When he had opened it, and was about to begin to read, he chanced to look over the top of the document at the company seated before him. No artist that ever held a brush could depict the passion of curiosity, the frenzy of expectation, expressed in that group of pallid faces. Every individual among them expected to leave the apartment the conscious possessor of millions, for no one had dreamed of the probability of his leaving the bulk of his estate to the public. If they had ever heard of his saying that no one should be gentleman upon his money, they had forgotten or disbelieved it. The opening paragraphs of the will all tended to confirm their hopes, since the bequests to existing institutions were of small amount. But the reader soon reached the part of the will which assigned to ladies and gentlemen present such trifling sums as five thousand dollars, ten thousand, twenty thousand; and he arrived erelong at the sections which disposed of millions for the benefit of great cities and poor children. Some of them made not the slightest attempt to conceal their disappointment and disgust. Men were there who had married with a view to share the wealth of Girard, and had been waiting years for his death. Women were there who had looked to that event as the beginning of their enjoyment of life. The imagination of the reader must supply the details of a scene which we might think dishonored human nature, if we could believe that human nature was meant to be subjected to such a strain. It had been better, perhaps, if the rich man, in his own lifetime, had made his kindred partakers of his superabundance, especially as he had nothing else that he could share with them. They attempted, on grounds that seem utterly frivolous, to break the will, and employed the most eminent counsel to conduct their cause, but without effect. They did, however, succeed in getting the property acquired after the execution of the will; which Girard, disregarding the opinion of Mr. Duane, attempted by a postscript to include in the will. "It will not stand," said the lawyer. "Yes it will," said Girard. Mr. Duane, knowing his man, was silent; and the courts have since decided that his opinion was correct.
Thirty-three years have passed since the city of Philadelphia entered upon the possession of the enormous and growing estate with which Mr. Girard intrusted it. It is a question of general interest how the trust has been administered. No citizen of Philadelphia needs to be informed, that, in some particulars, the government of their city has shown little more regard to the manifest will of Girard than his nephews and nieces did. If he were to revisit the banks of the Schuylkill, would he recognize, in the splendid Grecian temple that stands in the centre of the College grounds, the home for poor orphans, devoid of needless ornament, which he directed should be built there? It is singular that the very ornaments which Girard particularly disliked are those which have been employed in the erection of this temple; namely, pillars. He had such an aversion to pillars, that he had at one time meditated taking down those which supported the portico of his bank. Behold his College surrounded with thirty-four Corinthian columns, six feet in diameter and fifty-nine in height, of marble, with capitals elaborately carved, each pillar having cost thirteen thousand dollars, and the whole colonnade four hundred and forty thousand! And this is the abode of poor little boys, who will leave the gorgeous scene to labor in shops, and to live in such apartments as are usually assigned to apprentices!
Now there is probably no community on earth where the number of honorable men bears a larger proportion to the whole population than in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a community of honest dealers and faithful workmen. It is a matter of the highest interest to know how it could happen that, in such a city, a bequest for such a purpose should be so monstrously misappropriated.
The magnitude of the bequest was itself one cause of its misappropriation, and the habits of the country were another. When we set about founding an institution, our first proceeding is to erect a vast and imposing edifice. When we pronounce the word College, a vision of architecture is called up. It was natural, therefore, that the people of Philadelphia, bewildered by the unprecedented amount of the donation, should look to see the monotony of their city relieved by something novel and stupendous in the way of a building; and there appears to have been no one to remind them that the value of a school depends wholly upon the teachers who conduct it, provided those teachers are free to execute their plans. The immediate cause, however, of the remarkable departure from the will in the construction of the principal edifice was this: the custody of the Girard estate fell into the hands of the politicians of the city, who regarded the patronage appertaining thereunto as part of the "spoils" of victory at the polls. As we live at a time when honest lovers of their country frequently meditate on the means of rescuing important public interests from the control of politicians, we shall not deem a little of our space ill bestowed in recounting the history of the preposterous edifice which Girard's money paid for, and which Girard's will forbade.
On this subject we can avail ourselves of the testimony of the late Mr. Duane. During his own lifetime he would not permit the following narrative to be published, though he allowed it to be used as a source of information. We can now give it in his own words:—
"In relation to the Girard College, the whole community of Philadelphia, and all political parties in it, are culpable. At the time of Mr. Girard's death there was a mixture of Democrats and Federalists in our Councils: the former preponderating in number. It is said that of all steps the first is the most important, and that the first proceeding has either a good or a bad influence in all that follow. Now, what was the first step of the Democratic Councils, after Mr. Girard's death, in relation to the College? Were they satisfied with the plan of it as described in his will? Did they scout the project of building a palace for poor orphans? Were there no views to offices and profits under the trust? As I was in the Select Council at the time myself, I can partly answer these questions. Instead of considering the plan of a College given in the will a good one, the Democratic Councils offered rewards to architects for other plans. And as to offices, some members of Councils looked forward to them, to say nothing of aspirants out of doors.
"I have ever been a Democrat in principle myself, but not so much of a modern one in practice as to pretend that the Democratic party are free from blame as to the College. If they had been content with Mr. Girard's plain plan, would they have called in architects for others?
"If they had been opposed to pillars and ornaments, why did they invite scientific men to prepare pictures and plans almost inevitably ornamental? If they had been so careful of the trust funds, why did they stimulate the community, by presenting to them architectural drawings, to prefer some one of them to the simple plan of Girard himself? Besides, after they had been removed from power, and saw preparations made for a temple surrounded with costly columns, why did they not invoke the Democratic Legislature to arrest that proceeding? If they at any time whatever did make such an appeal, I have no recollection of it. For party effect, much may have been said and done on an election day, but I am not aware that otherwise any resistance was made. No doubt there were many good men in the Democratic party in 1831-2, and there always have been many good men in it; but I doubt whether those who made the most noise about the College on election days were either the best Democrats or the best men. The leaders, as they are called, were just as factious as the leaders of their opponents. The struggle of both for the Girard Fund was mainly with a view to party influence. How much at variance with Mr. Girard's wishes this course was, may readily be shown.
"Immediately after his death in 1831, his will was published in the newspapers, in almanacs, and in other shapes likely to make its contents universally known. In it he said: 'In relation to the organization of the College and its appurtenances, I leave necessarily many details to the mayor, aldermen, and citizens of Philadelphia, and their successors; and I do so with the more confidence, as, from the nature of my bequests and the benefit to result from them, I trust that my fellow-citizens will observe and evince especial care and anxiety in selecting members for their City Councils and other agents,'
"What appeal could have been more emphatic than this? How could the testator have more delicately, but clearly, indicated his anxiety that his estate should be regarded as a sacred provision for poor orphans, and not 'spoils' for trading politicians?
"In this city, however, as almost everywhere else, to the public discredit and injury, our social affairs had been long mingled with the party questions of the Republic. At each rise or fall of one or the other party, the 'spoils' were greedily sought for. Even scavengers, unless of the victorious party, were deemed unworthy to sweep our streets. Mr. Girard's estate, therefore, very soon became an object of desire with each party, in order to increase its strength and favor its adherents. Instead of selecting for the Councils the best men of the whole community, as Mr. Girard evidently desired, the citizens of Philadelphia persisted in preserving factious distinctions, and in October, 1832, the Federal candidates prevailed.
"The triumphant party soon manifested a sense of their newly acquired power. Without making any trial whatever of the efficiency of the rules prepared by their predecessors for the management of the Girard trusts, they at once abolished them; and there were various other analogous evidences of intolerance.
"Without asserting that party passions actuated them, certain it is, that those who were now in power placed none of Mr. Girard's intimate friends in any position where they could aid in carrying out his views. No serious application was ever made, to my knowledge, to one of them for explanation on any point deemed doubtful. On the contrary, objections made by myself and others to the erection of a gorgeous temple, instead of a plain building for orphans, were utterly disregarded.
"A majority of the citizens of Philadelphia as a political class, and not a majority, as a social community, as trustees of a fund for orphans, having thus got entire control of the Girard estate, they turned their attention to the plans of a College collected by their Democratic predecessors. Neither of the parties appears to have originally considered whether the plan described in the will ought not to be followed, if that could be done practically. The main desire of both so far seems to have been to build in the vicinity of this city a more magnificent edifice than any other in the Union.
