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

§ 8. Delane

That The Times possessed enormous influence under Barnes and his successor (1841), John Thaddeus Dalane, is indicated in all the political memoirs of the period. In the first number of The Saturday Review (3 November, 1855), it was stated that one of the chief functions of the vigorous newcomer was to undermine this influence “by the exercise of common-sense and ordinary perspicacity.” “No apology,” it wrote, “is necessary for assuming that this country is ruled by The Times. We all know it, or if we do not know it, we ought to know it.” In 1834, lord Althorpe had written to Brougham, then lord chancellor, “What I wanted to see you about is The Times; whether we are to make war on it, or come to terms.” By politicians, it was read, in its, opposition days, for the slashing articles, first, of Peter Fraser, and, next, of captain Edward Sterling, father of John Sterling, the friend of Carlyle. Sterling is said to have put into lively and vigorous language ideas already floating in the minds of his readers. He gained for The Times the title “The Thunderer,” by writing, “We thundered out the other day an article on social and political reform”; and, of his writing, Wellington, in 1812, said, “Here is someone not afraid to write like a man.” Macaulay, as is recorded by Thomas Moore in his diary, contributed verses to The Times in 1831. Leigh Hunt, radical though he was, wrote literary reviews for it; Coleridge made advances to the second John Walter, proposing the impossible—that he should be appointed editor, with a perfectly free hand as to policy; George Borrow, while wandering in Spain, collecting materials for his famous book, acted as correspondent for The Times, and, writing with a freedom from the dignity which hedged in staff-writers of the great journal, became, it is said, a model for many who wrote for the cheaper newspapers. According to Escott, “the young lions”—(Matthew Arnold’s name for the writers on The Daily Telegraph)—owed much to Borrow, and one of captain Hamber’s staff on The Standard “had so steeped himself in Borrow’s pure and easy phrasing that some of the disciple’s Letters from Corsica were mistaken by experts for the Master’s own.” But it is to Peter Fraser, a veritable man-about-town in behalf of his paper, that was attributed the influence won in the city of London by The Times, in the first quarter of the century. The Times always desired to feel the pulse not only of Westminster, but, also, of the city; it scarcely recognised public opinion in the manufacturing centres; hence, in part, at least, its opposition to all the great political evolutions of the century. Under Delane, The Times attained a larger cosmopolitan standing. It is said that Barnes furnished his coming successor with useful introductions, including one to Charles Greville of The Memoirs. Delane was, perhaps naturally, and certainly by training, more given to society than Barnes; he was not a writer in the same sense as his predecessor; at no time did he write much, and, in later years, he confined himself almost solely to receiving information which enabled him to direct or control other men. Disraeli had appeared in The Times with his Runnymede Letters (1836) and had won the friendship of Barnes. He had some practical experience of newspaper work in behalf of his party, and formed notable conclusions upon the value of journalism. Delane’s advent was followed shortly by the defeat of the Melbourne administration, and much credit for this was taken by, and given to, The Times. Delane had a cross bench mind; though representing the conservative tendencies largely inherent in the professional and well-to-do classes, he was yet ready to criticise freely, not merely the government of the day, whatever its party complexion, but, also, a great mass of constitutional and social anomalies, thus paving the way for reforms. The famous letters by S. G. O. (lord Sidney Godolphin Osborne, who, twenty-five years after the appearance of his letters, read the service at Delane’s funeral), were a rousing call for better conditions for the agricultural labourer. In 1839, The Times had opposed the duties on corn; but, apparently, John Walter was personally hostile to Sir Robert Peel, and The Times attacked both Peel and Sir James Graham. Especially was it against Peel’s suggestion of a sliding scale of duties; but, to Bright and Cobden and the anti-Corn-law league, it was consistently adverse, though it assisted them grudgingly when opposition was seen to be useless.

A notable illustration of the way in which Delane picked up a policy is connected with the Crimean war. During the Aberdeen administration of 1852, the eastern question came to a head. Thomas Chenery was then Constantinople correspondent of The Times, and reflected the opinions of Stratford Canning, the British ambassador. In September, 1853, Delane wrote to Chenery, fiercely declaring it to be

  • impossible for you to continue to be our correspondent, if you persist in taking a line so diametrically opposed to the interests of this country.… You seem to imagine that England can desire nothing better than to sacrifice all its greatest interests, and its most cherished objects, to support barbarism against civilisation, the Moslem against the Christian, slavery against liberty, to exchange peace for war—all to oblige the Turk. Pray undeceive yourself.
  • Aberdeen drifted; Palmerston became the favourite of the classes for which The Times wrote; and Delane adopted the policy Chenery had been advocating.

    During the war, The Times, by means of the letters written by W. H. Russell, its correspondent with the army in the Crimea, rendered signal service to the nation. There was then no press censorship, and Russell described freely conditions which brought needless suffering upon our troops. The facts gave rise to a loud outcry, and Florence Nightingale, assisted by “S. G. O.,” and others, organised an adequate hospital system. The Times had now, undoubtedly, a commanding position, and its reputation was sustained in such a degree that when, in 1870, on the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, the general staffs of the two powers issued strict regulations for duly licensed war correspondents, all others being threatened as spies, there were, in this country, persons of repute for intelligence who wondered whether The Times would “consent” to such a limitation of its enterprise. During the sixth, seventh and eighth decades of the nineteenth century, foreign statesmen looked much to The Times as indicating the probable policy of this country. Greville records that, in 1858, lord Derby asked him to see Delane, to dissuade him “from writing any more irritating articles about France,” for these articles “provoked the French to madness,” and lord Derby was concerned as to the consequences. Napoleon III, however, was quite ready to use The Times by sending it important information without the knowledge of his ministers.

    During the American civil war (1866), The Times again represented the majority of the professional and wealthy classes, in favouring the secessionists. Needless to say, it was not a supporter of slavery, and it would not, in all cases, have advocated the right of a portion of a kingdom or a federation to separate from the remainder. Probably, the underlying sentiment was that the southern states embodied a continuance of the traditions surrounding ancestral homes and estate holding, while the north was associated with manufacturing and trade.

    Delane supervised very carefully the articles by leader writers and correspondents, altering, or adding finishing touches; for instance, to a narrative of the Heenan and Sayers prize fight, he added, “Restore the prize ring? As well re-establish the heptarchy.” The prize ring, in a modified form, has since been re-established. His caution was great. When, in 1875, Blowitz, of world fame in his day as Paris correspondent of The Times, sent word that Bismarck contemplated a fresh war with France, to prevent the latter from recovering her military strength, Delane held back the news for a fortnight—risking the grave possibility of being forestalled—while Chenery went to Paris, and obtained evidence fully confirming the report. This caution has been, not unnaturally, contrasted with the action of The Times in 1886, when the paper published the famous facsimile “Parnell” letter, the forgery of which was afterwards confessed by Pigott.

    John Walter the third had succeeded his father in 1847 when the paper contained normally about six times as much matter as The Times of 1803; and a large part of its prosperity was due to the forty-four years’ management by the second John Walter. His successor was twenty-nine years of age, and on the eve of entering parliament as a liberal-conservative. Delane was firmly seated in the saddle, and, though the Walter family steadily turned to the conservative side, the paper continued more or less independent until the last years of Delane’s editorship, when Disraeli’s foreign policy, and, for the most part, his internal policy, had the support of the journal.

    In the next period, The Times suffered from the competition of the penny press; and, at the very end of the century, from that of the halfpenny press also. Among its chief competitors were The Daily Telegraph, with its exuberant vitality, and the more steady-going, but more fashionable, Morning Post.