Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Business of Pleasure, by Edmund Yates, 1879 - Chapter 10 - My Newspaper

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CHAPTER X.

MY NEWSPAPER.

THERE seems to be something in the mere fact of a man's making a speech which prevents his telling the truth. That language was given us to conceal our thoughts, we know from the subtle wisdom and biting wit of Talleyrand; but it does appear passing strange that while a man is erect on his two feet, his left hand fingering his watch-chain, while his right is tattooing on the table-cloth, he should give utterance to a series of preposterous untruths. Take my own case, for instance. Why did I, last night, at the annual summer dinner of the Most Worshipful Company of Leather- Breeches Makers, held at the Ship Tavern, Greenwich - why did I, in returning thanks for the toast of "The Visitors," declare that that was the happiest moment of my life? Seated next morning in the calm seclusion of my villa at Dulwich, and recalling the exact circumstances under which that assertion was made, I find that rarely has it been my lot to be more excessively wretched and uncomfortable. I had "come down" on board an overcrowded steamer, under the garish eye of a very hot sun I had occupied three inches of the wooden arm of a wooden seat, with a very scarlet soldier on my right, and a child labouring under that painful and easily-caught disease, "the mumps," on my left. Revelling in the anticipation of the coming [-99-] banquet, I had been affronted by the constantly-renewed offer on the part of a boy of "refreshment," consisting of two mouldy captain's biscuits and three soft shiny cigars. I had been compelled to use severe language to an old person who would persist in offering me "Dawg Toby's Gall'ry o' Fun," a halfpenny broadsheet of villanous woodcuts, which spoke little for Dog Toby's sense of humour or sense of decency. Further, during dinner I had eaten more fish than I ought; to say nothing of the enormity of duckling and peas, Nesselrode pudding, and fondu. I had taken wine with each of the worshipful Leather-Breeches Makers once, with Mr. Master twice, and with myself a good many times. I had drained a very deep goblet of claret to the Leather-Breeches Makers' Company, "root and branch, may it flourish for ever!" (what does that mean?) And when I rose to my feet to respond to the mention of my name, I was pale in the face, parched in the mouth, shaky in the legs, weak in the memory, quavery in the voice, and frightened out of my senses. That was what I called the happiest moment of my life I should be sorry to write the word with which, in strict justice, I ought to stigmatise that expression. I know when the happiest moment of my life really comes off. Not when I receive my dividends from those very abrupt gentlemen who have, apparently, a natural hatred of their customers, across the bank-counter; not when I go to my old wholesale grocery-stores in Lower Thames Street, and smell the tea and taste the sugar, and dip my hand into the piled-up rice, and learn from my sons of the yearly increase of the business in which I still keep my sleeping partner's share; not when that fair-haired knickerbockered boy who calls me "grandad," makes cock-horses of my knees, and rides innumerable steeple-chases, clutching at my watch-guard for a bridle; nor when his sister, a fairy elf, makes a book-muslin glory on my lap, and kisses me as her "dear dada" - those are triumphs, if you like, but there [-100-] is something too exciting in them; they are not the happiest moments of my life.
        That blissful period is to me, so far as I can judge, about ten AM. I have had my comfortable breakfast; my wife has gone down to see to the domestic arrangements for the day; if it be summer, I stroll on to the corner of my garden; if it be winter, I shut myself into my little snuggery; but, summer or winter, I find laid ready for me a box of matches, my old meerschaum-bowl, ready filled, and - my newspaper. Then follows an hour composed of three thousand six hundred of the happiest moments of my life. I light my pipe and take up my paper, duly dried and cut, without which enjoyment is to me impossible, I have seen men on the outside of an omnibus attempt to fold a newspaper in a high wind, reading to the bottom of a column, and then suddenly becoming enwrapped, swathed, smothered in a tossing crackling sheet. Call that reading the newspaper! I like to read a bit, and puff my pipe a bit, and ponder a bit; and my ponderings are not about the machinations of the Emperor Napoleon, not about the probable result of the American war, not about the Conference, not about the state of the money-market; but about that much talked-of march of intellect, that progress of progress, that extension of civilisation, which have shown their product in my newspaper lying before me.