"At this time, Mr. Nicholas Biddle was in the zenith of his power. Hundreds of persons, who at the present day find fault with him, were then his worshippers. He could command any post which he was willing to fill. I do not pretend that he sought any post, 'but it suited his inclinations to be at the head of those who were intrusted by Councils with the construction of the College. Over his colleagues in this, as in another memorable instance, he seems to have had an absolute control. The architect, also, whose plan had been preferred, appears to have considered himself bound to adapt it to Mr. Biddle's conceptions of true excellence. And you now behold the result,—a splendid temple in an unfinished state, instead of the unostentatious edifice contemplated by Mr. Girard.
"Is all this surprising V Why should Democrats think it so? It was by them that plans and pictures of architects were called for. Why should their opponents be astonished? It was by them that a carte blanche seems to have been given to Mr. Biddle in relation to the plans and the College. Is Mr. Biddle culpable? Is there no excuse for one so strongly tempted as he was, not merely to produce a splendid edifice, but to connect his name, in some measure, with that of its founder? While I am not an apologist for Mr. Biddle, I am not willing to cast blame upon him alone for the waste of time and money that we have witnessed. As a classical scholar, a man of taste, and a traveller abroad, it was not unnatural that he should desire to see near his native city the most magnificent edifice in North America. Having all the pride and sense of power which adulation is calculated to produce, the plain house described in his will may have appeared to him a profanation of all that is beautiful in architecture, and an outrage at once against all the Grecian orders. In short, the will of Mr. Girard to the contrary, Mr. Biddle, like another distinguished person, may have said, 'I take the responsibility.'"
"It is true that this responsibility was a serious one, but less so to Mr. Biddle than to the City Councils. They were the trustees, and ought to have considered Mr. Girard's will as law to them. They should have counted the cost of departing from it. They ought to have reflected that by departing from it many orphans would be excluded from the benefits of education. They should have considered whether a Grecian temple would be such a place as poor orphans destined to labor ought to be reared in. The Councils of 1832-3, therefore, have no apology to offer. But Mr. Biddle may well say to all our parties: 'You are all more in fault than I am. You Democrats gave rewards for plans. You Federalists submitted those plans to me, and I pointed out the one I thought the best, making improvements upon it. A very few persons, Mr. Ronaldson, Mr. Duane, and one or two others alone objected; while the majority of my fellow-citizens, the Councils, and the Legislature, all looked on at what I was doing, and were silent.'"
While erecting an edifice the most opposite to Girard's intentions that could be contrived by man, the architect was permitted to follow the directions of the will in minor particulars, that rendered the building as inconvenient as it was magnificent. The vaulted ceilings of those spacious rooms reverberated to such a degree, that not a class could say its lesson in them till they were hung with cotton cloth. The massive walls exuded dampness continually. The rooms of the uppermost story, lighted only from above, were so hot in the summer as to be useless; and the lower rooms were so cold in winter as to endanger the health of the inmates. It has required ingenuity and expense to render the main building habitable; but even now the visitor cannot but smile as he compares the splendor of the architecture with the homely benevolence of its purpose. The Parthenon was a suitable dwelling-place for a marble goddess, but the mothers of Athens would have shuddered at the thought of consigning their little boys to dwell in its chilling grandeurs.
We can scarcely overstate the bad effect of this first mistake. It has constantly tended to obscure Mr. Girard's real purpose, which was to afford a plain, comfortable home, and a plain, substantial education to poor orphans, destined to gain their livelihood by labor. Always there have been two parties in the Board of Directors: one favoring a scheme which would make the College a college; the other striving to keep it down to the modest level of the founder's intentions. That huge and dazzling edifice seems always to have been exerting a powerful influence against the stricter constructionists of the will. It is only within the last two years that this silent but ponderous argument has been partially overcome by the resolute good-sense of a majority of the Directors. Not the least evil consequent upon the erection of this building was, that the delay in opening the College caused the resignation of its first President, Alexander D. Bache, a gentleman who had it in him to organize the institution aright, and give it a fair start. It is a curious fact, that the extensive report by this gentleman of his year's observation of the orphan schools of Europe has not been of any practical use in the organization of Girard College. Either the Directors have not consulted it, or they have found nothing in it available for their purpose.
The first class of one hundred pupils was admitted to the College on the first day of the year 1848. The number of inmates is now six hundred. The estate will probably enable the Directors to admit at length as many as fifteen hundred. It will be seen, therefore, that Girard College, merely from the number of its pupils, is an institution of great importance.
Sixteen years have gone by since the College was opened, but it cannot yet be said that the policy of the Directors is fixed. These Directors, appointed by the City Councils, are eighteen in number, of whom six go out of office every year, while the Councils themselves are annually elected. Hence the difficulty of settling upon a plan, and the greater difficulty of adhering to one. Sometimes a majority has favored the introduction of Latin or Greek; again, the manual-labor system has had advocates; some have desired a liberal scale of living for the pupils; others have thought it best to give them Spartan fare. Four times the President has been changed, and there have been two periods of considerable length when there was no President. There have been dissensions without and trouble within. As many as forty-four boys have run away in a single year. Meanwhile, the Annual Reports of the Directors have usually been so vague and so reticent, that the public was left utterly in the dark as to the condition of the institution. Letters from masters to whom pupils have been apprenticed were published in the Reports, but only the letters which had nothing but good to say of the apprentices. Large numbers of the boys, it is true, have done and are doing credit to the College; but the public have no means of judging whether, upon the whole, the training of the College has been successful.
Nevertheless, we believe we may say with truth that invaluable experience has been gained, and genuine progress has been made. To maintain and educate six hundred boys, even if those boys had enlightened parents to aid in the work, is a task which would exhaust the wisdom and the tact of the greatest educator that ever lived. But these boys are all fatherless, and many of them motherless; the mothers of many are ignorant and unwise, of some are even vicious and dissolute. A large number of the boys are of very inferior endowments, have acquired bad habits, have inherited evil tendencies. It would be hard to overstate the difficulty of the work which the will of Girard has devolved upon the Directors and teachers of Girard College. Mistakes have been made, but perhaps they have not been more serious or more numerous than we ought to expect in the forming of an institution absolutely unique, and composed of material the most unmanageable.
There are indications, too, that the period of experiment draws to an end, and that the final plan of the College, on the basis of common-sense, is about to be settled. Mr. Richard Vaux, the present head of the Board of Directors, writes Reports in a style most eccentric, and not always intelligible to remote readers; but it is evident that his heart is in the work, and that he belongs to the party who desire the College to be the useful, unambitious institution that Girard wished it to be. His Reports are not written with rose-water. They say something. They confess some failures, as well as vaunt some successes. We would earnestly advise the Directors never to shrink from taking the public into their confidence. The public is wiser and better than any man or any board. A plain statement every year of the real condition of the College, the real difficulties in the way of its organization, would have been far better than the carefully uttered nothings of which the Annual Reports have generally consisted. It was to Philadelphia that Girard left his estate. The honor of Philadelphia is involved in its faithful administration. Philadelphia has a right to know how it is administered.
The President of the College is Major Richard Somers Smith, a graduate of West Point, where he was afterwards a Professor. He has served with distinction in the Army of the Potomac, in which he commanded a brigade. To learn how to be an efficient President of Girard College is itself a labor of years; and Major Smith is only in the second year of his incumbency. The highest hopes are indulged, however, that under his energetic rule, the College will become all that the public ought to expect. He seems to have perceived at once the weak point of the institution.
"I find in the College," he says in one of his monthly reports,
"a certain degree of impatience of study, an inertness, a dragging along, an infection of 'young-Americanism,' a disposition to flounder along through duties half done, hurrying to reach—what is never attained—an 'easy success'; and I observe that this state of things is confined to the higher departments of study. In the elementary departments there is life; but as soon as the boy has acquired the rudiments of his English or common-school education, he begins to chafe, and to feel that it Is time for him to go out, and to make haste to 'finish (!) his studies,'—which of course he does without much heart."
