R. S. Rintoul, 1787-1858
By PAUL BLOOMFIELD ROBERT STEPHEN RINTOUL'S was a classic case of a Scot of obscure parentage and out- standing talent coming to London and making good. On leaving school—the parish school at a small place, Aberdalgie—he became a printer's apprentice in Edinburgh, and later joined the Dundee Advertiser, a Liberal paper in Liberal Forfarshire, native county of the Radical Joseph Hume and sphere of influence of some interesting Left-wing Whig grandees, for instance Lord Pan- inure and Byron's versatile friend Kinnaird. After Rintoul had risen from printing to editing the Advertiser, these two recognised his ability and were always ready to use their pull on his behalf.
Becoming well known in the Edinburgh of the great Edinburgh Review days, Rintoul was en- couraged to go there to start a new paper. Though this fizzled out at once, nobody thought any the worse of him. By now, with. Castlereagh dead and Canning so much alive, with Peel re- forming the penal system and Huskisson enthu- siastic for Free Trade, the most interesting centre for any ambitious young Radical was London, to which Rintoul came in 1826 to edit William Blackwood's The Atlas. When Black- wood wanted him to vulgarise it he said no, and resigned; and it was then that his friends founded the Spectator, putting him in absolute control. The first number was dated 'week ending July 5, 1828'; it ran to sixteen pages and cost 9d. (in- cluding 4d. tax), and the first words were : 'The principal object of a Newspaper is to convey in- telligence.'
About a year later Rintoul was struck by an anonymous feature in the Morning Chronicle called 'A Letter from Sydney . . . Together with the Outline of a System of Colonisation.' On making inquiries Rintoul learnt that the author was a young man of good family half-way through a three-year sentence in Newgate, his punishment for abducting a fifteen-year-old heiress and carrying her off to Gretna Green. The prisoner was Edward Gibbon Wakefield. On this gaolbird Rintoul was at once ready to stake his reputation—which was brave, considering Wakefield's reputation, as well as far- sighted. Besides the 'Letter,' Wakefield (who was a cousin of Elizabeth Fry's) wrote a pamphlet whilst in Newgate against the abuse of the death penalty which helped Lord John Russell to reduce capital offences to four. Rintoul said in the Spectator: 'If ever man redeemed the wrong he had done society, by conferring upon it a vast benefit, it is M. Wakefield.'
In 1830 Wakefield came out of Newgate and the Whigs into power. The issue that most pre- occupied the nation was, of course, Reform; and the famous phrase, 'The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill,' was Rintoul's. But as soon as the Bill was passed disillusion set in. It was not only that the Whigs had been* too cautious; the situation was unprecedented in history—an industrial revolution in a country with rapidly in- creasing numbers. Britain was even more 'over- populated' with fourteen millions in 1832 than with fifty millions under Welfare State condi- tions today. The Radicals would not have known how to cope either. The trouble with them, Rintoul saw, was that they wanted to run a party on philanthropic principles and could not agree what these were. He was confirmed in his political independence, supported Peel in due course over the Corn Law question, and meanwhile threw in his lot with the group of 'Philosophical Radi- cals' who since 1830 had been known as the `Colonial Reformers.' (Most Radicals were thorough-paced Little Englanders then as they are now.) 'Colonisation,' said the Spectator of September 10, 1831, 'worthy to be so described, has never been pursued by any modern Govern- ment; but the Ministry is about (so we are in- formed) to take the first step in this vast improvement of our political economy.' The Re- formers had to begin by redeeming Australia from being a semi-tropical Siberia, to force the government to annex New Zealand (the size of Britain with a cannibal population smaller than that of not-anthropophagous Greenwich today) and to reconcile the British and French in Canada to Downing Street and to each other. And the new British nations would have to have respon- sible government. Wakefield was bent on this from 1830, eight years before Durham went to Canada—and he with him.
The history of the Spectator under Rintoul is to a remarkable extent the history of the dogged and successful prosecution of this colonial policy in the teeth of opposition from Evangelicals, from the separatist Radicals and from the Colonial Office—especially from James (or 'King') Stephen, the great Permanent Under-Secretary, grand- father of Virginia Woolf. Twenty million Briton; emigrated in a century, and if it had not been for the Colonial Reformers they would nearly all have gone to the United States (where the majority went anyhow): there would be no Commonwealth today.
Rintoul's personality was attractive to intelli- gent and spirited men of all kinds. Bentham in old age took kindly to him, Hazlitt in his last year wrote for him. Mill was in sympathy with him. Rintoul was on excellent terms with Charles Buller, who developed the responsible government theme after the publication of the Durham Report. Even before Wakefield had saved the Report from mutilation by divulging its contents to The Times, he and Rintoul had put their heads together to see how they could make sure of getting it implemented. In December, 1838, they founded the Colonial Gazette; and when Lord Sydenham sailed to Canada to be Governor-General they posted off a number of copies of the Gazette by steamer, so that Canadians should know in good time if Sydenham . broke promises there that he had made here.
`Large-browed, gentle mannered, but he must never be spoken to on a Friday'—it is fitting enough that the only extant verbal sketch of Rintoul should have been left to us by a member of the Wakefield family. When Wakefield once said to him, 'I should have done nothing at all if you had not constantly helped me,' Rintoul answered with equal magnanimity. He also said : 'The kind of merit which the Spectator seeks not to dis- claim, is simply of not being frightened by the novelty of a scientific proposition; and of having, when examination has assured us of its solidity, held by &until others have become as convinced of its utility and of its practical use as we are.'