If they whatever to guide himself by, which he were the rule, and not the rare excep is sadly in need of in these days. tion, it would scarcely be worth while But would all this be mended if anonyto raise the question as to anonymous mous writing were dropped? Probably, writing
at least to some small extent; for, when But the fact is far otherwise. The we were writing in our own names, we characteristic of our English newspapers
should not be inclined to use such tall to which the Times alludes, and of language about big “we,” 'as if little we which it is itself the great example, had been just that minute authorized by is, that they strive, before all things, the whole British nation to speak in its to be the organs and mirrors of public name. Then, again, we should probably opinion. I quite admit that they inay set to work to get some fixed principles, do this honestly, believing it to bi the and tu grub a little deeper through the best thing for England ; I only question crust of politics, which most of us whether it is so now, or can be so under hardly care to do while we are writing any circumstances. “ The public," and anonymously. Our readers, on the other “public opinion,” are mere abstractions. hand, would derive the greatest benefit, The words can't mean " the nation” for they would pretty soon take our and “the nation's opinion,” because on measure, and would read the lucubraevery question there is a large mino tions of some of us, and skip those of rity in the nation, and no single news others; just as they treat the speeches paper, therefore, can have a right to put of our brethren of the third estate of itself forward as representing the nation. the realm already. (By the way, what The sense in which the words “public right have we of the fourth estate to opinion” seem to be used is, "the such an advantage over them? The “opinion of the majority for the time greatest bore in the House is not allowed “ being," which opinion is generally to shout in a feigned voice from behind wrong, and always fluctuating. The a door.) The time which would be consequence is, that the papers which saved to any busy citizen who might set up for reflecting it are constantly take no particular interest in high art, balancing, especially when any new by being able at a glance to see whenquestion of grave interest comes up. ever the party who does the balancing You never can be sure of the principles business for his journal was going on, they go upon; you never can be sure would be a serious gain to the nation. even after they have apparently pledged
But the habit of anonymous writing themselves to some definite view, that is apt to foster much worse sins than they will not suddenly “'bout ship,” those of sometimes doing Sir Oracle, and and be off on the other tack. The skill taking the paying side of every question. and ability with which the best of them The sort of scurrilous and blasphemous (the Times, of course, conspicuously) do abuse of those who differ from them, their work is marvellous ; but, if the which distinguishes some of the sowork is one which had much better not called religious newspapers, would surely be done, this only makes matters worse. never see the light if the authors had to The sagacity with which they manage
But there is no need to go so to keep a little ahead of John Bull low for examples of the evils of imperputting into words the idea which is sonality when they are ready to one's just coming to maturity in his brain, hand in the highest class of papers. and always managing to be on his right Take the Saturday Review, for instance, side-has the effect of keeping him in the most successful, if not the most the best humour with himself, and popular, of weekly journals, and one
which prides itself on its tone, and on culminated, as it has never touched so being written by men of refined minds, high a note before or since. and of scholastic acquirements. In these The condition of our life is that we pages, if anywhere, the courtesies of stand on a narrow “strip of the shore, journalism were to be illustrated and waiting till the tide, which has washed observed. One could almost fancy that away hundreds of millions of our every contributor must write in white fellows, shall wash us away also into a kid gloves, when one found them ob country of which there are no charts, jecting to the omission of “Mr.” before “ and from which there is no return. Tennyson's name, and taking up such “What little we know about that unlike small points of punctilio seriously. seen world comes to this—that it conAlthough it savoured a little of trousers “ tains extremes of good and evil, awful to the legs of the piano, yet it was a " and mysterious beyond all human exmove in the right direction. On the pression or conception, and that those other hand, there was an absence of “ tremendous possibilities are connected cant about the Saturday, and a determi “ with our conduct here. It is surely nation to call things by their plain “ wiser and more manly to walk silently names, and not to give in to any popular by the shore of that silent sea, than cry, but to test and sift it, and show to boast with puerile exultation over what it was worth, which, in the early the little sand-castles which we have and best days of that paper, made it a employed our short leisure in building very valuable and refreshing antidote up. Life can never be matter of exto much of the current newspaper, ultation, nor can the progress of arts twaddle of the day. From the first, “and sciences ever really fill the heart indeed, there was too much of the criti “ of a man, who has a heart to be cal element in it, too little sympathy “ filled. In its relation to what is to with, or faith in, anybody or anything. “ be hereafter, there is, no doubt, no The writers seemed to be dwelling in “ human occupation which is not awful some serene sphere above the influence " and sacred, for such occupations are of human hope, and grief, and joy, “ the work which is here given us to whence they could look down on the “ do ; our portion in the days of our world and all in it, and pour unimpas vanity. But their intrinsic value is sioned and epigrammatic comment on “ like that of schoolboys' lessons. They the heads of blundering purblind mortals. are worth just nothing at all, except Still, at that time, they were well up to as a discipline and a task. It is right their parts. If they dwelt in Olympus, “ that a man should rejoice in his own and celestial ichor, instead of blood, works, but it is very wrong to allow circulated in their veins, at any rate “ them for one instant to obscure that they made good use of their superior eternity from which alone they derive height, and took care that we should “ their importance. Steam-engines and always feel that there was another side “ cotton-mills have their greatness, but to every question, for which quite as “ life and death are greater and older. much could be said as for the one we “Men lived, and died, and sorrowed, held, but, that on-the whole, the less “ and rejoiced before these things were said about either, by any one but the known, and they could do so again. Saturday, the better. This view, brought Why mankind was created at all, out again and again with much quaint why we still continue to exist, what ingenuity, and humour, and sadness, was “ has become of that vast multitude the key-note of the paper-that wherein “ which has passed, with more or less its strength lay. I can't resist giving “ sin and misery, through this mysterious perhaps the most striking and character earth, and what will become of those istic specimen of it, which has hung in “ vaster multitudes which are treading, my mind ever since it appeared, and in “ and will tread the same wonderful which the Saturday may be said to have path-these are the great insoluble