"The 'poor white male orphan,' dwelling for eight or ten years in comfort almost amounting to luxury, waited upon by servants and machinery in nearly all his domestic requirements, unused to labor, or laboring only occasionally, with some reward in view in the form of extra privileges, finds it hard to descend from his fancied elevation to the lot of a simple apprentice; and his disappointment is not soothed by the discovery that with all his learning he has not learned wherewithal to give ready satisfaction to his master."
It has been difficult, also, to induce the large manufacturers to take apprentices; they are now accustomed to place boys at once upon the footing of men, paying them such wages as they are worth. Men who employ forty boys will not generally undertake the responsibilities involved in receiving them as bound apprentices for a term of years.
To remedy all these evils, Major Smith proposes to add to the College a Manual Labor Department, in which the elder boys shall acquire the rudiments of the arts and trades to which they are destined. This will alleviate the tedium of the College routine, assist the physical development of the boys, and send them forth prepared to render more desirable help to their employers. The present Board of Directors favor the scheme.
In one particular the College has fulfilled the wishes of its founder. He said in his will,
"I desire that by every proper means, a pure attachment to our republican institutions, and to the sacred rights of conscience, as guaranteed by our happy Constitution, shall be formed and fostered in the minds of the scholars."
Three fourths of the whole number of young men, out of their time, who were apprenticed from Girard College, have joined the Union army. We must confess, also, that a considerable number of its apprentices, not out of their time, have run away for the same purpose. With regard to the exclusion of ecclesiastics, it is agreed on all hands that no evil has resulted from that singular injunction of the will. On the contrary, it has served to call particular attention to the religious instruction of the pupils. The only effect of the clause is, that the morning prayers and the Sunday services are conducted by gentlemen who have not undergone the ceremony of ordination.
The income of the Girard estate is now about two hundred thousand dollars a year, and it is increasing. Supposing that only one half of this revenue is appropriated to the College, it is still, we believe, the largest endowment in the country for an educational purpose. The means of the College are therefore ample. To make those means effective in the highest degree, some mode must be devised by which the politics of the city shall cease to influence the choice of Directors. In other words, "Girard College must be taken out of politics." The Board of Directors should, perhaps, be a more permanent body than it now is. At the earliest possible moment a scheme of instruction should be agreed upon, which should remain unchanged, in its leading features, long enough for it to be judged by its results. The President must be clothed with ample powers, and held responsible, not for methods, but results. He must be allowed, at least, to nominate all his assistants, and to recommend the removal of any for reasons given; and both his nominations and his recommendations of removal, so long as the Directors desire to retain his services, should be ratified by them. He must be made to feel strong in his place; otherwise, he will be tempted to waste his strength upon the management of committees, and general whitewashing. Human nature is so constituted, that a gentleman with a large family will not willingly give up an income of three thousand dollars a year, with lodging in a marble palace. If he is a strong man and an honorable, he will do it, rather than fill a post the duties of which an ignorant or officious committee prevent his discharging. If he is a weak or dishonest man, he will cringe to that committee, and expend all his ingenuity in making the College show well on public days. It might even be well, in order to strengthen the President, to give him the right of appeal to the Mayor and Councils, in case of an irreconcilable difference of opinion between him and the Directors. Everything depends upon the President. Given the right President, with power enough and time enough, and the success of the College is assured. Given a bad President, or a good one hampered by committees, or too dependent upon a board, and the College will be the reproach of Philadelphia.
It is a question with political economists, whether, upon the whole, such endowments as this are a good or an evil to a community. There is now a considerable party in England, among whom are several clergymen of the Established Church, who think it would be better for England if every endowment were swept away, and thus to each succeeding generation were restored the privilege of supporting all its poor, caring for all its sick, and educating all its young. Dr. Chalmers appears to have been inclined to an opinion like this. It will be long, however, before this question becomes vital in America. Girard College must continue for generations to weigh heavily on Philadelphia, or to lighten its burdens. The conduct of those who have charge of it in its infancy will go far to determine whether it shall be an argument for or against the utility of endowments. Meanwhile, we advise gentlemen who have millions to leave behind them not to impose difficult conditions upon the future, which the future may be unable or unwilling to fulfil; but either to bestow their wealth for some object that can be immediately and easily accomplished, or else imitate the conduct of that respectable and public-spirited man who left five pounds towards the discharge of his country's debt.
[Footnote 1: The facts which follow I received from the lips and from the papers of this revered man, now no more.—J.P.]
[Footnote 2: Mr. Duane.]
JAMES GORDON BENNETT AND THE NEW YORK HERALD
A few years ago it seemed probable that the people of the United States would be supplied with news chiefly through the agency of newspapers published in the city of New York. We were threatened with a paper despotism similar to that formerly exercised in Great Britain by the London Times; since, when one city furnishes a country with newspapers, one newspaper is sure, at length, to gain such a predominance over others that its proprietor, if he is equal to his position, wields a power greater than ought to be intrusted to an individual. There have been periods when the director of the London Times appeared to be as truly the monarch of Great Britain as Henry VIII. once was, or as William Pitt during the Seven Years' War. It was, we believe, the opinion of the late Mr. Cobden, which Mr. Kinglake confirms, that the editor of the London Times could have prevented the Crimean War. Certainly he conducted it. Demosthenes did not more truly direct the resources of Athens against Philip, than did this invisible and anonymous being those of the British Empire against Russia. The first John Walter, who was to journalism what James Watt was to the steam-engine, had given this man daily access to the ear of England; and to that ear he addressed, not the effusions of his own mind, but the whole purchasable eloquence of his country. He had relays of Demosthenes. The man controlling such a press, and fit to control it, can bring the available and practised intellect of his country to bear upon the passions of his countrymen; for it is a fact, that nearly the whole literary talent of a nation is at the command of any honorable man who has money enough, with tact enough. The editor who expends fifty guineas a day in the purchase of three short essays can have them written by the men who can do them best. What a power is this, to say three things every morning to a whole nation,—to say them with all the force which genius, knowledge, and practice united can give,—and to say them without audible contradiction! Fortunate for England is it that this power is no longer concentrated in a single man, and that the mighty influence once wielded by an individual will henceforth be exerted by a profession.
We in America have escaped all danger of ever falling under the dominion of a paper despot. There will never be a Times in America. Twenty years ago the New York news and the New York newspaper reached distant cities at the same moment; but since the introduction of the telegraph, the news outstrips the newspaper, and is given to the public by the local press. It is this fact which forever limits the circulation and national importance of the New York press. The New York papers reach a village in Vermont late in the afternoon,—six, eight, ten hours after a carrier has distributed the Springfield Republican; and nine people in ten will be content with the brief telegrams of the local centre. At Chicago, the New York paper is forty hours behind the news; at San Francisco, thirty days; in Oregon, forty. Before California had been reached by the telegraph, the New York newspapers, on the arrival of a steamer, were sought with an avidity of which the most ludicrous accounts have been given. If the news was important and the supply of papers inadequate, nothing was more common than for a lucky newsboy to dispose of his last sheets at five times their usual price. All this has changed. A spirited local press has anticipated the substance of the news, and most people wait tranquilly for the same local press to spread before them the particulars when the tardy mail arrives. Even the weekly and semi-weekly editions issued by the New York daily press have probably reached their maximum of importance; since the local daily press also publishes weekly and semi-weekly papers, many of which are of high excellence and are always improving, and have the additional attraction of full local intelligence. If some bold Yankee should invent a method by which a bundle of newspapers could be shot from New York to Chicago in half an hour, it would certainly enhance the importance of the New York papers, and diminish that of the rapidly expanding and able press of Chicago. Such an invention is possible; nay, we think it a probability. But even in that case, the local news, and, above all, the local advertising, would still remain as the basis of a great, lucrative, honorable, and very attractive business.
We believe, however, that if the local press were annihilated, and this whole nation lived dependent upon the press of a single city, still we should be safe from a paper despotism; because the power of the editorial lessens as the intelligence of the people in-creases. The prestige of the editorial is gone. Just as there is a party in England who propose the omission of the sermon from the church service as something no longer needed by the people, so there are journalists who think the time is at hand for the abolition of editorials, and the concentration of the whole force of journalism upon presenting to the public the history and picture of the day. The time for this has not come, and may never come; but our journalists already know that editorials neither make nor mar a daily paper, that they do not much influence the public mind, nor change many votes, and that the power and success of a newspaper depend finally upon its success in getting and its skill in exhibiting the news. The word newspaper is the exact and complete description of the thing which the true journalist aims to produce. The news is his work; editorials are his play. The news is the point of rivalry; it is that for which nineteen twentieths of the people buy newspapers; it is that which constitutes the power and value of the daily press; it is that which determines the rank of every newspaper in every free country.
