**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Origin Of Newspapers
by [?]

Periodical papers seem first to have been more generally used by the English, during the civil wars of the usurper Cromwell, to disseminate amongst the people the sentiments of loyalty or rebellion, according as their authors were disposed. Peter Heylin, in the preface to his Cosmography, mentions, that “the affairs of each town, of war, were better presented to the reader in the Weekly News-books.” Hence we find some papers, entitled “News from Hull,” “Truths from York,” “Warranted Tidings from Ireland,” etc. We find also, “The Scots’ Dove” opposed to “The Parliament Kite,” or “The Secret Owl.”–Keener animosities produced keener titles: “Heraclitus ridens” found an antagonist in “Democritus ridens,” and “The Weekly Discoverer” was shortly met by “The Discoverer stript naked.” “Mercuriua Britannicus” was grappled by “Mercurius Mastix, faithfully lashing all Scouts, Mercuries, Posts, Spies, and others.” Under all these names papers had appeared, but a “Mercury” was the prevailing title of these “News-books,” and the principles of the writer were generally shown by the additional epithet. We find an alarming number of these Mercuries, which, were the story not too long to tell, might excite laughter; they present us with a very curious picture of those singular times.

Devoted to political purposes, they soon became a public nuisance by serving as receptacles of party malice, and echoing to the farthest ends of the kingdom the insolent voice of all factions. They set the minds of men more at variance, inflamed their tempers to a greater fierceness, and gave a keener edge to the sharpness of civil discord.

Such works will always find adventurers adapted to their scurrilous purposes, who neither want at times either talents, or boldness, or wit, or argument. A vast crowd issued from the press, and are now to be found in private collections. They form a race of authors unknown to most readers of these times: the names of some of their chiefs, however, have reached us, and in the minor chronicle of domestic literature I rank three notable heroes; Marchmont Needham, Sir John Birkenhead, and Sir Roger L’Estrange.

Marchmont Needham, the great patriarch of newspaper writers, was a man of versatile talents and more versatile politics; a bold adventurer, and most successful, because the most profligate of his tribe. From college he came to London; was an usher in Merchant Tailors’ school; then an under clerk in Gray’s Inn; at length studied physic, and practised chemistry; and finally, he was a captain, and in the words of our great literary antiquary, “siding with the rout and scum of the people, he made them weekly sport by railing at all that was noble, in his Intelligence, called Mercurius Britannicus, wherein his endeavours were to sacrifice the fame of some lord, or any person of quality, and of the king himself, to the beast with many heads.” He soon became popular, and was known under the name of Captain Needham, of Gray’s Inn; and whatever he now wrote was deemed oracular. But whether from a slight imprisonment for aspersing Charles I. or some pique with his own party, he requested an audience on his knees with the king, reconciled himself to his majesty, and showed himself a violent royalist in his “Mercurius Pragmaticus,” and galled the Presbyterians with his wit and quips. Some time after, when the popular party prevailed, he was still further enlightened, and was got over by President Bradshaw, as easily as by Charles I. Our Mercurial writer became once more a virulent Presbyterian, and lashed the royalists outrageously in his “Mercurius Politicus;” at length on the return of Charles II. being now conscious, says our cynical friend Anthony, that he might be in danger of the halter, once more he is said to have fled into Holland, waiting for an act of oblivion. For money given to a hungry courtier, Needham obtained his pardon under the great seal. He latterly practised as a physician among his party, but lived detested by the royalists; and now only committed harmless treasons with the College of Physicians, on whom he poured all that gall and vinegar which the government had suppressed from flowing through its natural channel.