This article originally appeared in The Star, on 21st March 1862, and has been transcribed from The Cork Examiner, March 22, 1862, who reprinted the article the following day, titled “The Death of The Morning Chronicle”.
The Cork Examiner, Saturday, March 22, 1862.
DEATH OF THE “MORNING CHRONICLE.”
(From the Star of yesterday.)
The disappearance of the oldest of metropolitan daily papers is an event of quite sufficient importance to merit some words of obituary. The Morning Chronicle ceased on yesterday an unbroken career of daily publication which had extended back for very close upon a century. In 1769 that journal made its first appearance, with William Woodfall for its editor, publisher, and reporter. It passed with varying fortunes through all the struggles which form the history of our daily press up to this moment; struggles against Governmental persecution; against encumbering taxation; against silly regulations which stood in the way of the issues of the most important intelligence; against the enormous difficulties and expenses which attended the procuring of foreign news; against public indifference, apathy, stupidity, caprice—it encountered and outlived all these diverse trials, only to sink at last when so many of the factitious obstacles once blocking the path of journalistic success had been removed by the development of science, of political wisdom, and of public enlightenment. Under the proprietorship of James Perry, the Chronicle had its battles to fight with Attorney-Generals, and even with the House of Lords; and the proprietor himself once suffered some incarceration by the order of the latter august body for the contempt contained in an editorial phrase which described our Upper Chamber as an Hospital of Incurables. Perry defended himself ingeniously enough against a prosecution brought upon his head through his having reprinted the editorial declaration of another journalist, that the successor of George the Third would have the noblest opportunity of becoming popular by simply introducing an entirely opposite policy of government. But the prosecutions of Attorney-Generals did not overthrow the press, and Government had, before long, to make a silent acknowledgment of defeat. The Morning Chronicle grew to be a recognised political authority. It became celebrated for its news, at a time when the obtaining of foreign intelligence involved immense expense and difficulty; and its political writing gave it influence and dignity. In truth, the readers even of the leading newspapers in the days of the Chronicle’s prime were but a limited body. Those who know anything of the circulation of influential and popular newspapers in our day will be amused to learn that it is told as a triumph of the Chronicle, that in 1820 its sale was at times little short of 4,000 daily. During the Reform struggle it might be fairly termed the leading paper, and it continued for many years to represent Whig politics with great ability and great influence. From Perry the management devolved upon Dr. Black and the proprietorship fell to Mr. Clement; and from the latter the Chronicle passed in 1834 to Sir John Easthope. During its progress thus far it had been sustained by the pens of some of the ablest writers of their generation. Brougham had contributed to its columns, and Campbell, and Hazlitt; it had had, indirectly at least, the benefit of James Mill’s advanced views and great acquirements; it published the “Sketches by Boz” of the young writer who was afterwards to become the Smollett of a purer and more genial age than that in which “Roderick Random” was produced. Charles Dickens was, as every one knows, a reporter in the gallery for the Morning Chronicle. Lord Campbell commenced his career in connection with the same journal. The Chronicle had in its day the distinction of notice by Sheridan, by Canning, by Lord Byron, in rhymes and phrases destined to outlive the subject to which they were applied.
Except for one brief period, the career of the Chronicle since it passed into the hands of Sir John Easthope, was less brilliant: and in our own immediate days it had indeed lost every gleam of brilliancy. From Sir John Easthope it passed into the ownership of the Peelite party, and it was during this management that it recovered for a while some of its lost prestige, if it did not regain its popular influence. As the organ of so important a political party it was looked to with interest and respect, and its leading articles were written with undeniable ability and power. Many of its contributions were penned by the late Sidney Herbert, by Mr. Monckton Milnes, and other men of political or literary influence. Its management was on the most expensive scale—indeed, some stories are told of the lavish and princely munificence sometimes displayed, which would seem incredible if one did not know them to be true. Every effort was made to obtain the earliest intelligence, and on some occasions with remarkable success. During the opening of the Crimean war, the first accounts of some of the great events appeared in the Chronicle—and, indeed, another fact in its career worth noticing is that its columns were the first to announce in London the French Revolution of 1848. With its Peelite connection closed its great days of ability and influence. When the leaders of the party took office it was sold to one of their adherents, Mr. Hope, who made it Peelite in politics and Puseyite in religion. Mr. Hope parted with it to Mr. Serjeant Glover; and from that date its existence became a rapid descent. It soon lost influence, circulation, dignity—it soon became remarkable, indeed, for the absence of nearly all the qualities of management which had once made it so successful. Perhaps its frequent changes of ownership must almost inevitably have tended to enfeeble its influence; but there were, certainly, deficiencies of an obvious character which contributed more directly to this result. The genuine Morning Chronicle may be said to have become a tradition from this period. After a while the print again changed hands and became the property of a person who, acting through others, obtained for it a sort of connexion with the government of France. It is said that a subsidy of £25,000 was allowed by the French government for the “adhesion” of this singular organ, which devoted itself, without either ability or effect, to an advocacy of every French governmental interest. Not very long since Count Persigny became, instead of Ambassador in London, French Minister of the Interior. This statesman had probably seen enough of England to appreciate the value of a subsidised organ here, and owing to his influence, it is said, the connexion of the Chronicle and the Paris cabinet suddenly broke off. The next change was that which transferred the expiring journal to its late proprietor who made a desperate effort to resuscitate it by a sort of galvanizing process. He suddenly converted it into a penny paper, and tried every effort to push it into circulation. But the change, if it ever could have availed, had come quite too late. Journals which affect aristocratic fastidiousness, and rejoice over the extinction of a penny newspaper, need not pretend to be ignorant of the fact that the fate of the Morning Chronicle had long been sealed—that no medicine in the world could do it good. Of late, its existence was not useful to its owner or brilliant for itself. It did not win readers, even at the reduced price; and it was not conspicuous for any of the qualities which at least deserve success. Yet no one accustomed to journalism can hear of the absolute demise, after whatever descent and decay, of a journal which once had so much influence and commanded and nurtured so much talent, without a sense of something approaching to emotion. Besides the eminent men whose names we have mentioned, the Chronicle had helped to introduce to distinction many brilliant writers and accomplished scholars. Mr. Shirley Brooks, the late Angus Reach, Mr. Payne Collier, were among these, and many others might be mentioned. However great its recent falling off, it would be impossible to deny that the total disappearance of the Morning Chronicle is a memorable event in the history of our newspaper literature.
The Cork Examiner, Saturday, March 22, 1862.