No editor, therefore, will ever reign over the United States, and the newspapers of no one city will attain universal currency. Hence the importance of journalism in the United States. By the time a town has ten thousand inhabitants, it usually has a daily paper, and in most large cities there is a daily paper for every twenty thousand people. In many of the Western cities there are daily newspapers conducted with great energy, and on a scale of expenditure which enables them to approximate real excellence. Many of our readers will live to see the day when there will be in Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and San Francisco daily newspapers more complete, better executed, and produced at greater expense than any newspaper now existing in the United States. This is a great deal to say, in view of the fact, that, during the late war, one of the New York papers expended in war correspondence alone two thousand dollars a week. Nevertheless, we believe it. There will never be two newspapers in any one city that can sustain such an expenditure, but in fifteen years from, to-day there will be one, we think, in each of our great cities, and besides that one there will be four or five struggling to supplant it, as well as one or two having humbler aims and content with a lowlier position.
It is plain that journalism will henceforth and forever be an important and crowded profession in the United States. The daily newspaper is one of those things which are rooted in the necessities of modern civilization. The steam-engine is not more essential to us. The newspaper is that which connects each individual with the general life of mankind, and makes him part and parcel of the whole; so that we can almost say, that those who neither read newspapers nor converse with people who do read them are not members of the human family;—though, like the negroes of Guinea, they may become such in time. They are beyond the pale; they have no hold of the electric chain, and therefore do not receive the shock.
There are two mornings of the year on which newspapers have not hitherto been published in the city of New York,—the 5th of July, and the 2d of January. A shadow appears to rest on the world during those days, as when there is an eclipse of the sun. We are separated from our brethren, cut off, lost, alone; vague apprehensions of evil creep over the mind. We feel, in some degree, as husbands feel who, far from wife and children, say to themselves, shuddering, "What things may have happened, and I not know it!" Nothing quite dispels the gloom until the Evening Post—how eagerly seized—assures us that nothing very particular has happened since our last. It is amusing to notice how universal is the habit of reading a morning paper. Hundreds of vehicles and vessels convey the business men of New York to that extremity of Manhattan Island-which may be regarded as the counting-house of the Western Continent. It is not uncommon for every individual in a cabin two hundred feet long to be sitting absorbed in his paper, like boys conning their lessons on their way to school. Still more striking is it to observe the torrent of workingmen pouring down town, many of them reading as they go, and most of them provided with a newspaper for dinner-time, not less as a matter of course than the tin kettle which contains the material portion of the repast. Notice, too, the long line of hackney-coaches on a stand, nearly every driver sitting on his box reading his paper. Many of our Boston friends have landed in New York at five o'clock in the morning, and ridden up town in the street cars, filled, at that hour, with women and boys, folding newspapers and throwing off bundles of them from time to time, which are caught by other boys and women in waiting. Carriers are flitting in every direction, and the town is alive with the great business of getting two hundred thousand papers distributed before breakfast.
All this is new, but it is also permanent. Having once had daily papers, we can never again do without them; so perfectly does this great invention accord with the genius of modern life. The art of journalism is doubtless destined to continuous improvement for a long time to come; the newspapers of the future will be more convenient, and better in every way, than those of the present day; but the art remains forever an indispensable auxiliary to civilization. And this is so, not by virtue of editorial essays, but because journalism brings the events of the time to bear upon the instruction of the time. An editorial essayist is a man addressing men; but the skilled and faithful journalist, recording with exactness and power the thing that has come to pass, is Providence addressing men. The thing that has actually happened,—to know that is the beginning of wisdom. All else is theory and conjecture, which may be right and may be wrong.
While it is true that the daily press of the city of New York is limited by the telegraph, it has nevertheless a very great, an unapproached, national importance. We do not consider it certain that New York is always to remain the chief city of the United States; but it holds that rank now, and must for many years. Besides being the source of a great part of our news, it was the first city that afforded scope for papers conducted at the incredible expense which modern appliances necessitate. Consequently its daily papers reach the controlling minds of the country. They are found in all reading-rooms, exchanges, bank parlors, insurance-offices, counting-rooms, hotels, and wherever else the ruling men of the country congregate. But, above all, they are, and must be, in all newspaper offices, subject to the scissors. This is the chief source of their importance. Not merely that in this way their contents are communicated to the whole people. The grand reason why the New York papers have national importance is, that it is chiefly through them that the art of journalism in the United States is to be perfected. They set daily copies for all editors to follow. The expenditure necessary for the carrying on of a complete daily newspaper is so immense, that the art can only be improved in the largest cities. New York is first in the field; it has the start of a quarter of a century or more; and it therefore devolves upon the journalists of that city to teach the journalists of the United States their vocation. It is this fact which invests the press of New York with such importance, and makes it so well worth considering.
It is impossible any longer to deny that the chief newspaper of that busy city is the New York Herald. No matter how much we may regret this fact, or be ashamed of it, no journalist can deny it. We do not attach much importance to the fact that Abraham Lincoln, the late lamented President of the United States, thought it worth while, during the dark days of the summer of 1864, to buy its support at the price of the offer of the French mission. He was mistaken in supposing that this paper had any considerable power to change votes; which was shown by the result of the Presidential election in the city of New York, where General McClellan had the great majority of thirty-seven thousand. Influence over opinion no paper can have which has itself no opinion, and cares for none. It is not as a vehicle of opinion that the Herald has importance, but solely as a vehicle of news. It is for its excellence, real or supposed, in this particular, that eighty thousand people buy it every morning. Mr. Lincoln committed, as we cannot help thinking, a most egregious error and fault in his purchase of the editor of this paper, though he is in some degree excused by the fact that several leading Republicans, who were in a position to know better, advised or sanctioned the bargain, and leading journalists agreed not to censure it. Mr. Lincoln could not be expected to draw the distinction, between the journalist and the writer of editorials. He perceived the strength of this carrier-pigeon's pinions, but did not note the trivial character of the message tied to its leg. Thirty or forty war correspondents in the field, a circulation larger than any of its rivals, an advertising patronage equalled only by that of the London Times, the popularity of the paper in the army, the frequent utility of its maps and other elucidations,—these things imposed upon his mind; and his wife could tell him from personal observation, that the proprietor of this paper lived in a style of the most profuse magnificence,—maintaining costly establishments in town and country, horses, and yachts, to say nothing of that most expensive appendage to a reigning house, an heir apparent.
Our friends in the English press tell us, that the Herald was one of the principal obstacles in their attempts to guide English opinions aright during the late struggle. Young men in the press would point to its editorials and say:
"This is the principal newspaper in the Northern States; this is the Times of America; can a people be other than contemptible who prefer such a newspaper as this to journals so respectable and so excellent as the Times and Tribune, published in the same city?" "As to (American) journalism,"
says Professor Goldwin Smith, "the New York Herald is always kept before our eyes." That is to say, the editorial articles in the Herald; not that variety and fulness of intelligence which often compelled men who hated it most to get up at the dawn of day to buy it. A paper which can detach two or three men, after a battle, to collect the names of the killed and wounded, with orders to do only that, cannot lack purchasers in war time. Napoleon assures us that the whole art of war consists in having the greatest force at the point of contact. This rule applies to the art of journalism; the editor of the Herald knew it, and had the means to put it in practice.
Even here, at home, we find two opinions as to the cause of the Herald's vast success as a business. One of these opinions is this,—the Herald takes the lead because it is such a bad paper. The other opinion is,—the Herald takes the lead because it is such a good paper. It is highly important to know which of these two opinions is correct; or, in other words, whether it is the Herald's excellences as a newspaper, or its crimes as a public teacher, which give it such general currency. Such success as this paper has obtained is a most influential fact upon the journalism of the whole country, as any one can see who looks over a file of our most flourishing daily papers. It is evident that our daily press is rapidly becoming Heraldized; and it is well known that the tendency of imitation is to reproduce all of the copy excepting alone that which made it worth copying. It is honorable to the American press that this rule has been reversed in the present instance. Some of the more obvious good points of the Herald have become universal, while as yet no creature has been found capable of copying the worst of its errors.
