Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Queen Anne: 3 The Press

Periodicals stood out as new and powerful vehicles of political ideology. In 1662 the government had imposed the licensing of publications, but in 1695 Parliament failed to renew this Licensing Act and in doing so dramatically transformed the nature of the reading public. Some restrictions remained but there was sufficient liberty for a vigorous political press to emerge. Most of the writers of the day were also journalists - Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Daniel Defoe.

Foreigners commented on the proliferation of journals and newspapers and linked it to political liberty. By 1709 there were 18 privately sponsored newspapers in London. The Post Boy (Tory) sold 300-400 copies per issue between 1704 and 1712. It may have been read by 50,000 readers. The Examiner, which sold 1,600 copies was for more sophisticated Tory readers. The Whigs had The Observator and The Post Man. Addison and Steeleā€™s Spectator (published daily in 1711-12 and 1714), which sold 2,000 copies each set out the ideal of polite society in which party strife was banished in favour of civilized conversation. By 1712 an estimated 67,000 copies of all newspapers were sold each week. As the reign progressed, they became more ambitious in publishing the results of general elections. In 1710 and 1713 they published detailed reports of many individual contests. Pamphlets could sell 10,000 copies. Journalism was becoming a career.

It could also be risky. Defoe was pilloried in 1703 when his Shortest Way with Dissenters was judged a seditious libel. The pamphlet ruthlessly satirized the High church Tories, by purporting to argue for the extermination of dissenters. The publication of his poem Hymn to the Pillory, however, caused his audience at the pillory to throw flowers instead of the customary harmful and noxious objects, and to drink to his health.