    Newspapers were first invented by a French physician, who found it his interest to amuse his patients by telling them the news. The avidity with which his daily gossip was received engendered the hope that, if collected and printed, it might do more than reconcile his patients to the ever-unwelcome visits of their doctor. Monsieur le Docteur Renaudot, for thus was he styled, applied therefore to Cardinal Richelieu for a patent, and the first number of The Paris Gazette appeared in 1662.
    In the interests of my newspaper, men who have taken [-101-] high collegiate honours have last night wasted the midnight oil, and before me lies the result of their deep thought, masterly scholarship, and special study of the subject intrusted to them ; not one single word was dropped by the great orators in last night's debate, finishing at two A.M., which I do not find recorded for my perusal; while the vapid prosings of the dreary members have such pith as was in them extracted into a few lines. For my gratification, and that of a hundred thousand other readers, a gentleman, thoroughly competent for his task, has recorded his opinion of the merits of the new tenor who last night made his first appearance at our Opera; while glancing a little lower down, one may experience quite a glow of satisfaction in reading the noble names of the superb ones who were present at the Princess's reception. In the next column I can see exactly how stands the latest betting on the coming races, and I also find it chronicled - in a manner which I confess I never could comprehend - how yesterday's races were run, how Coeur-de-Lion had it all his own way to Nobb's Point, closely followed by Butcher-Boy, Gipsy, Avoca, and Tatterdemalion ; how, at the distance, Butcher-Boy and Avoca ran out and collared the favourite ; and how, just before the finish, Smith called upon the mare, and, Avoca answering, was hailed the winner by a head. How on earth do they know all this? I believe these racing-reports are exact descriptions of the struggle; but how do the reporters manage to see all this in a lightning flight for a mile and a half, or how do they manage to distinguish the colours of the horses? Sometimes I have fancied there are some things in a newspaper which I could do myself; but assuredly this is not one of them. I find, too, that my journal must have several sporting-gentlemen attached to it; for in the same column I read an account of a yacht-match at Erith, with critical remarks about the manner in which the Flirt was sailed by her noble owner ; and a vivid [-102-] description of a cricket-match at Lord's between the elevens of Rutland and Yorkshire, with a laudatory notice of Mr. Bales's "five-er" with a leg-swipe. In a corner of this column I also find quotations from the cotton-market at Manchester; from the corn-markets at Leeds, Liverpool, Scotland, Ipswich ; from Messrs. Sheepshanks' trade-circular in regard to the colonial wool-sales ; and from the latest prices of hay at Smithfield and Whitechapel, where I find "the market is dull, with fair supplies." There also is spread out for me shipping-intelligence, informing me what vessels have arrived at, or passed by way of, our own ports, what vessels have been spoken with in far-distant latitudes; there I get a meteorological report of the actual and probable state of the weather all over the United Kingdom; and in the immediate vicinity I find an elaborate report of the state of the mining-market, whence I glean that Wheal Mary Anne advanced twenty shillings, and that Cotopaxis were rather flatter.
    Hundreds of others are in the employment of my journal. In its interest a famous writer has taken the pilgrim's staff, and wandered through America desolated by her civil war, has passed through Mexico, and lingered among the islands of the Spanish Main, duly transmitting vivid descriptions of his adventures, and of the result of his observations. In the same interest, at all the principal continental cities - notably at Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Petersburg, and Madrid - my journal has its agents quiet, gentlemanly men; now gay bachelors going into the fast society of the Cercle and the Jockey Club; now steady middle-aged men, regular attendants on the Börsen Halle, now quaffing horchata, and puffing cigarettes on the Puerta del Sol, now colloguing with P.-and-O. captains at Alexandria, or chaffing "griffs" at Stiez; but always having ears and eyes wide open, be it for a political "shave," a dancer's triumph, or a rise in the markets, and always [-103-] transmitting that intelligence instanter by letters or telegram to my journal. In the same interest two gentlemen are attached, one to the head-quarters of the Danish, another to the German army; solemnly precise men are gliding about the Exchange, writing in their memorandum books the latest quotations from Capel Court, the latest "done" at Gurney's, the latest whisper from the Bank parlour; one member of the staff is flying away in one of the compartments of a royal train, while another is pursuing his inquiries among the starving poor of Bethnal Green ; one reporter has just buttoned up his note-book containing the charge of the judge to the jury trying a murderer, while another is taking down the chairman's "speech of the evening" at a charity dinner; the fire "which was still blazing fiercely when we went to press," the murder up Islington way, which was committed late last evening, the new farce, "on which the curtain did not fall till past midnight;" all are recorded in my journal, which also gives utterance to the cries of innumerable indignant amateur correspondents.