If there are ten bakers in a town, the one that gives the best loaf for sixpence is sure, at last, to sell most bread. A man may puff up his loaves to a great size, by chemical agents, and so deceive the public for a time; another may catch the crowd for a time by the splendor of his gilt sheaf, the magnitude of his signs, and the bluster of his advertising; and the intrinsically best baker may be kept down, for a time, by want of tact, or capital, or some personal defect. But let the competition last thirty years! The gilt sheaf fades, the cavities in the big loaf are observed; but the ugly little man round the corner comes steadily into favor, and all the town, at length, is noisy in the morning with the rattle of his carts. The particular caterer for our morning repast, now under consideration, has achieved a success of this kind, against every possible obstacle, and under every possible disadvantage. He had no friends at the start, he has made none since, and he has none now. He has had the support of no party or sect. On the contrary, he has won his object in spite of the active opposition of almost every organized body in the country, and the fixed disapproval of every public-spirited human being who has lived in the United States since he began his career. What are we to say of this? Are we to say that the people of the United States are competent to judge of bread, but not of newspapers? Are we to say that the people of the United States prefer evil to good? We cannot assent to such propositions.
Let us go back to the beginning, and see how this man made his way to his present unique position. We owe his presence in this country, it seems, to Benjamin Franklin; and he first smelt printer's ink in Boston, near the spot where young Ben Franklin blackened his fingers with it a hundred years before. Born and reared on the northeastern coast of Scotland, in a Roman Catholic family of French origin, he has a French intellect and Scotch habits. Frenchmen residing among us can seldom understand why this man should be odious, so French is he. A French naval officer was once remonstrated with for having invited him to a ball given on board a ship of war in New York harbor. "Why, what has he done?" inquired the officer. "Has he committed murder? Has he robbed, forged, or run away with somebody's wife?" "No." "Why then should we not invite him?" "He is the editor of the New York Herald." "Ah!" exclaimed the Frenchman,—"the Herald! it is a delightful paper,—it reminds me of my gay Paris." This, however, was thirty years ago, when Bennett was almost as French as Voltaire. He was a Frenchman also in this: though discarding, in his youth, the doctrines of his Church, and laughing them to scorn in early manhood, he still maintained a kind of connection with the Catholic religion. The whole of his power as a writer consists in his detection of the evil in things that are good, and of the falsehood in things that are true, and of the ridiculous in things that are important. He began with the Roman Catholic Church,—"the holy Roman Catholic Church," as he once styled it,—adding in a parenthesis, "all of us Catholics are devilish holy." Another French indication is, that his early tastes were romantic literature and political economy,—a conjunction very common in France from the days of the "philosophers" to the present time. During our times of financial collapse, we have noticed, among the nonsense which he daily poured forth, some gleams of a superior understanding of the fundamental laws of finance. He appears to have understood 1837 and 1857 better than most of his contemporaries.
In a Catholic seminary he acquired the rudiments of knowledge, and advanced so far as to read Virgil. He also picked up a little French and Spanish in early life. The real instructors of his mind were Napoleon, Byron, and Scott. It was their fame, however, as much as their works, that attracted and dazzled him. It is a strange thing, but true, that one of the strongest desires of one of the least reputable of living men was, and is, to be admired and held in lasting honor by his fellow-men. Nor has he now the least doubt that he deserves their admiration, and will have it. In 1817, an edition of Franklin's Autobiography was issued in Scotland. It was his perusal of that little book that first directed his thoughts toward America, and which finally decided him to try his fortune in the New World. In May, 1819, being then about twenty years of age, he landed at Halifax, with less than five pounds in his purse, without a friend on the Western Continent, and knowing no vocation except that of book-keeper.
Between his landing at Halifax and the appearance of the first number of the Herald sixteen years elapsed; during most of which he was a very poor, laborious, under-valued, roving writer for the daily press. At Halifax, he gave lessons in book-keeping for a few weeks, with little profit, then made his way along the coast to Portland, whence a schooner conveyed him to Boston. He was then, it appears, a soft, romantic youth, alive to the historic associations of the place, and susceptible to the varied, enchanting loveliness of the scenes adjacent, on land and sea. He even expressed his feelings in verse, in the Childe Harold manner,—verse which does really show a poetic habit of feeling, with an occasional happiness of expression. At Boston he experienced the last extremity of want. Friendless and alone he wandered about the streets, seeking work and finding none; until, his small store of money being all expended, he passed two whole days without food, and was then only relieved by finding a shilling on the Common. He obtained at length the place of salesman in a bookstore, from which he was soon transferred to the printing-house connected therewith, where he performed the duties of proof-reader. And here it was that he received his first lesson in the art of catering for the public mind. The firm in whose employment he was were more ambitious of glory than covetous of profit, and consequently published many works that were in advance of the general taste. Bankruptcy was their reward. The youth noted another circumstance at Boston. The newspaper most decried was Buckingham's Galaxy; but it was also the most eagerly sought and the most extensively sold. Buckingham habitually violated the traditional and established decorums of the press; he was familiar, chatty, saucy, anecdotical, and sadly wanting in respect for the respectabilities of the most respectable town in the universe. Every one said that he was a very bad man, but every one was exceedingly curious every Saturday to see "what the fellow had to say this week." If the youth could have obtained a sight of a file of James Franklin's Courant, of 1722, in which the youthful Benjamin first addressed the public, he would have seen a still more striking example of a journal generally denounced and universally read.
Two years in Boston. Then he went to New York, where he soon met the publisher of a Charleston paper, who engaged him as translator from the Spanish, and general assistant. During the year spent by him at Charleston he increased his knowledge of the journalist's art. The editor of the paper with which he was connected kept a sail-boat, in which he was accustomed to meet arriving vessels many miles from the coast, and bring in his files of newspapers a day in advance of his rivals. The young assistant remembered this, and turned it to account in after years. At Charleston he was confronted, too, with the late peculiar institution, and saw much to approve in it, nothing to condemn. From that day to this he has been but in one thing consistent,—contempt for the negro and for all white men interested in his welfare, approving himself in this a thorough Celt. If, for one brief period, he forced himself, for personal reasons, to veil this feeling, the feeling remained rooted within him, and soon resumed its wonted expression. He liked the South, and the people of the South, and had a true Celtic sympathy with their aristocratic pretensions. The salary of an assistant editor at that time was something between the wages of a compositor and those of an office-boy. Seven dollars a week would have been considered rather liberal pay; ten, munificent; fifteen, lavish.
Returning to New York, he endeavored to find more lucrative employment, and advertised his intention to open, near the site of the present Herald office, a "Permanent Commercial School," in which all the usual branches were to be taught "in the inductive method." His list of subjects was extensive,—"reading, elocution, penmanship, and arithmetic; algebra, astronomy, history, and geography; moral philosophy, commercial law, and political economy; English grammar, and composition; and also, if required, the French and Spanish languages, by natives of those countries." Application was to be made to "J.G.B., 148 Fulton Street." Applications, however, were not made in sufficient number, and the school, we believe, never came into existence. Next, he tried a course of lectures upon Political Economy, at the old Dutch Church in Ann Street, then not far from the centre of population. The public did not care to hear the young gentleman upon that abstruse subject, and the pecuniary result of the enterprise was not encouraging. He had no resource but the ill-paid, unhonored drudgery of the press.
For the next few years he was a paragraphist, reporter, scissorer, and man-of-all-work for the New York papers, daily and weekly, earning but the merest subsistence. He wrote then in very much the same style as when he afterwards amused and shocked the town in the infant Herald; only he was under restraint, being a subordinate, and was seldom allowed to violate decorum. In point of industry, sustained and indefatigable industry, he had no equal, and has never since had but one. One thing is to be specially noted as one of the chief and indispensable causes of his success. He had no vices. He never drank to excess, nor gormandized, nor gambled, nor even smoked, nor in any other way wasted the vitality needed for a long and tough grapple with adverse fortune. What he once wrote of himself in the early Herald was strictly true:
"I eat and drink to live,—not live to eat and drink. Social glasses of wine are my aversion; public dinners are my abomination; all species of gormandizing, my utter scorn and contempt. When I am hungry, I eat; when thirsty, drink. Wine or viands taken for society, or to stimulate conversation, tend only to dissipation, indolence, poverty, contempt, and death."
