Deconstructing the press in 1766
I am volunteering this summer at a rare books library that holds many items once owned by the eighteenth-century writer and collector Horace Walpole. Pasted in the back of one of Walpole's books I noticed a remarkable clipping that appears to be from the Public Advertiser (London) of either November 10 or December 10, 1766. An Internet search revealed that the same letter was printed in the Virginia Gazette, April 2, 1767, which can be viewed online thanks to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at http://www.pastportal.com. Here is the letter as I transcribed it from that source.
From the GENERAL EVENING POST.
To the PRINTER, &c.
S I R,
MY favourite reading, ever since I could read, has been newspapers, and to them I am indebted for all my knowledge, and the greatest part of my amusement. This declaration may, at first sight, appear somewhat extraordinary; but I dare say it would cease to be so, if most of the fine Gentlemen about town would be as ingenuous as myself: They too would freely confess that the figure they make in company is entirely owing to the occurrences of the day, with occasional essays and literary articles in the publick papers.
I do not intend, Sir, to pay you any extravagant compliments at the expense of your brethren; though I very much approve the general plan and conduct of your paper, and am often pleased to see in it some smart things shine through the dark cloud of politicks, in which all our newspapers have long been enveloped.
For several months past I have resided in the country with a very agreeable family, about forty miles from London. The environs were most delightful, and we had plenty of shooting, fishing, walking, and riding. But as the weather was frequently such as obliged us to keep within doors, we then endeavoured to amuse ourselves with cards and newspapers. Cards, to those who love play, are a vast fund of amusement. Every time the spots and pictures are shuffled they afford fresh entertainment, but this is by no means the case with regard to newspapers; for when you have once perused the four pages of unconnected occurrences, and miscellaneous advertisements, the abrupt transitions from article to article, without the smallest connexion between one paragraph and another, overload and confuse the memory so much that, when you are questioned, you can never give a tolerable account of what you have been reading. Hence it is that one so often sees people peruse two or three newspapers, and throw them down, one after another, with the constant complaint of, Not a syllable of newsâ€”Nothing at all in the papers, to the great discredit of those vehicles of intelligence, and the great detriment of you, Sir, and the rest of your brethren. Now this is extremely unjust, for the fault (as already hinted) is not in the newspapers, but in the readers having taken too copious a dose, consisting of an olio, or mixed composition of politicks, religion, picking of pockets, puffs, casualties, deaths, marriages, bankruptcies, preferments, resignations, executions, lottery tickets, India bonds, Scotch pebbles, Canada bills, French chicken gloves, auctioneers, and quack doctors. What a curious jumble is this! and what wonder is it that four folio pages of it should prove too potent a dose for the memory of most readers!
But, in pursuing this matter, I had almost lost sight of the point I had originally in view, when I began this letter; which was to show that newspapers, as well as cards, were capable of affording a variety of entertainment. At present I shall only mention one improvement in reading the papers, which we practised in the country with great success; and that was after we had read the General Evening Post in the old trite vulgar way, i e. each column by itself downwards, we next read two columns together onwards, as if the lines had been continued through both columns; and by this new method found much more entertainment than in the common way of reading, with a greater variety of articles curiously blended, or strikingly contrasted. In short, blind chance brought about the strangest connections, and frequently coupled persons and things the most heterogeneous; things so opposite in their nature and qualities, that no man alive would ever have thought of joining them together.
As I always carry a pencil in my pocket, I used to set down those that were most remarkable, and now send you a collection of them, to be inserted in your paper; which I hope you will receive with your usual candour and indulgence, as it tends to promote the practice of reading, and to enlarge the circle of innocent amusement.
I am, Sir, your humble servant,
Yesterday Doctor Jones preached at St. James's,
and performed it with ease in less than 16 minutes.
The Sword of State was carried---
before Sir John Fielding, and committed to Newgate.
There was a numerous and brilliant Court;
a down look, and cast with one eye.
Last night the Princess Royal was baptized:
Mary, alias Moll Hacket, alias Black Moll.
This morning the Right Honourable the Speaker---
was convicted of keeping a disorderly house.
This day his M ___ will go in state to
fifteen notorious common prostitutes.
Their R. H. the Dukes of York and Gloucester,
were bound over to their good behaviour.
At noon her R. H. the Princess Dowager was
married to Mr. Jenkins, an eminent tailor.
Lord Chatham took his seat in the House of
and was severely handled by the populace.
Several changes are talked of at Court;
consisting of 9040 triple bob-majors.
Friday a poor blind man fell into a saw-pit,
to which he was conducted by Sir Clement Cotterel â€“
It is said that a great opposition is intended:
---Pray stop it and the party---
A certain Commoner will be created a Peer.
[pointing hand] No greater reward will be offered.
John Wilkes, Esq; set out for France,
being charged with returning from transportation.
Last night a most terrible fire broke out
and the evening concluded with the utmost festivity.
At a very full meeting of Common Council
the greatest show of horned cattle this season.
An indictment for murder is preferred against
The worshipful Company of Apothecaries.
Removed to Marybone for the benefit of the air,
The city and liberties of Westminister.
Lately come out of the country,
The Middlesex hospital, enlarged with a new wing.
Set out on his travels to foreign parts.
Beware of counterfeits for such are abroad.
The Freemasons will hold their annual grand lodge
N. B. The utmost secrecy may be depended on.
Yesterday the new Lord Mayor was sworn in,
and afterwards tossed and gored several persons.
On Tuesday last an address was presented
it happily missed fire, and the villain made off.
When the honour of Knighthood was conferred on him,
to the great joy of that noble family.
A fine turtle, weighing upwards of 80 pounds,
was carried before the sitting Alderman.
Sunday a poor woman was suddenly taken in labour,
the contents whereof have not yet transpired.
Whereas the said barn was set on fire by
an incendiary letter dropped early in the morning.
The King of Prussia has wrote to our Court,
" if you dant pote fife powns in a sartin plase"
A number of 5s. 3d. pieces are now coining,
To be sold to the poor at 5s. per bushel.
This morning will be married the Lord Viscount,
and afterwards hung in chains, pursuant to his sentence,
Escaped from the New Gaol, Terence McDermot,
If he will return, he will be kindly received.
He was examined before the sitting Alderman,
and no questions asked.
To the publick ; a caution to the police.
There is more reason for this caution than good
The executors of the late Doctor Ward continue
At the Horse Infirmary, near Knightsbridge,
By order of the commissioners for paving
An infallible remedy for the stone and gravel.
By the King's patent, British Herb Tobacco,
cureth smokey chimnies. No cure no pay.
To be disposed of, greatly under prime cost,
Nothing under full price will be taken.
The creditors of Mary Jones are desired to meet,
I will pay no debts of her contracting.
Any Lady desirous of lying in privately,
will be delivered at any part of the town.
Colds caught at this season are
The companion to the playhouse.
Wants a place of all work,
A strong bodied mare, mistress of 16 stone,
Wanted, a housekeeper to an elderly Gentleman,
warranted sound, wind and limb, free from blemish.
Wanted to take care of an elderly Gentlewoman,
An active young man, just come out of the country.
To be let, and entered upon immediately,
A young woman, that will put her hand to any thing,
Horses to let, or stand at livery,
Now lying at Horslydown,
Ready to sail for the West Indies,
The Canterbury flying machine in one day,
To be sold to the best bidder,
My seat in Parliament being vacated,
The Turk's Head Bagnio is now opened,
Where may be had, price 5s. in sheets,
To the curious in perukes,
The College of Physicians will hold their anniversary.
Notice is hereby given,
and no notice taken.