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Origin Of Newspapers
by [?]

We are indebted to the Italians for the idea of newspapers. The title of their gazettas was, perhaps, derived from gazzera, a magpie or chatterer; or, more probably, from a farthing coin, peculiar to the city of Venice, called gazetta, which was the common price of the newspapers. Another etymologist is for deriving it from the Latin gaza, which would colloquially lengthen into gazetta, and signify a little treasury of news. The Spanish derive it from the Latin gaza, and likewise their gazatero, and our gazetteer, for a writer of the gazette and, what is peculiar to themselves, gazetista, for a lover of the gazette.

Newspapers, then, took their birth in that principal land of modern politicians, Italy, and under the government of that aristocratical republic, Venice. The first paper was a Venetian one, and only monthly; but it was merely the newspaper of the government. Other governments afterwards adopted the Venetian plan of a newspaper, with the Venetian name:–from a solitary government gazette, an inundation of newspapers has burst upon us.

Mr. George Chalmers, in his Life of Ruddiman, gives a curious particular of these Venetian gazettes:–“A jealous government did not allow a printed newspaper; and the Venetian gazetta continued long after the invention of printing, to the close of the sixteenth century, and even to our own days, to be distributed in manuscript.” In the Magliabechian library at Florence are thirty volumes of Venetian gazettas, all in manuscript.

Those who first wrote newspapers were called by the Italians menanti; because, says Vossius, they intended commonly by these loose papers to spread about defamatory reflections, and were therefore prohibited in Italy by Gregory XIII. by a particular bull, under the name of menantes, from the Latin minantes, threatening. Menage, however, derives it from the Italian menare, which signifies to lead at large, or spread afar.

We are indebted to the wisdom of Elizabeth and the prudence of Burleigh for the first newspaper. The epoch of the Spanish Armada is also the epoch of a genuine newspaper. In the British Museum are several newspapers which were printed while the Spanish fleet was in the English Channel during the year 1588. It was a wise policy to prevent, during a moment of general anxiety, the danger of false reports, by publishing real information. The earliest newspaper is entitled “The English Mercurie,” which by authority was “imprinted at London by her highness’s printer, 1588.” These were, however, but extraordinary gazettes, not regularly published. In this obscure origin they were skilfully directed by the policy of that great statesman Burleigh, who, to inflame the national feeling, gives an extract of a letter from Madrid which speaks of putting the queen to death, and the instruments of torture on board the Spanish fleet.

George Chalmers first exultingly took down these patriarchal newspapers, covered with the dust of two centuries.

The first newspaper in the collection of the British Museum is marked No. 50, and is in Roman, not in black letter. It contains the usual articles of news, like the London Gazette of the present day. In that curious paper, there are news dated from Whitehall, on the 23rd July, 1588. Under the date of July 26, there is the following notice:–“Yesterday the Scots ambassador, being introduced to Sir Francis Walsingham, had a private audience of her majesty, to whom he delivered a letter from the king his master; containing the most cordial assurances of his resolution to adhere to her majesty’s interests, and to those of the Protestant religion. And it may not here be improper to take notice of a wise and spiritual saying of this young prince (he was twenty-two) to the queen’s minister at his court, viz.–That all the favour he did expect from the Spaniards was the courtesy of Polypheme to Ulysses, to be the last devoured.” The gazetteer of the present day would hardly give a more decorous account of the introduction of a foreign minister. The aptness of King James’s classical saying carried it from the newspaper into history. I must add, that in respect to his wit no man has been more injured than this monarch. More pointed sentences are recorded of James I. than perhaps of any prince; and yet, such is the delusion of that medium by which the popular eye sees things in this world, that he is usually considered as a mere royal pedant. I have entered more largely on this subject, in an “Inquiry of the Literary and Political Character of James I.”[1]