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On The Cryptic And The Elliptic
by [?]

‘When that the poor have cried Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.'”

In that case one good, solid argument of Mark Antony would be correctly reported. The third and far higher course for the Roman reporter would be to give a philosophical statement of the purport of the speech. As thus–“Mr. Mark Antony, in the course of a powerful speech, conceded the high motives of the Republican leaders, and disclaimed any intention of raising the people against them; he thought, however, that many instances could be quoted against the theory of Caesar’s ambition, and he concluded by reading, at the request of the audience, the will of Caesar, which proved that he had the most benevolent designs towards the Roman people.” That is (I admit) not quite so fine as Shakspere, but it is a statement of the man’s political position. But if a Daily Mail reporter were sent to take down Antony’s oration, he would simply wait for any expressions that struck him as odd and put them down one after another without any logical connection at all. It would turn out something like this: “Mr. Mark Antony wished for his audience’s ears. He had thrice offered Caesar a crown. Caesar was like a deer. If he were Brutus he would put a wound in every tongue. The stones of Rome would mutiny. See what a rent the envious Casca paid. Brutus was Caesar’s angel. The right honourable gentleman concluded by saying that he and the audience had all fallen down.” That is the report of a political speech in a modern, progressive, or American manner, and I wonder whether the Romans would have put up with it.

The reports of the debates in the Houses of Parliament are constantly growing smaller and smaller in our newspapers. Perhaps this is partly because the speeches are growing duller and duller. I think in some degree the two things act and re-act on each other. For fear of the newspapers politicians are dull, and at last they are too dull even for the newspapers. The speeches in our time are more careful and elaborate, because they are meant to be read, and not to be heard. And exactly because they are more careful and elaborate, they are not so likely to be worthy of a careful and elaborate report. They are not interesting enough. So the moral cowardice of modern politicians has, after all, some punishment attached to it by the silent anger of heaven. Precisely because our political speeches are meant to be reported, they are not worth reporting. Precisely because they are carefully designed to be read, nobody reads them.

Thus we may concede that politicians have done something towards degrading journalism. It was not entirely done by us, the journalists. But most of it was. It was mostly the fruit of our first and most natural sin–the habit of regarding ourselves as conjurers rather than priests, for the definition is that a conjurer is apart from his audience, while a priest is a part of his. The conjurer despises his congregation; if the priest despises any one, it must be himself. The curse of all journalism, but especially of that yellow journalism which is the shame of our profession, is that we think ourselves cleverer than the people for whom we write, whereas, in fact, we are generally even stupider. But this insolence has its Nemesis; and that Nemesis is well illustrated in this matter of reporting.

For the journalist, having grown accustomed to talking down to the public, commonly talks too low at last, and becomes merely barbaric and unintelligible. By his very efforts to be obvious he becomes obscure. This just punishment may specially be noticed in the case of those staggering and staring headlines which American journalism introduced and which some English journalism imitates. I once saw a headline in a London paper which ran simply thus: “Dobbin’s Little Mary.” This was intended to be familiar and popular, and therefore, presumably, lucid. But it was some time before I realised, after reading about half the printed matter underneath, that it had something to do with the proper feeding of horses. At first sight, I took it, as the historical leader of the future will certainly take it, as containing some allusion to the little daughter who so monopolised the affections of the Major at the end of “Vanity Fair.” The Americans carry to an even wilder extreme this darkness by excess of light. You may find a column in an American paper headed “Poet Brown Off Orange-flowers,” or “Senator Robinson Shoehorns Hats Now,” and it may be quite a long time before the full meaning breaks upon you: it has not broken upon me yet.