Home  »  Volume XIV: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part Two The Nineteenth Century, III  »  § 10. James Perry and The Morning Chronicle

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

IV. The Growth of Journalism

§ 10. James Perry and The Morning Chronicle

Of the morning papers in the first half of the century, The Morning Chronicle was, in many respects, the most famous. During several periods of its career, there were associated with it some most brilliant writers, and, even in its later stages, failure could not be attributed to lack of quality in the members of its staff. Any attempt to record the history of the newspaper press is confronted here, as in many other instances, with a problem all but insoluble—that of determining the actual causes of success or failure in journalistic effort. Often, the decisive cause would seem to be quality, but with a strangely inverted application. Sir Thomas Gresham, writing on the coinage, lays it down as a principle that, if you have in a country good coins and deteriorated coins of the same metal current side by side, the bad will drive out the good, and Gresham’s law may often be applied to literature, to art and, especially, to journalism. The largest circulations have often been attained by newspapers not exhibiting the highest characteristics; indeed, newspapers have been known suddenly to reach enormous sales by publishing articles describing the careers of notorious criminals. The phrase “survival of the fittest” must, therefore, be used “with a difference.” The Morning Chronicle had belonged to William Woodfall, whose brother Sampson is famous for his publication of The Letters of Junius. Perry, editing The Gazetteer, competed so strongly with The Chronicle, that the latter came into the market, and, with the aid of the duke of Norfolk and others, Perry became its chief proprietor and editor. This was in 1789, when the whigs were in want of an organ, and The Chronicle filled the gap. Sheridan, Sir James Mackintosh, John Campbell (the future lord chancellor), Thomas Campbell the poet, Thomas Moore, David Ricardo, Henry (lord) Brougham, Albany Fonblanque and, as we have seen, Charles Lamb, were among those enlisted by Perry or by John Black, who, having been on the reporting staff of The Chronicle, became its joint editor in 1817, obtaining complete control in 1821, on Perry’s death. Perry’s writing had a lightness of touch unknown to his successor; but Black had higher qualifications for discussing public questions; Bentham called him the greatest publicist the country had seen, and among his favourite contributors were James and John Stuart Mill, the latter being only seventeen years of age when he contributed three letters condemning the punishment which Richard Carlisle, his wife and her sister suffered for publishing unstamped papers. Black offended many of his whig friends by seeing good qualities in the duke of Wellington. His style was not free, but, according to John Stuart Mill, he was

  • the first journalist who carried criticism and the spirit of reform into the details of English institutions.… Black was a frequent visitor to my father, and Mr. Grote used to say he always knew by the Monday morning’s article whether Black had been with my father on the Sunday.
  • Black, in The Chronicle, was at war with The Times; as was no secret, one of his reporters, Charles Dickens, caricatured the quarrel. Black regarded Dickens as the finest shorthand writer he had ever known—a judgment borne out by men who were colleagues of Dickens in the parliamentary gallery. Thackeray began his newspaper career as an art critic for the same paper. In the fifties, when the Peelites controlled The Chronicle, Palmerston inspired The Morning Post, and Greville, during the negotiations closing the Crimean war, said:
  • Palmerston continues to put articles into The Morning Post, full of arrogance and jactance, and calculated to raise obstacles to the peace. This is only what he did in ’41, when he used to agree to certain things with his colleagues, and then put violent articles in The Morning Chronicle totally at variance with the views and resolutions of the Cabinet.
  • In 1862, The Morning Chronicle ended a notable career.

    Daniel Stuart, in 1799, obtained possession of The Courier, an evening paper. To The Courier, in Stuart’s hands, Wordsworth is said to have sent extracts from his then unpublished Cintra convention pamphlet, and, also, articles on the Spanish and Portuguese navies. Beginning with admiration for the French revolution, The Courier followed the popular lead in this country, and became an opponent of the French cause, and especially of Napoleon. In 1827, it supported Canning; William Mudford, the editor, author of a series of tales in Blackwood’s Magazine, became a personal friend of this statesman. As a result, it was denounced by the ultra-tory party, and lost circulation, and, though, on the death of Canning, it reverted to toryism, there was no recovery of position. John Galt edited it about 1830, and was followed by James Stuart, who, some years previously, having been libelled by Sir Alexander Boswell, son of James Boswell, had challenged him to a duel, and killed him. Stuart conducted The Courier as a whig paper, and, apparently, was the first editor of an evening paper to publish, once a week, an enlarged sheet with one entire page devoted to book reviews. In 1836, he was succeeded by Laman Blanchard. Shortly afterwards, however, the paper was again sold to the tories, and, with a new editor, lasted a few years longer.