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

§ 3. Politics

In the political world, also, while the average of writing, and, possibly, of instructed thought, no matter to what side or party it may be devoted, has, doubtless, improved, there is now less direct connection between statesmen of the first rank and journalism. Greville could point to articles in The Morning Chronicle of the fifties as attributable either to Palmerston or to the ambassador of Napoleon III; The Times could make and maintain an unique reputation abroad, because it was supposed to voice the opinions of important members of the British government. Henry Reeve, who, between 1840 and 1855, wrote for The Times 2482 leading articles, characteristically dwelt, in his journal, on the surpassing value of his knowledge of cabinet matters. Perhaps, allowance must be made for his pride in his work; but the association between cabinet ministers and certain newspapers was, undoubtedly, intimate in the first half of the century. On the other hand, a large degree of independence was shown, and, although great editors might, not unnaturally, be influenced by the society in which they moved, they did not come under suspicion of corruption. Their general character, in this respect, appears in a letter from earl Grey to princess Lieven in 1831:

  • I saw the article last night in The Courier, and it vexed me very much. We really have no power over that, or any other paper in great circulation. All that we can do is by sending them sometimes articles of intelligence (but even to this I am no party) to conciliate them, when public opinion is not against us. But when there is a strong general feeling, as in the case of Poland, it is quite impossible to control them.
  • Lord Palmerston, in reply to Horsman, who had insinuated that he was influencing The Times, protested that, between himself and Delane, there was no bond but that of ordinary social intercourse. At the present day, though, occasionally, information is given privately by ministers to journalists, the latter have grown more and more shy of seeming to be under the influence of ministers; they are afraid lest a reputation of this kind should damage them in public estimation. Ministers, on their part, have adopted a somewhat different method of appealing to the public, or to foreign powers. The development of reporting, and of the transmission of news, has led them chiefly, though not invariably, to make their appeals from the public platform, or from their places in parliament. This change has caused the political pronouncements of our leading journals to be regarded as less weighty. How far they represent a large mass of public opinion is always debatable; a political party having the support of the great majority of journals with large circulations has, at times, gone to the country only to find itself in a very decided minority. In sum, therefore, journalism would seem to have lost authority because statesmen have adopted other means of publishing their views, while it has not gained materially in influence derived from a pretension to represent the general trend of opinion in the country, or, what is even more questionable, to direct this opinion. In 1888, there arose a controversy as to whether journalism was advancing or retrograding. The Spectator held that the influence was declining yearly. Matthew Arnold, in 1887, describing what was known as the new journalism, said:
  • It is full of ability, novelty, variety, sensation, sympathy, generous instinct; its one great fault is that it is feather-brained. It throws out assertions at a venture, because it wishes them true; … and to get at the state of things as they truly are, seems to have no concern whatever.
  • Prophets, in journalism or politics, are always unsafe.