    From my experience, the outside public which reads and delights in its newspaper has very little idea of all this enormous trouble and expense in preparing the daily sheet, and has not the smallest conception of the powers required in the various leading journalistic men. Take the editor alone. Talk of the general of an army, of his tact and readiness, what is he compared to the editor of a leading daily paper? An editor, if he be worth his salt, must possess the art of watching public taste, the art of seeing what inevitably must be, and the power of writing leaders, or getting them written, to say that it shall be. He must have the faculty of collecting materials, and finding men to deal with them; the faculty of being able to say something at once on any important event which may turn up; the faculty of dining-out well; and when dining-out, the faculty of not talking, save to excite discussion and draw out [-104-] information. Men of ripe middle age make the best editors; too young they are apt to be flippant, excitable, and aggressive; too old they fall into carelessness, laxity, conventionality, and twaddle. And your editor must necessarily be a thorough citizen of the world, and determined to subdue all his own natural tastes and inclinations for the success of his journal. He may look upon the theatre with eyes of loathing; but he should take care that his dramatic criticisms are full, fair, and immediate. He may look with horror upon sporting; but his racing-reporter should be up to every move on the turf. He must never be sleepy between eight P.M. and three AM. ; must never be ill; must observe a strict Mokanna-like seclusion, and not "make himself free;" he must take every step in his business promptly, but with caution; and once having committed himself to any cause, however great, however slight, he must stick to it for ever, and defend it per fas aut nefas to the very best of his ability.
    One of the golden rules for success in the conduct of a newspaper, and one without the adoption of which it is impossible for any journal to succeed, is - spare no expense. Have the very best in the market; and do not mind what you pay, so that you get it good. When the Californian rage for gold-digging began, The Times employed a gentleman to go out; and that he might be competent, sent him first to a gold-refiner's in the City to learn all the processes of refining, had him taken over the Mint, and sent him forth thoroughly au courant with all that was known of his subject in London. Then the leader-writers should be masters of their craft, va sans dire ; and to this end it is found necessary to have men of various professions and of various tastes, to each of whom can be intrusted a special subject. Of late years it has been found that great eudos, and consequent circulation, has been occasionally obtained for several of the morning journals by some specially [-105-] admirable descriptive article ; and that style of writing has consequently been sought after and more fostered. The ordinary reporter is now kept to ordinary reporting; and when an article descriptive of any event of peculiar interest is required, a man of higher journalistic rank is appointed to write it. Some of the descriptions of Mr. W. H. Russell and Mr. Woods in The Times, of Mr. G. A. Sala and Mr. Godfrey Turner in The Telegraph, of Mr. Justin M'Carthy and Mr. Leicester Buckingham in The Star, of Mr. Parkinson and Mr. Murphy in The Daily News, and of Mr. Williams in The Standard, are as good as can be, and utterly different from anything that would have been looked for in the journals twenty years since.
    Although I always wondered in a vague kind of way at the manner in which my journal was produced, when I knew nothing about it, I think my astonishment has even been greater since I saw the working of the vast engine of social progress. Arriving at about ten o'clock in the evening, I found an intelligent guide awaiting me, and by him was first conducted into the library - not necessarily a portion of a newspaper establishment, but here interesting as the depository of the volumes, from their earliest sheet, of The Times and The Morning Chronicle, once conspicuous in journalism, now defunct. I took down a volume of The Chronicle haphazard, and opening it at the date, February 4th, 1792, read a protest of the Irish Parliament on a vote of congratulation to the king on the marriage of the Duke of York with the Princess of Prussia. The Irish gentlemen were "dissentient" because they could not "consistently with principle or honour join in thanking a sovereign whom it is in the highest degree criminal to deceive, on having entered on the government of Ireland as viceroy, a man under whose administration measures inimical to the public welfare had been supported with success, and every measure beneficial to the kingdom uniformly opposed and defeated."
