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HISTORICAL AND LITERARY

TOUR

IN

ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND.

LETTER LVI.

TO M. L'ADVOCAT.

The English often repeat the trite remark, that the liberty of the press is the aegis of their constitution. This protecting buckler reminds us, in fact, of that of Minerva, with its hideous head of Medusa, bristled round with serpents. But all kind of comparisons are exhausted on the subject of a weapon, salutary and dangerous at the same time; mine has been perhaps already made, at least by one of the poetical orators of Ireland. We are apprized by the pleading of Mackintosh, that the British journals alarmed Buonaparte at the time that he was aiming at universal empire. From the period of Peltier's affair, he never ceased negociating with Pitt's government, in order to

VOL. II. B

obtain in the first instance a prohibition to the press against attacking him; he afterwards wished to stipulate for its silence, at least engaging that none of our gazettes should make the least observation on the acts of the English ministry. Pittmighthave desired to preserve peace at this price, which he could not, unless he had at his disposal laws for the suppression of the liberty of the press; but here the prescription of custom is stronger than the laws, and the jury would have been an asylum for the prosecuted writers. Let us suppose for a moment the possibility of a treaty like the above, with two despots, like Pitt and Buonaparte, at the head of Europe. What would become of representative government? To whom would history apply, in order to verify its records of the empire, if, since 1803, the English journals had ceased misrepresenting, falsifying, and even, if people please, calumniating.

It is only from the "glorious" revolution of 1688 that the liberty of the press, properly so called, is to be dated in England. It was not till four years after the accession of William III., that it was established on solid foundations, by the refusal of the parliament to sanction the continual restrictions which power required.

Power, no longer daring to prohibit the contest, is reduced to the necessity of defending itself, and pays or recompences the champions who devote themselves to its cause. The enormous revenue which it obtains from all the periodicals would enable it to have still a greater number in its pay. At the commencement of the American war, the stamp duty was two pence a number; Lord North raised the tax to a penny more, remarking that it was not levying too high a price on the right of laughing at the expence of the ministry. (Mazarin did not tax political squibs.) By degrees Pitt raised the price of the stamp to near four pence, more than double the value of the journal. The number of newspapers increased proportionately. There appeared annually in London near three millions of copies of newspapers, which produced about 500,000/. sterling to government, and which, thanks, to the price paid for advertisements, constitute, at the same time, mines of gold to the proprietors. Of all the journals, the Observer prints the greatest number, amounting to 11,000 copies; but it only appears on the Sunday, a day on which the other journals do not. Of the daily papers, the Times has the greatest circulation; it prints 7 or 8,000. I have been curious in visiting the steam press of this journal, which strikes off 800 copies every hour. The size of the Times is half as large again as the Moniteur. This steam-engine,* which is calculated to terrify our ministers like a

* This press, which is of German invention, is placed upon a table. Two prepared cylinders receive the papers and print them off upon the form, which presents itself to the operation by an alternate and uninterrupted movement. A journeyman places the sheets on each cylinder, and a boy takes them away when they are printed. Four other cylinders, placed in the middle, and in pairs, serve to grind the ink, which a final cylinder transmits to the form through an aperture, &c. But we have at length imported to Paris similar machines, which are every day improving.

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