This was an immense advantage, which he had in common with several of the most mischievous men of modern times,—Calhoun, Charles XII., George III., and others. Correct bodily habits are of themselves such a source of power, that the man who has them will be extremely likely to gain the day over competitors of ten times his general worth who have them not. Dr. Franklin used to say, that if Jack Wilkes had been as exemplary in this particular as George III., he would have turned the king out of his dominions. In several of the higher kinds of labor, such as law, physic, journalism, authorship, art, when the competition is close and keen, and many able men are near the summit, the question, who shall finally stand upon it, often resolves itself into one of physical endurance. This man Bennett would have lived and died a hireling scribe, if he had had even one of the common vices. Everything was against his rising, except alone an enormous capacity for labor, sustained by strictly correct habits.
He lived much with politicians during these years of laborious poverty. Gravitating always towards the winning side, he did much to bring into power the worst set of politicians we ever had,—those who "availed" themselves of the popularity of Andrew Jackson, and who were afterwards used by him for the purpose of electing Martin Van Buren. He became perfectly familiar with all that was petty and mean in the political strifes of the day, but without ever suspecting that there was anything in politics not petty and mean. He had no convictions of his own, and therefore not the least belief that any politician had. If the people were in earnest about the affairs of their country, (their country, not his,) it was because the people were not behind the scenes, were dupes of their party leaders, were a parcel of fools. In short, he acquired his insight into political craft in the school of Tammany Hall and the Kitchen Cabinet. His value was not altogether unappreciated by the politicians. He was one of those whom they use and flatter during the heat of the contest, and forget in the distribution of the spoils of victory.
He made his first considerable hit as a journalist in the spring of 1828, when he filled the place of Washington correspondent to the New York Enquirer. In the Congressional Library, one day, he found an edition of Horace Walpole's Letters, which amused him very much. "Why not," said he to himself, "try, a few letters on a similar plan from this city, to be published in New York?" The letters appeared. Written in a lively manner, full of personal allusions, and describing individuals respecting whom the public are always curious,—free also from offensive personalities,—the letters attracted much notice and were generally copied in the press. It is said that some of the ladies whose charms were described in those letters were indebted to them for husbands. Personalities of this kind were a novelty then, and mere novelty goes a great way in journalism. At this period he produced almost every kind of composition known to periodical literature,—paragraphs and leading articles, poetry and love-stories, reports of trials, debates, balls, and police cases; his earnings ranging from five dollars a week to ten or twelve. If there had been then in New York one newspaper publisher who understood his business, the immense possible value of this man as a journalist would have been perceived, and he would have been secured, rewarded, and kept under some restraint. But there was no such man. There were three or four forcible writers for the press, but not one journalist.
During the great days of "The Courier and Inquirer," from 1829 to 1832, when it was incomparably the best newspaper on the continent, James Gordon Bennett was its most efficient hand. It lost him in 1832, when the paper abandoned General Jackson and took up Nicholas Biddle; and in losing him lost its chance of retaining the supremacy among American newspapers to this day. We can truly say, that at that time journalism, as a thing by itself and for itself, had no existence in the United States. Newspapers were mere appendages of party; and the darling object of each journal was to be recognized as the organ of the party it supported. As to the public, the great public, hungry for interesting news, no one thought of it. Forty years ago, in the city of New York, a copy of a newspaper could not be bought for money. If any one wished to see a newspaper, he had either to go to the office and subscribe, or repair to a bar-room and buy a glass of something to drink, or bribe a carrier to rob one of his customers. The circulation of the Courier and Inquirer was considered something marvellous when it printed thirty-five hundred copies a day, and its business was thought immense when its daily advertising averaged fifty-five dollars. It is not very unusual for a newspaper now to receive for advertising, in one day, six hundred times that sum. Bennett, in the course of time, had a chance been given to him, would have made the Courier and Inquirer powerful enough to cast off all party ties; and this he would have done merely by improving it as a vehicle of news. But he was kept down upon one of those ridiculous, tantalizing, corrupting salaries, which are a little more than a single man needs, but not enough for him to marry upon. This salary was increased by the proprietors giving him a small share in the small profits of the printing-office; so that, after fourteen years of hard labor and Scotch economy, he found himself, on leaving the great paper, a capitalist to the extent of a few hundred dollars. The chief editor of the paper which he now abandoned sometimes lost as much in a single evening at the card-table. It probably never occurred to him that this poor, ill-favored Scotchman was destined to destroy his paper and all the class of papers to which it belonged. Any one who now examines a file of the Courier and Inquirer of that time, and knows its interior circumstances, will see plainly enough that the possession of this man was the vital element in its prosperity. He alone knew the rudiments of his trade. He alone had the physical stamina, the indefatigable industry, the sleepless vigilance, the dexterity, tact, and audacity, needful for keeping up a daily newspaper in the face of keen competition.
Unweaned yet from the politicians, he at once started a cheap party paper, "The Globe," devoted to Jackson and Van Buren. The party, however, did not rally to its support, and it had to contend with the opposition of party papers already existing, upon whose manor it was poaching. The Globe expired after an existence of thirty days. Its proprietor, still untaught by such long experience, invested the wreck of his capital in a Philadelphia Jackson paper, and struggled desperately to gain for it a footing in the party. He said to Mr. Van Buren and to other leaders, Help me to a loan of twenty-five hundred dollars for two years, and I can establish my Pennsylvanian on a self-supporting basis. The application was politely refused, and he was compelled to give up the struggle. The truth is, he was not implicitly trusted by the Jackson party. They admitted the services he had rendered; but, at the same time, they were a little afraid of the vein of mockery that broke out so frequently in his writings. He was restive in harness. He was devoted to the party, but he was under no party illusions. He was fighting in the ranks as an adventurer or soldier of fortune. He fought well; but would it do to promote a man to high rank who knew the game so well, and upon whom no man could get any hold? To him, in his secret soul, Martin Van Buren was nothing (as he often said) but a country lawyer, who, by a dexterous use of the party machinery, the well-timed death of De Witt Clinton, and General Jackson's frenzy in behalf of Mrs. Eaton, had come to be the chosen successor of the fiery chieftain. The canny Scotchman saw this with horrid clearness, and saw nothing more. Political chiefs do not like subalterns of this temper. Underneath the politician in Martin Van Buren there was the citizen, the patriot, the gentleman, and the man, whose fathers were buried in American soil, whose children were to live under American institutions, who had, necessarily, an interest in the welfare and honor of the country, and whose policy, upon the whole, was controlled by that natural interest in his country's welfare and honor. To our mocking Celt nothing of this was apparent, nor has ever been.
His education as a journalist was completed by the failure of his Philadelphia scheme. Returning to New York, he resolved to attempt no more to rise by party aid, but henceforth have no master but the public. On the 6th of May, 1835, appeared the first number of the Morning Herald, price one cent. It was born in a cellar in Wall Street,—not a basement, but a veritable cellar. Some persons are still doing business in that region who remember going down into its subterranean office, and buying copies of the new paper from its editor, who used to sit at a desk composed of two flour-barrels and a piece of board, and who occupied the only chair in the establishment. For a considerable time his office contained absolutely nothing but his flour-barrel desk, one wooden chair, and a pile of Heralds. "I remember," writes Mr. William Gowans, the well-known bookseller of Nassau Street,
"to have entered the subterranean office of its editor early in its career, and purchased a single copy of the paper, for which I paid the sum of one cent United States currency. On this occasion the proprietor, editor, and vendor was seated at his desk, busily engaged writing, and appeared to pay little or no attention to me as I entered. On making known my object in coming in, he requested me to put my money down on the counter, and help myself to a paper; all this time he continuing his writing operations. The office was a single oblong underground room; its furniture consisted of a counter, which also served as a desk, constructed from two flour-barrels, perhaps empty, standing apart from each other about four feet, with a single plank covering both; a chair, placed in the centre, upon which sat the editor busy at his vocation, with an inkstand by his right hand; on the end nearest the door were placed the papers for sale."
