CONSERVATIVE DESIGNS ON THE PRESS; WHIG DEFENCE OF THE TAXES
THE last Number of Blackwood, in an elaborate article on the " Influence of the Press," suggests a plan for converting the People of' England to Conservatism, by means of a hired phalanx of newspaper and magazine writers, whose operations are to be lirected by some editorial VAUBAN. The writer in Blackwood as- sumes, that if a certain number of men of ability could be per- suaded to enter the lists against the Liberal journalists, the in- fluence of the press would no longer preponderate on the Demo- cratic side. Talent, he says, must be opposed to talent; but talent can only be set to work on the Conservative side by means of solid cash. At present, the great majority of readers and purchasers of newspapers are Democrats ; and therefore it is most profitable for persons engaged in the press to advocate Liberal politics: but if men of property, who it is assumed are Conservatives, would only make it worth their while, men of talent would be forthcoming in abundance for their defence. The Tories, notwithstanding they possess so great a proportion of the wealth and mnkaof the coun try, must be marvellously deficient in ability, or else in patriotism, seeing that they have so few men among them who have the will and the wit to defend the Glorious Constitution unless they are well paid for it. But, granting that so far the statement in Blackwood is correct,—supposing that instead of one, there were ten Tory papers, conducted with the same talent and devotion to the cause as the Standard,—would that insure ten additional readers or purchasers ? Suppose the Times establishment, editors, reporters, steamengine and all, were bought by the Marquis of HERTFORD, the Duke of BUCCLEUCH, and such " large-acred men,"—how would that profit the cause ? Those who now read the Times would read it no longer ; and it would be a good specula- tion perhaps to set up a successor to the Tim's. LOUIS PHILIP bought the cutting Figaro'; and from that day to this nothing Las been heard of it. The Corsaire, or some such squibbing little journal, has taken its place; and the money laid out on Figaro might as well have been pitched into the Seine. Those who attribute so much evil to the circulation of Democratic papers among the People, dread the idea of abolishing the Stamp- duty, which would reduce the price of newspapers 50 per cent. Yet if they were to hire men of talent as is proposed, to write on their side, their chance of influencing the masses would be aug- mented by the cheapness of the means by which their lucubra- tions were disseminated through the country. But the fact is, a bad cause makes these gentlemen faint-hearted. They cannot but be conscious, that the supremacy of the privileged orders, rather than the improvement of the people at large, is the main end of all their endeavours.
It is assumed that the abolition of the Newspaper Stamp-duty would at once lower time character of English to that of American journals ; and some go so far as to affirm, that in order to preserve an extended circulation, the journals which now defend the rights of property would be compelled to advocate spoliation. "These, therefore," it is said, " who are anxious for the subversion of the Constitution, and for a new arrangement of society, cannot do better than advocate the repeal of Newspaper-duties." Such assertions as these are made in defiance of time undisputed fact, that at the present time thousands of unstamped newspapers in which the spoliating doctrines are maintained, are circulated among classes who arc prevented by the dearness of better papers from buying them. Time Stamp-duty does not prevent the sale of *heap papers of the worst description. The supply of such papers is linijted only by the demand for them, not by the Stamp-duty; for there is nothing whatever to preventanybody from buying the Poor Man's Guardian, for instance, any day in the week. But the Stamp-duty does prevent time circulation of better papers among those who might be disposed to purchase them. Bes:&s,
it operates on reputable journalists just as the duties on brandy and tobacco affect the fair trader : it causes their business to be cut up by smugglers.
It is difficult to imagine what influence the reduction of the tax could have in deteriorating the Times, the Courier, or the Standard. If, indeed, a law were to pass prohibiting the pro- prietors of those journals from paying more than a guinea a week to the editors and five shillings a week to the Parliamentary re-
porters, then, of course, we should expect very wretched instead of able journals. But the abolition of the Stamp-duty would not lessen—nay, it would almost certainly increase the amount ex- pended on what makes a paper really valuable and agreeable to those who read and buy it.
Oh, but in America papers are cheap, scurrilous, and deficient in intelligence; and in America there is no Stamp-duty : Hier/fore, say these logicians, if the English Stamp-duty were repealed, English papers would be scurrilous and inflammatory. If this sort of reasoning were used in reference to any thing but news- papers, how it would be scouted ! Is any other article deteriorated in quality by the reduction of the duty ? Is not the reverse the fact? It would be tedious to detail the reasons why American papers are inferior to English ones; but nothing would be easier than to show that their inferiority is to be attributed to other causes than the absence of the Stamp-duty. The argument drawn from America may be answered by a reference to the state of the press in France, where newspapers are as cheap as in America. We suspect that few of our contemporaries will pretend that their productions are very superior to the writing in the columns of the National, the Constitutionnel, the Courrier Francais, the Journal des Debate, the Gazette de France, the Temps, or the Ille.sla:p des Chambres. The cheapness of these journals does not prevent men of excellent character and superior abilities from being em- ployed upon them. Therefore the argument against cheapness does not hold good. This subject should be discussed with reference to the common advantage. If it can be proved that the diffusion of political know- ledge, useful information of a general kind, and innocent amuse- ment, is checked among the poorer classes, the great mass of the community, by the Stamp-duty,--if it can likewise be shown that the circulation of absurd, pernicious, and indecent matter, is not checked by it (and here it should be remembered that we have Lord BROUGHAM'S authority in confirmation of the fact that the upper classes are the great supporters of libellous stamped papers), —then, if our principle is correct, that the virtue and happiness of the most numerous classes ought to be the main care of the Go- vernment and Legislature, it follows that the repeal of the Stamp- tax is not only expedient, but an absolute duty on the part of our rulers.
Time defence of this tax by the Whig organs is in keeping with too much of their general course of conduct. They have become the apologists of the worst acts of the Tories. Stamp-duties on newspapers, and the other arbitrary regulations to which journalists are subject, originated with Tories, who had no wish to make the press respectable, but aimed at crushing it. The press has maiu- taMed itself in spite of these efforts of its enemies ; among whom the Reform Ministers must be ranked, unless they speedily make amends for past ill-treatment. The eventual, nay the speedy abolition of the duty on newspapers, and of the oppressive portion of the Six Acts, we believe to be a matter of certainty ; but it has been so long delayed by Ministers, in imitation of the policy which brought their predecessors low, that at last it will be considered as a concession wrung from foes, not the result of a desire to act with justice, consistency, or gratitude to those who stood by them in the day of battle.