EARLY STRUGGLES OF THE AUSTRALIAN PRESS. INTRODUCTIOisT.
AS an introduction to the "Early Struggles of the Australian Press," some remarks upen the Early Struggles of the Englisn Press may not be out of place, and particularly so when it is remembered that Australia inherited the disabilities not less than the advantages ofl the Mother Cbuntry.
The English Mercury appeared in 1588, the year of the Armada ; News from Spctin„ 1611 ;• Netv^ out of Germany, 1612, &c. The Couranty w Weekly News from Foreign Parts, was printed, 1621» for Nath. Butters; the Certain Ne^vs of the Present Week, 1622; Weekly Account ylmi; DiumaA of Occurences in Parliament, 1640 ; the English Post, 1641 ; Ireland s True Diurnal, 1641. In 1642 appeared A Perfect Diurnal, Weekly Intelligencer, and the Daily Intelligencer of Court, City, and Country, There were thirty-two papers in 1643 ; as, the Mercurius Rusticus, the Scotch Intelligencer, the Scotch Dove, the Welch Mercury, Mercurius Camnbro-Britannicus, &c. The London Post came out in 1646. Next year came Mercurius Diabolicus or HelVs Intelligencer^ In 1648 there were, among many others, the Parliament Kite or the Tell'tcUe Bird, the Parlia- 7nenfs Screech Owl, the Colchester Spie, and Neivsfrom Hell Brought Fresh to Town.
The Man in the Moon and the Boyal Diurnal were in 1649 ; the Weepers, and the Laughing M4Tcury ; or True and Perfect News from the Antipodes, in 1652. In 1657 was the Puhlick Advertiser ; in 1650, the Faithful Scout ; and in 1660, the Mercurius Caledonius,
Ballads and poems were forerunners of newspapers. Ben Jonson's play, " The S4aple of NewSy** 1625, has a character crying, —
" And dish out news,
Were*t true or false."
FiTT. : " O Sir I it is the printing we oppose."
Cymb. : " We'll not forbid that any news be made.
But that *t be printed ; for when news is printed.
It leaves. Sir, to be news, while 'tis but written."
FiTT. : " Though it be ne'er so false, it runs news still."
Elsewhere Ben Jonson speaks of the office ** wherein the Age may see her own folly, or hunger and thirst after published pamphlets of news, set out every Saturday, "but made all at home, and no N syllable of truth in them."
The Liberty of the Press has been held of supreme importance. Euripides sang in Greece, —
This is true liberty, when free-born men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free.
Milton has written : " When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty obtained that wise men look for."
Fox Bourne reminds us that ** until the time of Queen Anne a small sheet, technically known a» a half-sheet, divided into eight (quarto pages, usually in double columns, was as much as a week's supply of news could HU, even with the help of advertisements, and when the first daily paper was. started in 1702, it was printed only on one side of the folio."
Those early papers were allowed pretty free passage in the early days, and they gave some anima- tion to the parliamentary struggle in the seventeenth century. Though in the contest between the Commons and King Charles some attempted interference took place, newspapers did enjoy a fair measure of freedom until Charles II. placed the fetters on them. May, the great authority on parlia- mentary usage^emarks, —
" After the Keformation, the Crown assumed the right which the Church had previously exercised, of prohibiting the printing of all works but such as should be first seen and allowed. Tl\e censorshipt of the Press became part of the prerogative ; and printing was further restrained by patents and monopolies. Queen Elizabeth interdicted printing save in London, Oxford, and Cambridge." The printing masters were limited to twenty in number.
It should be known that Newsletters preceded Newspapers, and continued after the latter arose. The obliging proprietor of the Flying Post, 1695, suggested : ** If any gentleman has a mind to oblige ^ his country friend or correspondent with this account of public affairs, he may have it for twopence,. of J. Salisbury, at the Kising Sun, in ComhiU, on a sheet of fine paper, half of which, being blank, h& may thereon write his own private business." Dawks' News Letter, 1606, was in a type to imitate^ writing, leaving a blank space for private letters. Dawks brought out the Protestant Mercury ; of which he said ; " This paper coming out only on Wednesdays and lYidays, and no other paper coming: out on these days, it is near as much read as all the other tnree papers.'
The earliest EngUsh country paper was the Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury, 1695. Th© Norwich Post appeared in 1706 ; the Newcastle Courant, 1711 ; Liverpool Courant, 1712, having two- advertisements, and announcing the arrival of one ship, with the departure of another ; Manchester- Gazette, 1730 ; Leeds Mercury, 1718 ; York, 1710 ; Exeter, 1718 ; Chester, 1721. The Belfast News Letter- came 1737 ; Saunders' News Letter, 1745 ; Freeinan's Journal, 1755. The Scotsman rose in 1817. Thfe Gentleman's Magazine dates from 1731. The London Gazette, by authority, began in 1655.
The Censorship, or restriction upon the Press, was a serious trial to printers. Milton called thes censor or licensee the slayer of " an immortality rather than a life," in his great work the " Areopagi- tica ; a Speech for Liberty of Unlicensed Printing." In a letter from Swift to Stella, in 1712, when the; Stamp Act was passed, we read ; " Grub Street has but ten days to live ; then an Act of Parliament takes place that ruins with taxing every H&If -sheet a halfpenny." In 1789 the stamp was made twov pence, rising higher after.
Among early English Acts relative to the Press was the one for printers and binders of books^ passed in the twenty-fifth year of Henry VIII. After referring to the Statute of Richard III., per- mitting foreigners to bring printed and written books to England for sale. King Henry notes- t&m freat increase of printers Dorn in the country, but complains of foreigners injuring the home trader y their introduction of books into English markets. Henceforth, all such books have their sal* prohibited, under forfeiture of the volumes, and a fine of 6s. 8d. for each book.