« ZurückWeiter »
ONCE UPON A TIME.
THE FIRST NEWSPAPER STAMP.
It is the evening of Monday, the 28th of July, in the year of 1712. Two middle-aged men come out of Will's Coffee-House, and slowly walk through the close lanes that lead to the heart of the City. The one has a brisk and alert step, with an air of frank hilarity in his face, which is somewhat lighted up in the evening sun by the magnum of generous claret which he has been sharing with his friend. The other moves a little unsteadily, with a hesitating step, which is not improved by the wine he has taken ; but a placid smile plays on his features, and, in connection with the dignified repose of his whole manner, gives assurance of the gentleman. As they pass along they encounter a bevy of newsvenders, known as hawkers or Mercuries, who are bawling at the top of their lungs, “Here you have the last number of the Observator—the last number
—no other number will ever be published, on account of the stamp.” “Here you have the Flying Post, which will go on in spite of the stamp.” “ Here you have the Spectator, this day's Spectator, all writ by the greatest wits of the age.” The more hilarious of
the two friends twitches his companion's arm and whispers, “That's at any rate a comfort, Addison.” “True fame, Steele,” is the reply. Their onward course is to a small printing-office in Little Britain. They climb the narrow staircase, and are in a close and dingy room, with two printing-presses and working spaces for four compositors. A grave man is reading at a desk, and he bows reverently to the gallants in lace and ruffles, who thus honour him by a visit to his dark den of letters.
“Why, Mr. Buckley,” says Steele, “your narrow passages and close rooms remind me of the printer of Ben Jonson, who kept his press in a hollow tree. We are come to talk with you about this infernal Stamp: a red Stamp, they tell me 'tis to be, not black, like its father. Lillie is obstinate, and says our penny Spectator must be raised to twopence; and if so, where are our customers to come from ?”
“I was for stopping,” interposes Addison.
“Not so, sir; not so, I pray,” ejaculates the frightened printer ; “there isn't such a paper in Town, sir. Goes into the houses of the first of the quality; not a coffee-house without it. Not like your Post-boys and Posts, which are read by shopkeepers and handicrafts.”
“I should like to be read by shopkeepers and handicrafts," says Steele.
“Oh dear, no, sir ; quite impossible, sir. They must have coarse food; ghosts and murders. Delicate wit like Mr. Addison's, fine morality like Mr. Steele’s, are for the Town, sir, not the populace.”