Everything appeared to be against his success. It was one poor man in a cellar against the world. Already he had failed three times; first, in 1825, when he attempted to establish a Sunday paper; next, in 1832, when he tried a party journal; recently, in Philadelphia. With great difficulty, and after many rebuffs, he had prevailed upon two young printers to print his paper and share its profits or losses, and he possessed about enough money to start the enterprise and sustain it ten days. The cheapness of his paper was no longer a novelty, for there was already a penny paper with a paying circulation. He had cut loose from all party ties, and he had no influential friends except those who had an interest in his failure. The great public, to which he made this last desperate appeal, knew him not even by name. The newsboy system scarcely existed; and all that curious machinery by which, in these days, a "new candidate for public favor" is placed, at no expense, on a thousand news-stands, had not been thought of. There he was alone in his cellar, without clerk, errand-boy, or assistant of any kind. For many weeks he did with his own hands everything,—editorials, news, reporting, receiving advertisements, and even writing advertisements for persons "unaccustomed to composition." He expressly announced that advertisers could have their advertisements written for them at the office, and this at a time when there was no one to do it but himself. The extreme cheapness of the paper rendered him absolutely dependent upon his advertisers, and yet he dared not charge more than fifty cents for sixteen lines, and he offered to insert sixteen lines for a whole year for thirty dollars.
He at once produced an eminently salable article. If just such a paper were to appear to-day, or any day, in any large city of the world, it would instantly find a multitude of readers. It was a very small sheet,—four little pages of four columns each,—much better printed than the Herald now is, and not a waste line in it. Everything drew, as the sailors say. There was not much scissoring in it,—the scissors have never been much esteemed in the Herald office,—but the little that there was all told upon the general effect of the sheet. There is a story current in newspaper offices that the first few numbers of the Herald were strictly decorous and "respectable," but that the editor, finding the public indifferent and his money running low, changed his tactics, and filled his paper with scurrility and indecency, which immediately made it a paying enterprise. No such thing. The first numbers were essentially of the same character as the number published this morning. They had the same excellences and the same defects: in the news department, immense industry, vigilance, and tact; in the editorial columns, the vein of Mephistophelean mockery which has puzzled and shocked so many good people at home and abroad. A leading topic then was a certain Matthias, one of those long-bearded religious impostors who used to appear from time to time. The first article in the first number of the Herald was a minute account of the origin and earlier life of the fellow,—just the thing for the paper, and the sure method of exploding him. The first editorial article, too, was perfectly in character:—
"In debuts of this kind," said the editor,
"many talk of principle—political principle, party principle—as a sort of steel-trap to catch the public. We mean to be perfectly understood on this point, and therefore openly disclaim all steel-traps,—all principle, as it is called,—all party,—all politics. Our only guide shall be good, sound, practical common-sense, applicable to the business and bosoms of men engaged in every-day life. We shall support no party, be the organ of no faction or coterie, and care nothing for any election or any candidate, from President down to constable. We shall endeavor to record facts on every public and proper subject, stripped of verbiage and coloring, with comments, when suitable, just, independent, fearless, and good-tempered. If the Herald wants the mere expansion which many journals possess, we shall try to make it up in industry, good taste, brevity, variety, point, piquancy, and cheapness."
He proceeded immediately to give a specimen of the "comments" thus described, in the form of a review of an Annual Register just published. The Register informed him that there were 1,492 "rogues in the State Prison." His comment was: "But God only knows how many out of prison, preying upon the community, in the shape of gamblers, blacklegs, speculators, and politicians." He learned from the Register that the poor-house contained 6,547 paupers; to which he added, "and double the number going there as fast as indolence and intemperance can carry them." The first numbers were filled with nonsense and gossip about the city of New York, to which his poverty confined him. He had no boat with which to board arriving ships, no share in the pony express from Washington, and no correspondents in other cities. All he could do was to catch the floating gossip, scandal, and folly of the town, and present as much of them every day as one man could get upon paper by sixteen hours' labor. He laughed at everything and everybody,—not excepting himself and his squint eye,—and, though his jokes were not always good, they were generally good enough. People laughed, and were willing to expend a cent the next day to see what new folly the man would commit or relate. We all like to read about our own neighborhood: this paper gratified the propensity.
The man, we repeat, really had a vein of poetry in him, and the first numbers of the Herald show it. He had occasion to mention, one day, that Broadway was about to be paved with wooden blocks. This was not a very promising subject for a poetical comment; but he added: "When this is done, every vehicle will have to wear sleigh-bells as in sleighing times, and Broadway will be so quiet that you can pay a compliment to a lady, in passing, and she will hear you." This was nothing in itself; but here was a man wrestling with fate in a cellar, who could turn you out two hundred such paragraphs a week, the year round. Many men can growl in a cellar; this man could laugh, and keep laughing, and make the floating population of a city laugh with him. It must be owned, too, that he had a little real insight into the nature of things around him,—a little Scotch sense, as well as an inexhaustible fund of French vivacity. Alluding, once, to the "hard money" cry, by which the lying politicians of the day carried elections, he exploded that nonsense in two lines: "If a man gets the wearable or the eatable he wants, what cares he whether he has gold or paper-money?" He devoted two sentences to the Old School and New School Presbyterian controversy: "Great trouble among the Presbyterians just now. The question in dispute is, whether or not a man can do anything towards saving his own soul." He had, also, an article upon the Methodists, in which he said that the two religions nearest akin were the Methodist and the Roman Catholic. We should add to these trifling specimens the fact, that he uniformly maintained, from 1835 to the crash of 1837, that the prosperity of the country was unreal, and would end in disaster. Perhaps we can afford space for a single specimen of his way of treating this subject; although it can be fully appreciated only by those who are old enough to remember the rage for land speculation which prevailed in 1836:—
"THE RICH POOR—THE POOR RICH.—'I have made $50,000 since last January,' said one of these real-estate speculators to a friend.
"'The dense you have,' said the other, looking up in astonishment 'Why, last January you were not worth a twenty-dollar bill.'
"'I know that; but I now calculate I'm worth full $50,000, if not $60,000.'
"How have you made it?'
"'By speculating in real estate. I bought three hundred lots at Goose Island at $150 apiece; they are now worth $400. I would not sell them for $350 apiece, I assure you.'
"' Do you think so?'
"'Sartain. I have two hundred and fifty lots at Blockhead's Point, worth $150 a piece; some on them are worth $200. I have one hundred lots at Jackass Inlet, worth at least $100, at the very lowest calculation. In short, I'm worth a hull $60,000.'
"'Well, I'm glad to hear it. You can pay me now the $500 you have owed me for these last four years. There's your note, I believe,' said he, handing the speculator a worn piece of paper that had a piece of writing upon it.
"The speculator looked blank at this. 'Oh! yes—my—now I'd like—suppose,' but the words could not form themselves into a perfect sentence.
"'I want the money very much,' said the other; 'I have some payments to make to-morrow.'
"'Why, you don't want cash for it surely.'
"'Yes, but I do. You say you are worth $60,000,—surely $500 is but a trifle to pay; do let me have the cash on the nail, if you please.'
"'Oh!—by—well—now—do tell—really, I have not got the money at present.'
"'So you can't pay it, eh? A man worth $60,000, and can't pay an old debt of $500?'
"'Oh! yes I can—I'll—I'll—just give you my note for it at ninety days.'
"'The D—l you will! A man worth $60,000, and can't pay $500 for ninety days! what do you mean?'
"'Well now, my dear sir, I'm worth what I say. I can pay you. There's my property,' spreading out half a dozen very beautiful lithographs; 'but really I can't raise that amount at present. Yesterday, I had to give three per cent a month for $4,000 to save my whole fortune. I had to look out for the mortgages. Take my note; you can get it discounted for three per cent.'
"'No, I can't. If you will give me $250 for the debt, I shall give the other half to pay the interest on your mortgages.'....
"Whether the proposition has been accepted we shall know to-morrow; but we have many such rich people."—Herald, Oct. 28, 1836.
