Journalism is certainly deemed today as a distinct force in the political, social and economic activities of a community. This rise of journalism is, however, not a sudden or casual incident. The periodical press, as it is called often, as a matter of fact, has attained its present power and position, after a lively history, the origin of which may be traced as back as the sixteenth century.
The first periodical, published in Europe, was The Gazette, which appeared in Venice in 1536. It was a manuscript newspaper, intended for public reading, and it contained the general informative news regarding the war of the Venetians with the Turks. · That bit of periodical, however, laid the foundation of a new aspect of literature, and from that humble beginning, the periodical press has become a gigantic force of the modern world.
Although journalism, as a distinct type of literature, began its steady march in England in the 18th century, the germ of the English periodicals might be traced during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Some news-sheets were published during the Elizabethan age, but they were extremely irregular in their appearance. Actually, those news-sheets were published only after some important incidents, or affairs, such as the great flood, the fire, and so on.
The first regular English periodical appeared in the form of a weekly in 1622. Thomas Archer and Nicholas Bourne were responsible for its publication. The periodical contained only exclusively the news of foreign wars which it had been permitted to publish. That sort of publication actually constituted the first English newspaper, and was called The Corantos. The publication continued to appear till 1632, when it was banned. It, however, reappeared in 1638, with Nicholas Bourne and Nathaniel Butter as its organizers. Of course, the publication of the periodical was not much favoured by the King, and the attempt to suppress the periodical was frequent.
The English periodical, however, gained a new impetus during the Civil War. The frayed temper and the clash of political interests gave rise to the immense power of the press. A host of journalistic writings, in the form of news, books, periodicals, etc., appeared. The Corantos was superseded by The Diurnalls, which began to publish home news for the first time in 1641. Different periodicals were also found engaged in the defence of the rival parties. Among such periodicals The Posts, The Spies, The Scouts, The Mercurius Aulicus, The Mercurius Academicus, The Mercurius Brittanous, Mercurius Politicus and The Mercurius Pragmaticus may be mentioned.
The freedom of the press was curtailed by Cromwell in 1655, and the only periodical paper permitted was the official organ The Publick Intelligencer. That was a weekly, intended for the purpose of propaganda, on behalf of the Government, and it continued to come out till the Restoration in 1660.
Among the organisers of the periodicals of the time, Henry Muddiman was particularly a prominent figure. He was surely the greatest of all seventeenth-century journalists and published several remarkable organs — The Parliamentary Intelligencer, The Mercurius Publicus and The London Gazette. Henry Muddiman’s periodicals enjoyed the licence of the Government of Cromwell. Of course, The London Gazette constituted the most popular and representative press.
With the Restoration, the freedom of the press was restored, and a large number of periodicals came out and flourished on different matters. The art of journalism began to change, and its advertising and entertaining aspects were carefully recognized. Advertisement became a regular feature, and the system of the charge of advertisement came into vogue.
The first English daily – The Daily Courant– appeared in 1702. It continued for nearly 33 years and enjoyed a good deal of popularity in the enlightened circle of readers.
The bitter rivalries between the Tories and the Whigs, at the beginning of the 18th century, gave scope for the rapid expansion of the periodical press. The Review of Defoe, which appeared in 1704, was the first leading step in the matter. The Review was a Whig organ, and its abusive and critical writings brought its editor into disrepute. The Review was followed by The Examiner, which was an organ of the Tory party. The celebrated authors of the period, like Jonathon Swift and Matthew Prior, regularly contributed to the journal. Both The Review and The Examiner were almost entirely political, but they contained much that was satirical, and they were certainly something more than journalistic lampoons.
The land-marks of journalism in England became patent in the publication of two immortal periodicals The Tatler, and The Spectator. The Tatler was published by Richard Steele in 1709, with the help of Joseph Addison, Steele endeavoured to make it a newspaper, but it proved to be a great literary creation, and its essays became the most popular elements of interests. With him actually began periodical essays.
The Spectator of Addison began in March 1711. It continued, in a more comprehensive and effective form, the tradition of The Tatler. Addison was a genius, and his periodical became one of the most significant literary achievements of the 18th century. Sir Roger, Addison’s central figure, has remained till now one of the most fascinating creations in literature. Both The Tatler and The Spectator gave a new impetus to journalism and endowed the periodical essays with the charm as well as suspense of a novel.
Dr Johnson, a great name in the English literature of the eighteenth century, produced, between 1750 and 1752, The Rambler, which appeared twice weekly. Most essays in The Rambler are found to have moral themes, but the morality, preached by Dr Johnson, is practical, and not theoretical. Dr. Johnson was also associated with the paper The Idler, to which he contributed a series of weekly essays from 1758 to 1760. The Idler essays have all lighter touches and satirical notes.
A political periodical of the time was also brought out by Steele under the title The Plebian. Henry Mackenzie’s Mirror (1779) and Lounger (1785) may be cited in this connection.
The rise of the periodical press is a conspicuous feature in the literary history of the 18th century, which is called the age of prose and reason. To build the mighty edifice of 18th-century prose, no mean contributions have come from the periodicals, particularly of Defoe, Steele and Addison.