    [-106-] The viceroy to whom this special compliment was paid was Lord Westmoreland. Poor Ireland! - well up in the grievance-market even in those distant days. In the same number I found the advertisement of a "Proposal for a complete History of England, by David Hume, Esq.;" a notice of a gallery of pictures, "by Messrs. Barry, Copley, Fuseli, and T. Lawrence;" and an announcement of the performance of Richard the Third -" The Queen, Mrs. Siddons; being the first time of her performing that character."
    I proceeded to a suite of rooms occupied by the subeditor and the principal reporters. In the outermost of these rooms is arranged the electric-telegraph apparatus - three round discs, with finger-stops sticking out from them like concertina-keys, and a needle pointing to alphabetic letters on the surface of the dial. One of these dials corresponds with the House of Commons, another with Mr. Reuter's telegraph-office, the third with the private residence of the proprietor of my journal, who is thus made acquainted with any important news which may transpire before he arrives at, or after he leaves, the office. The electric telegraph - an enormous boon to all newspaper-men - is specially beneficial to the sub-editor. By its aid he can place before the expectant leader-writer the summary of the great speech in a debate, or the momentous telegram which is to furnish the theme for triumphant jubilee or virtuous indignation; by its aid he can ""make-up" the paper - that is, see exactly how much composed matter will have to be left "standing over,"  - for the tinkling of the bell announces a message from the head of the reporting staff in the House, to the effect, "House up; half a col. to come." Sometimes, very rarely, wires get crossed or otherwise out of gear, and strange messages relating to mis-delivered firkins of butter, or marital excuses for not coming home to dinner, arrive at the office of my journal. The sub-[-107-]editor has a story how, after having twice given the signal to a West-End office which Mr. Reuter then had, he received a pathetic remonstrance from some evidently recently-awakened maiden: "Please not to ring again till I slip on my gown!" On the sub-editor's table lie the weapons of his order: a gigantic pair of scissors, with which he is rapidly extracting the pith from the pile of "flimsy" copy supplied by the aid of the manifold-writer and tissue-paper, by those inferior reporters known as penny-a-liners; and a pot of gum, with which he fits the disjointed bits together here also are proofs innumerable in long slips ; red, blue, and yellow envelopes, with the name of my journal printed on them in large letters-envelopes which have contained the lucubrations of the foreign and provincial correspondents; an inkstand large enough to bathe in; a red-chalk pencil like the bowsprit of a ship; and two or three villanous-looking pens. At another table a gentleman, gorgeous in white waistcoat and cut-away coat, is writing an account of a fancy-fair, at which he has been present; printers, messengers, boys, keep rushing in asking questions and delivering messages ; but they disturb neither of the occupants of the room. The fancy-fair gentleman never raises his eyes from his paper, while, amid all the cross-questioning to which he is subjected, the sub-editor's scissors still snip calmly on.
    Next to the composing-room, where I find about seventy men at work "setting" small scraps of copy before them. The restless scissors of the head of the room divide the liner's description of horrible events at a position of breathless interest, and distribute the glorious peroration of a speech among three or four compositors, who bring up their various contribution of type to the long "galley" in which the article is put together. These men work on an average from four P.M. till two AM., or half-past two (in addition to these there are the regular "day-hands," or men employed in the daytime, who work from nine till five). They are [-108-] mostly from twenty-five to thirty-five years of age; though there is one old man among them who is approaching threescore-and-ten, and who is reported almost as good as any of his juniors, They earn from three to four guineas a-week each. The room is large, and though innumerable gaslights are burning, the ventilation is very good.
    I glanced at some of the writing at which the men were working; and as I thought of the fair round text in which my ledgers and day-books were always entered up, and then looked at the thin jigging hieroglyphics which, in close lines, and adorned with frequent erasures and corrections, lay before the eyes of those poor compositors, I shuddered at the contrast. On inquiring, however, I found that the compositors made very light of cacography, and that it was seldom indeed that a man had to refer to his neighbour to help him in deciphering a word.
    Although a printer may be sitting all day, yet in his own way he is a great traveller, or, at least, his hand is. A good printer will set eight thousand ems a-day, or about twenty-four thousand letters. The distance travelled over by his hand will average about one foot per letter, going to the boxes in which they are contained, and of course returning, making two feet every letter he sets. This would make a distance each day of forty-eight thousand feet, or a little more than nine miles; and in a year, leaving out Sundays, that member travels about three thousand miles.