But it was not such things as these that established the Herald. Confined as he was to the limits of a single town, and being compelled to do everything with his own hands, he could not have much in his columns that we should now call "news." But what is news? The answer to that question involves the whole art, mystery, and history of journalism. The time was when news signified the doings of the king and his court. This was the staple of the first news-letter writers, who were employed by great lords, absent from court, to send them court intelligence. To this was soon added news of the doings of other kings and courts; and from that day to this the word news has been continually gaining increase of meaning, until now it includes all that the public are curious to know, which may be told without injury to the public or injustice to individuals. While this man was playing fantastic tricks before high Heaven, his serious thoughts were absorbed in schemes to make his paper the great vehicle of news. Early in the second month, while he was still losing money every day, he hit upon a new kind of news, which perhaps had more to do with the final success of the Herald than any other single thing. His working day, at that time, was sixteen or seventeen hours. In the morning, from five to eight, he was busy, in the quiet of his room, with those light, nonsensical paragraphs and editorials which made his readers smile in spite of themselves. During the usual business hours of the morning, he was in his cellar, over his flour-barrel desk, engaged in the ordinary routine of editorial work; not disdaining to sell the morning paper, write advertisements, and take the money for them.
About one o'clock, having provided abundant copy for the compositors, he sallied forth into Wall Street, picking up material for his stock-tables and subjects for paragraphs. From four to six he was at his office again, winding up the business, of the day. In the evening he was abroad,—at theatre, concert, ball, or public meeting,—absorbing fresh material for his paper. He converted himself, as it were, into a medium through which the gossip, scandal, fun, and nonsense of this great town were daily conveyed back to it for its amusement; just as a certain popular preacher is reported to do, who spends six days in circulating among his parishioners, and on the seventh tells them all that they have taught him.
Now Wall Street, during the years that General Jackson was disturbing the financial system by his insensate fury against the United States Bank, was to journalism what the Army of the Potomac was in the year 1864. The crash of 1837 was full two years in coming on, during which the money market was always deranged, and moneyed men were anxious and puzzled. The public mind, too, was gradually drawn to the subject, until Wall Street was the point upon which all eyes were fixed. The editor of the Herald was the first American journalist to avail himself of this state of things. It occurred to him, when his paper had been five weeks in existence, to give a little account every day of the state of affairs in Wall Street,—the fluctuations of the money market and their causes,—the feeling and gossip of the street. He introduced this feature at the moment when General Jackson's embroilment with the French Chambers was at its height, and when the return of the American Minister was hourly expected. Some of our readers may be curious to see the first "money article" ever published in the United States. It was as follows:—
"Stocks yesterday maintained their prices during the session of the Board, several going up. Utica went up 2 per cent; the others stationary. Large quantities were sold. After the Board adjourned and the news from France was talked over, the fancy stocks generally went down 1 to 1-1/2 per cent; other stocks quite firm. A rally was made by the bulls in the evening, under the trees, but it did not succeed. There will be a great fight in the Board to-day. The good people up town are anxious to know what the brokers think of Mr. Livingston. We shall find out, and let them know.
"The cotton and flour market rallied a little. The rise of cotton in Liverpool drove it up here a cent or so. The last shippers will make 2-1/2 per cent. Many are endeavoring to produce a belief that there will be a war. If the impression prevails, naval stores will go up a good deal. Every eye is outstretched for the Constitution. Hudson, of the Merchants' News Room, says he will hoist out the first flag. Gilpin, of the Exchange News Room, says he will have her name down in his Room one hour before his competitor. The latter claims having beat Hudson yesterday by an hour and ten minutes in chronicling the England."—Herald, June 13, 1835.
This was his first attempt. The money article constantly lengthened and increased in importance. It won for the little paper a kind of footing in brokers' offices and bank parlors, and provided many respectable persons with an excuse for buying it.
At the end of the third month, the daily receipts equalled the daily expenditures. A cheap police reporter was soon after engaged. In the course of the next month, the printing-office was burnt, and the printers, totally discouraged, abandoned the enterprise. The editor—who felt that he had caught the public ear, as he had—contrived, by desperate exertions, to "rake the Herald out of the fire," as he said, and went on alone. Four months after, the great fire laid Wall Street low, and all the great business streets adjacent. Here was his first real opportunity as a journalist; and how he improved it!—spending one half of every day among the ruins, note-book in hand, and the other half over his desk, writing out what he had gathered. He spread before the public reports so detailed, unconventional, and graphic, that a reader sitting at his ease in his own room became, as it were, an eyewitness of those appalling scenes. His accounts of that fire, and of the events following it, are such as Defoe would have given if he had been a New York reporter. Still struggling for existence, he went to the expense (great then) of publishing a picture of the burning Exchange, and a map of the burnt district. American journalism was born amid the roaring flames of the great fire of 1835; and no true journalist will deny, that from that day to this, whenever any very remarkable event has taken place in the city of New York, the Herald reports of it have generally been those which cost most money and exhibited most of the spirit and detail of the scene. For some years every dollar that the Herald made was expended in news, and, to this hour, no other journal equals it in daily expenditure for intelligence. If, to-morrow, we were to have another great fire, like that of thirty years ago, this paper would have twenty-five men in the streets gathering particulars.
But so difficult is it to establish a daily newspaper, that at the end of a year it was not yet certain that the Herald could continue. A lucky contract with a noted pill-vender gave it a great lift about that time; and in the fifteenth month, the editor ventured to raise his price to two cents. From that day he had a business, and nothing remained for him but to go on as he had begun. He did so. The paper exhibits now the same qualities as it did then,—immense expenditure and vigilance in getting news, and a reckless disregard of principle, truth, and decency in its editorials.
Almost from the first month of its existence, this paper was deemed infamous by the very public that supported it. We can well remember when people bought it on the sly, and blushed when they were caught reading it, and when the man in a country place who subscribed for it intended by that act to distinctly enroll himself as one of the ungodly. Journalists should thoroughly consider this most remarkable fact. We have had plenty of infamous papers, but they have all been short-lived but this. This one has lasted. After thirty-one years of life, it appears to be almost as flourishing to-day as ever. The foremost of its rivals has a little more than half its circulation, and less than half its income. A marble palace is rising to receive it, and its proprietor fares as sumptuously every day as the ducal family who furnished him with his middle name.
Let us see how the Herald acquired its ill name. We shall then know why it is still so profoundly odious; for it has never changed, and can never change, while its founder controls it. Its peculiarities are his peculiarities.
He came into collision, first of all, with the clergy and people of his own Church, the Roman Catholic. Thirty years ago, as some of our readers may remember, Catholics and Protestants had not yet learned to live together in the same community with perfect tolerance of one another's opinions and usages; and there were still some timid persons who feared the rekindling of the fagot, and the supremacy of the Pope in the United States. A controversy growing out of these apprehensions had been proceeding for some time in the newspapers when this impudent little Herald first appeared. The new-comer joined in the fray, and sided against the Church in which he was born; but laid about him in a manner which disgusted both parties. For example:—
"As a Catholic, we call upon the Catholic Bishop and clergy of New York to come forth from the darkness, folly, and superstition of the tenth century. They live in the nineteenth. There can be no mistake about it,—they will be convinced of this fact if they look into the almanac....
"But though we want a thorough reform, we do not wish them to discard their greatest absurdities at the first breath. We know the difficulty of the task. Disciples, such as the Irish are, will stick with greater pertinacity to absurdities and nonsense than to reason and common sense. We have no objection to the doctrine of Transubstantiation being tolerated for a few years to come. We may for a while indulge ourselves in the delicious luxury of creating and eating our Divinity. A peculiar taste of this kind, like smoking tobacco or drinking whiskey, cannot be given up all at once. The ancient Egyptians, for many years after they had lost every trace of the intellectual character of their religion, yet worshipped and adored the ox, the bull, and the crocodile. They had not discovered the art, as we Catholics have done, of making a God out of bread, and of adoring and eating him at one and the same moment. This latter piece of sublimity or religious cookery (we don't know which) was reserved for the educated and talented clergy from the tenth up to the nineteenth century. Yet we do not advise the immediate disturbance of this venerable piece of rottenness and absurdity. It must be retained, as we would retain carefully the tooth of a saint or the jawbone of a martyr, till the natural progress of reason in the Irish mind shall be able, silently and imperceptibly, to drop it among the forgotten rubbish of his early loves, or his more youthful riots and rows.