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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XVII. Political Literature

§ 18. Woodfall’s editorship of the Advertiser

Candor’s first letter had originally appeared in The Public Advertiser, and there formed one of a whole class of political compositions, which, in the next few years, were to take the foremost place in controversy. Their existence was due to the shrewd enterprise of the printer Henry Sampson Woodfall, who had edited The Public Advertiser since 1758. In addition to trustworthy news of events at home and abroad, Woodfall opened his columsn to correspondence, the greater part of which was political. He was scrupulously impartial in his choice from his letter-bag. Merit and immunity from the law of libel were the only conditions exacted. Soon, he had several journals, such as The Gazetteer, competing with his for correspondents; but The Public Advertiser’s larger circulation, and the inclusion in it of letters from all sides in politics, enabled it easily to distance the rival prints in the quality and quantity of these volunteer contributions. George III himself was a regular subscriber; it gave him useful clues to public opinion. The political letters are of all kinds—denunciatory, humorous, defensive, solemn, matter-of-fact, rhetorical and ribald. Their authors, too, were most varied, and are now exceedingly hard to identify. Every now and then a statesman who had been attacked would vindicate himself under a pseudonym; more frequently, some hanger-on would write on his behalf, with many professions of being an impartial onlooker. There were independent contributors; and small groups of minor politicians would carry on a continuous correspondence for years. But neither single authors nor groups can be easily tracted through their compositions. As is natural, their style seldom helps us to identify them. They wrote the current controversial prose, and, after 1770, their prose is tinged with a Junian dye. The pseudonyms throw little light on the matter. There was no monopoly in any one of them, and the same author would vary his pseudonyms as much as possible, chiefly with intent to avoid discovery and the decrease of credit which his communications might undergo if he were known, but, also, to provide sham opponents as a foil to his arguments and to create an illusion of wide public support for his views.