    From the composing-room I, and a certain amount of type duly set and locked up in a "forme," proceeded to the foundry - a workshop covered with scraps of metal-filings, and with a furnace in the middle of it. Unlike their fellow-workmen of the village of Auburn, as described by Goldsmith, the smiths in the foundry of my journal by no means relaxed their ponderous strengths and leaned to hear, but were obviously far too hard at work to do anything of the kind. So soon as the type-containing formes arrive, they are [-109-] hammered all over with a mallet to reduce them to an average level and consistency; then they are oiled, and an exact imprint is taken of them on what is called a "matrix "- a preparation of French-chalk on stiff paper. This matrix is then dried over a furnace on hot metal plates; a mixture of lead and antimony in a liquid boiling state is poured on it, taking the exact form of the indented letters, filling tip every crack and crevice, and becoming, in many reduplicated forms, the actual substance from which the journal is printed, and which to that end is sent to the machine-room, whither I followed it.
    The machine-room of my journal is a vast whitewashed hall, with three enormous clanging, plunging, whirling metal demons in the midst of it, attended by priests and devotees, half of whom are employed in administering to their idols' appetites by feeding them with virgin paper, while the other half wrenches from them the offering after it has passed through the ordeal. In plainer language, the demons are three of Hoe's most powerful printing-machines, containing together twenty-six cylinders, and in attendance upon them are eighty men and boys, half of whom feed the machines with fresh paper, while the other half receive the sheets after they have passed under the cylinders. The cylinders in these machines make one million four hundred and five thousand revolutions in the course of one night, and for a single day's circulation travel at the rate of nearly nine hundred and eighty-five miles. When its machines are in full swing, my journal is produced at the rate of eight hundred and eighty-four copies per minute. The length of paper used in one day in my journal will make a path one yard wide and nearly one hundred and sixteen miles long; one day's circulation placed edge to edge would closely cover a piece of land of nearly forty-three acres; one week's circulation, placed one on top of the other, would make a column three hundred and nineteen feet high. The [-110-] weight of paper used in one day's circulation of my journal is seven tons thirteen hundred-weight two quarters and twenty pounds; there are also three hundred and ninety-six pounds of ink consumed in one night's printing; and the length of tape used upon the machines is a little over four miles. In the midst of all this whirling, dazzling confusion, accidents very seldom occur; the ringing of a bell, the movement of a handle, and the rotation of the engine ceases instantaneously. To a stranger the vast room, with its glare of gas, its smell of oil and steam, and its whirring engines, is a kind of orderly Pandemonium. There are galleries whence he can survey all that passes; but a few minutes must elapse before his eyes become accustomed to the tearing of the engine, and his ears to the clanging discord; though those employed seem thoroughly habituated, and pursue their avocations as though they were in the quiet composing-room itself. Indeed, the head-engineer, who acted as my guide in this department, had such interest in his work, that he told me he seldom took a holiday or absented himself from his post. He evidently regarded those who did not ordinarily spend their evenings in the company of his machines as inferior beings.
    So the demons go clanging through the night, until they are supposed to have had as much as is good for them, and their fires are raked out, their steam is let off, and machinists and feeding-boys go home to bed, whither the compositors and the sub-editor have long since preceded them. Then the advanced guard of the day establishment, in the persons of the publisher and his staf1 appear upon the scene. The street outside is lined with light spring-carts, with those peculiarly bony horses which always seem to come into newsvendors' hands; crowds of men and boys fight up the passage to the publishing-office, while inside there is a hullabaloo, compared to which the howling at an Irish wake is silence, and the parrot-house at the Zoological Gardens is [-111-] a quiet retreat. Right has very little chance against might in such a medley as this, and the weakest usually goes to the wall; but eventually the big wooden tables arc cleared, the last load has been carried to the van, the last boy has rushed off with his arms full of damp literature, and the starters by the Parliamentary for Liverpool at seven have my journal on their knees, while merchant-princes resident in Brighton, and coming thence by the "daily-bread" express at a quarter to ten, find it on their breakfast-tables at half-past eight.
    Taking such things into consideration, is it wonderful that I regard my newspaper as a marvel, and that I from time to time lay it down to ponder over the capital, talent, and energy involved in its production?