Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Russell's letters from the Crimea to the London Times, and N. P. Willis's “ Pencillings by the Way,” addressed to the New York Mirror. Each of these masters chanced to have a subject perfectly adapted to his taste and talents, and each of them made the most of his opportunity. Charles Dickens has produced a few exquisite reports. Many ignorant and dull men employed on the New York Herald have written good reports because they were dull and ignorant. In fact, there are two kinds of good reporters, - those who know too little, and those who know too much, to wander from the point and evolve a report from the depths of their own consciousness. The worst possible reporter is one who has a little talent, and depends upon that to make up for the meagreness of his information. The best reporter is he whose sole object is to relate his event exactly as it occurred, and describe his scene just as it appeared; and this kind of excellence is attainable by an honest plodder, and by a man of great and well-controlled talent. If we were forming a corps of twenty-five reporters, we should desire to have five of them men of great and highly trained ability, and the rest indefatigable, unimaginative, exact short-hand chroniclers, caring for nothing but to get their fact and relate it in the plainest English.

There is one custom, a relic of the past, still in vogue in the offices of daily papers, which is of an absurdity truly exquisite. It is the practice of paying by the column, or, in other words, paying a premium for verbosity, and imposing a fine upon conciseness. It will often happen that information which cost three days to procure can be well related in a paragraph, and which, if related in a paragraph, would be of very great value to the newspaper printing it. But if the reporter should compress his facts into that space, he would receive for his three days' labor about what he expended in omnibus fare. Like a wise man, therefore, he spreads them out into three columns, and thus receives a compensation upon which life can be supported. If matter must be paid for by the column, we would respectfully suggest the following rates : — For half a column, or less, twenty dollars; for one column, ten dollars; for two columns, five dollars; for three columns, nothing; for any amount beyond three columns, no insertion. VOL. CII. - No. 211.

27

To conclude with a brief recapitulation :

The commodity in which the publishers of daily newspapers deal is news, i. e. information respecting recent events in which the public take an interest, or in which an interest can be excited.

Newspapers, therefore, rank according to their excellence as newspapers; and no other kind of excellence can make

up

for any deficiency in the one thing for which they exist.

Consequently, the art of editorship consists in forming, handling, and inspiring a corps of reporters; for inevitably that news paper becomes the chief and favorite journal which has the best corps of reporters, and uses them best.

Editorial articles have their importance. They can be a powerful means of advancing the civilization of a country, and of hastening the triumph of good measures and good men; and upon the use an editor makes of his opportunity of addressing the public in this way depends his title to our esteem as a man and fellow-citizen. But, in a mere business point of view, they are of inferior importance. The best editorials cannot make, nor the worst editorials mar, the fortune of a paper. Burke and Macaulay would not add a tenth part as many subscribers to a daily paper as the addition to its corps of two well-trained, ably-commanded reporters. ·

It is not law which ever renders the press free and independent. Nothing is free or independent in this world which is not powerful. Therefore, the editor who would conquer the opportunity of speaking his mind freely, must do it by making his paper so excellent as a vehicle of news that the public will buy it though it is a daily disgust to them.

The Herald has thriven beyond all its competitors, because its proprietor comprehended these simple but fundamental truths of his vocation, and, upon the whole, has surpassed his rivals both in the getting and in the display of intelligence. We must pronounce him the best journalist and the worst editorialist this continent has ever known; and accordingly his paper is generally read and its proprietor universally disapproved.

And finally, this bad, good paper cannot be reduced to secondary rank except by being outdone in pure journalism. The interests of civilization and the honor of the United States require that this should be done. There are three papers now existing—the Times, the Tribune, and the World — which ought to do it; but if the conductors of neither of these able and spirited papers choose to devote themselves absolutely to this task, then we trust that soon another competitor may enter the field, conducted by a journalist proud enough of his profession to be satisfied with its honors. There were days last winter on which it seemed as if the whole force of journalism in the city of New York was expended in tingeing and perverting intelligence on the greatest of all the topics of the time. We have read numbers of the World (which has talent and youthful energy enough for a splendid career) of which almost the entire contents — correspondence, telegrams, and editorials were spoiled for all useful purposes by the determination of the whole corps of writers to make the news tell in favor of a political party. We can truly aver, that journalism, pure and simple, — journalism for its own sake, – journalism, the dispassionate and single-eyed servant of the whole public, - does not exist in New York during a session of Congress. It ought to exist.

