Home  »  Volume XIV: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part Two The Nineteenth Century, III  »  § 29. The “Provincial” Press

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

§ 29. The “Provincial” Press

If the history of the newspaper press of the “provinces” could be traced in detail, it would be found, in the main, the vehicle of opinion entirely independent of that expressed in London, admitting the leadership of the London press as little as other members in parliament would allow it to those sitting for London constituencies. The “provincial” press has, indeed, been much more free than the London press from the influence of political organisers. It has been read by weavers and shoemakers no less than by employers of labour and professional men. No doubt, newspapers printed in London have always had a wider circulation in the provinces than country newspapers have had in London. One of the prosecutions which Cobbett and the Hunts underwent was for reprinting an article written for and published in The Stamford News; and, though London has exercised an attraction for newspaper writers because of the greater variety of opportunities which it offers them, many newspapers published out of London have been as well written and edited, as careful and, within limits, as enterprising in the collection of news, and as skilled in the arrangement of material, as any London journal. Several of the country newspapers existing at the end of the nineteenth century could boast a career longer than that of any London paper, though many have disappeared, and some, in the course of a long life, have lost the importance which, as compared with rivals, they once possessed. There were country papers in the early part of the eighteenth century; and, though they copied from their London contemporaries much of their general and foreign news, they printed information peculiar to the districts in which they circulated. The “provincial” press has attracted men of ability. The Sheffield Iris had, as editor, James Montgomery the poet; Hugh Miller, the geologist, edited The Edinburgh Witness; James Hannay, The Edinburgh Courant; William Henry Ireland was editor of The New York Herald when, in 1823, Sydney Smith sent to it for publication the manuscript of his earliest political speech, that at the Three Tuns in Thirsk. That Sydney Smith and his friends should want their speeches to be published in this way, indicates the importance of the country press at the time. John Mackay Wilson, author of Tales of the Borders, edited The Berwick Advertiser; William Etty, the painter, was a compositor on The Hull Packet; De Quincey, during a part of his residence in the lake district, walked once a week into Kendal to edit The Westmorland Gazette and see his leading article printed; Alexander Russel, of The Scotsman, was as influential and as independent as any writer in the United Kingdom. These men flourished in days when, according to some writers, the provincial press was a weak reflex of opinions published in London—a statement which would be entirely ridiculous if applied to the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the extended use of the telegraph had made it possible for the provincial newspapers to receive simultaneously with the London press reports of important occurrences and speeches, and to comment upon them the same night. Indeed, there have been occasions when complaints were made in behalf of an eminent statesman that, though he spoke in London, the provincial newspapers could print his speech and leading articles upon it, while his supporters in the London press could not do more than print his speech—commenting on it the following day. As in London, so in the country, the removal of taxes upon paper, newspapers and advertisements gave a great impetus to journalism, many papers being started, and not a few of the weeklies being converted into dailies. Space will not permit a sketch of these, valuable though it would be, if not, indeed, essential, in any complete narrative of the industrial, social and educational development of the country.