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Origin Of Newspapers
by [?]

The royalists were not without their Needham in the prompt activity of Sir John Birkenhead. In buffoonery, keenness, and boldness, having been frequently imprisoned, he was not inferior, nor was he at times less an adventurer. His “Mercurius Aulicus” was devoted to the court, then at Oxford. But he was the fertile parent of numerous political pamphlets, which appear to abound in banter, wit, and satire. Prompt to seize on every temporary circumstance, he had equal facility in execution. His “Paul’s Church-yard” is a bantering pamphlet, containing fictitious titles of books and acts of parliament, reflecting on the mad reformers of those times. One of his poems is entitled “The Jolt,” being written on the Protector having fallen off his own coach-box: Cromwell had received a present from the German Count Oldenburgh, of six German horses, and attempted to drive them himself in Hyde Park, when this great political Phaeton met the accident, of which Sir John Birkenhead was not slow to comprehend the benefit, and hints how unfortunately for the country it turned out! Sir John was during the dominion of Cromwell an author by profession. After various imprisonments for his majesty’s cause, says the venerable historian of English literature already quoted, “he lived by his wits, in helping young gentlemen out at dead lifts in making poems, songs, and epistles on and to their mistresses; as also in translating, and other petite employments.” He lived however after the Restoration to become one of the masters of requests, with a salary of 3000l. a year. But he showed the baseness of his spirit, says Anthony, by slighting those who had been his benefactors in his necessities.

Sir Roger L’Estrange among his rivals was esteemed as the most perfect model of political writing. He was a strong party-writer on the government side, for Charles the Second, and the compositions of the author seem to us coarse, yet they contain much idiomatic expression. His AEsop’s Fables are a curious specimen of familiar style. Queen Mary showed a due contempt of him, after the Revolution, by this anagram:–

Roger L’Estrange,
Lye strange Roger!

Such were the three patriarchs of newspapers. De Saint Foix gives the origin of newspapers to France. Renaudot, a physician at Paris, to amuse his patients was a great collector of news; and he found by these means that he was more sought after than his learned brethren. But as the seasons were not always sickly, and he had many hours not occupied by his patients, he reflected, after several years of assiduity given up to this singular employment, that he might turn it to a better account, by giving every week to his patients, who in this case were the public at large, some fugitive sheets which should contain the news of various countries. He obtained a privilege for this purpose in 1632.

At the Restoration the proceedings of parliament were interdicted to be published, unless by authority; and the first daily paper after the Revolution took the popular title of “The Orange Intelligencer.”

In the reign of Queen Anne, there was but one daily paper; the others were weekly. Some attempted to introduce literary subjects, and others topics of a more general speculation. Sir Richard Steele formed the plan of his Tatler. He designed it to embrace the three provinces, of manners and morals, of literature, and of politics. The public were to be conducted insensibly into so different a track from that to which they had been hitherto accustomed. Hence politics were admitted into his paper. But it remained for the chaster genius of Addison to banish this painful topic from his elegant pages. The writer in polite letters felt himself degraded by sinking into the diurnal narrator of political events, which so frequently originate in rumours and party fictions. From this time, newspapers and periodical literature became distinct works–at present, there seems to be an attempt to revive this union; it is a retrograde step for the independent dignity of literature.