ART. V. - History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, called Frederick

the Great. By THOMAS CARLYLE. London: Chapman and Hall. 1865. Vols. V., VI. 8vo. pp. 639, 781.

A FEELING of comical sadness is likely to come over the mind of any middle-aged man who sets himself to recollecting the names of different authors that have been famous, and the number of contemporary immortalities whose end he has seen since coming to manhood. Many a light, hailed by too careless observers as a fixed star, has proved to be only a short-lived lantern at the tail of a newspaper kite. That literary heaven which our youth saw dotted thick with rival glories, we find now to have been a stage-sky merely, artificially enkindled from behind; and the cynical daylight which is sure to follow all theatrical enthusiasms shows us ragged holes where once were luminaries, sheer vacancy instead of lustre. Our earthly reputations, says a great poet, are the color of grass, and the same sun that makes the green bleaches it out again. But next morning is not the time to criticise the scene-painter's firmament, nor is it quite fair to examine coldly a part of some general illusion in the absence of that sympathetic enthusiasm, that self-surrender of the fancy, which made it what it was. It would not be safe for all neglected authors to comfort themselves in Wordsworth's fashion, inferring genius in an inverse proportion to public favor, and a high and solitary merit from the world's indifference. On the contrary, it would be more just to argue from popularity to a certain amount of real value, though it may not be of that permanent quality which insures enduring fame. The contemporary world and Wordsworth were both half right. He undoubtedly owned and worked the richest vein of his period; but he offered to his contempo raries a heap of gold-bearing quartz where the baser mineral made the greater show, and the purchaser must do his own erushing and smelting, with no guaranty but the bare word of the miner. It was not enough that certain bolder adventurers should now and then show a nugget in proof of the success of their venture. The gold of the poet must be refined, moulded, stamped with the image and superscription of his time, but with a beauty of design and finish that are of no time. The work must surpass the material. Wordsworth was wholly void of that shaping imagination which is the highest criterion of a poet.

Immediate popularity and lasting fame, then, would seem to be the result of different qualities, and not of mere difference in degree. It is safe to prophesy a certain durability of recognition for any author who gives evidence of intellectual force, in whatever kind, above the average amount. There are names in literary history which are only names; and the works associated with them, like acts of Congress already agreed on in debate, are read by their titles and passed. What is it that insures what may be called living fame, so that a book shall be at once famous and read ? What is it that relegates divine Cowley to that remote, uncivil Pontus of the “ British Poets," and keeps garrulous Pepys within the cheery circle of the evening lamp and fire? Originality, eloquence, sense, imagination, not one of them is enough by itself, but only in some happy mixture and proportion. Imagination seems to possess in itself more of the antiseptic property than any other single quality ; but, without less showy and more substantial allies, it can at best give only deathlessness, without the perpetual youth that makes it other than dreary. It were easy to find examples of this Tithonus immortality, setting its victims apart from both gods and men; helpless duration, undying, to be sure, but sapless and voiceless also, and long ago deserted by the fickle Hemera. And yet chance could confer that gift on Glaucus, which love and the consent of Zeus failed to secure for the darling of the dawn. Is it mere luck, then? Luck may, and often does, have some share in ephemeral successes, as in a gambler's winnings spent as soon as got, but not in any lasting triumph over time. Solid success must be based on solid qualities and the honest culture of them.

The first element of contemporary popularity is undoubtedly the power of entertaining. If a man have anything to tell, the world cannot be expected to listen to him unless he have perfected himself in the best way of telling it. People are not to be argued into a pleasurable sensation, nor is taste to be compelled by any syllogism, however stringent. An author may make himself very popular, however, and even justly so, by appealing to the passion of the moment, without having anything in him that shall outlast the public whim which he satisfies. Churchill is a remarkable example of this. He had a surprising extemporary vigor of mind ; his phrase carries great weight of blow; he undoubtedly surpassed all contemporaries, as Cowper says of him, in a certain rude and earth-born vigor ; but his verse is dust and ashes now, solemnly inurned, of course, in the Chalmers columbarium, and without danger of violation, His brawn and muscle are fading traditions now, while the fragile, shivering genius of Cowper is still a good life on the books of the Critical Insurance Office. “ Is it not, then, loftiness of mind that puts one by the side of Virgil ? ” cries poor old Cavalcanti at his wits' end. Certainly not altogether that. There must be also the great Mantuan's art; his power, not only of being strong in parts, but of making those parts coherent in an harmonious whole, and tributary to it. Gray, if we may believe the commentators, has not an idea, scarcely an

« AnteriorContinuar »