Page images
PDF
EPUB

employed to avert it save Committees and Commissions of Enquiry. We therefore hope that Government will see the expediency of interfering in this matter, by appointing intelligent and zealous officers, under the checks, and for the purposes specified. We venture to affirm that it is not possible to spend an equal sum in any way that promises to redound so much to the public interest and advantage.

The extensive, minute, and accurate enquiries of Dr Cleland, regarding the statistics of Glasgow, show what might be expected from the appointment of resident agents in the principal towns. It would, no doubt, be difficult to find agents equally zealous and intelligent as Dr Cleland. But he had other duties to attend to, and could, unfortunately, only devote a comparatively small portion of his time to statistical enquiries ; whereas, under the plan now suggested, the whole of the agent's time would be given to them, and he would be obliged to exert himself. It is not easy to overrate the advantages that would result in taking the census in large towns, from having those engaged in making the enumeration overlooked and controlled by persons familiar with such enquiries, and with the state of the population. We might then look for something like an accurate classification of the inhabitants.

The deficiencies in agricultural statistics might be supplied, partly by the co-operation of those engaged in taking the census, and partly by the assistance of the magistrates. We believe that the numbers of cattle, horses, and sheep, might be learned with sufficient precision, and very little difficulty, by putting a few queries with that view. It would be more difficult to obtain full and satisfactory information as to the conditions under which land is generally held by its occupiers—the extent of it under different crops—their average produce—the expenses incident to the culture of each-and so on. But these difficulties might be entirely, or for the most part, overcome by a little liberality and exertion on the part of government. The surveys of the different counties, published by the late Board of Agriculture, are of very unequal merit; though in none of them do we find sufficiently minute and authentic statistical details. But were competent persons selected to compile new and more complete works of a somewhat similar description, with the assistance of some of the more intelligent magistrates in each county, and such superintendence as might be deemed advisable, no one can doubt that a large and valuable addition would be made to our knowledge of the country. Inasmuch, too, as these works, if moderately well executed, would have a considerable sale, the expense to the public would be trifling.

But the appointment of competent statistical agents in the great towns, and the organizing of means for rendering them efficient, and for turning their Reports to the best account, is far more urgent and essential. If Government will not take any steps to learn the real condition of the vast multitude of its subjects collected in the great manufacturing and commercial towns, and the changes that are perpetually occurring in their occupations, and in their habits and modes of existence, it would be preposterous to suppose that it should trouble itself about the number of acres under wheat, or the number of sheep, or the weight of their fleeces. If we are to continue ignorant of the former, we may as well, also, be ignorant of the latter.

ART. X-Petition from the Inhabitants of the City of London

against the Newspaper Stamps. 1835.

T is not easy to over-rate the importance of the question which

this Petition brings before the public. Much discussion has, indeed, at different times, taken place upon it; and the motions of Mr Bulwer in the House of Commons have had an excellent effect in calling the attention of the country to the subject. But, after all, little interest has as yet been excited, and none in proportion to the magnitude of the question. For this, several causes may be assigned, but one is quite sufficient to explain it. The Newspapers themselves, and above all those published in London, with one or two honourable exceptions, are against any repeal of the tax, and have taken care to discourage all discussion upon the matter. We should like to have seen a proposal to repeal any other tax of two hundred per cent upon the prime cost of an article in universal demand, spoken of in Parliament at intervals for four years, and made the subject of public meetings! What an outcry would all the liberal journals have raised against it! What appeals would they have made to the people! What arguments and what invectives would have filled their columns ! How would any minister have been attacked who ventured to maintain the tax ! How sharply would any opposition have been rebuked that remained inactive against it! Yet the tax of two hundred per cent upon political intelligence, upon the very commodity in which these newspapers deal, never obtains one word of blame or complaint ; and although it is not reckoned prudent to write in its support, yet cold water is thrown upon the discussion in every way, and all who attempt to get rid of it, are loaded with constant, though certainly very harmless abuse.

[graphic]

Whence arises this apparent opposing of their own interests in a body of men, far from ignorant? The answer is easy. The greater newspapers have a direct interest in maintaining the tax. It tends to keep a multitude of competitors out of the field ; and, above all things, it preserves to them the power of charging a very high, almost an arbitrary, price for advertisements. If there were twenty or thirty papers in London, instead of five or six, it is plain that advertising would be reduced to perhaps a tenth of its present exorbitant cost. It is also possible that the sale of the old papers would fall off ; though of that there is much more reason to doubt. The more respectable of the London journals, indeed, have had the honesty not to disguise this truth. One or two, with a most praiseworthy disinterestedness, have supported the repeal ; others have kept a significant, but comparatively honest silence upon the subject; while one or two have actually avowed that the removal of the tax would be a benefit to them, and yet that they opposed it, upon public grounds, against their own interest! To the country, it is quite indifferent whether the producers of any necessary or useful article are pleased to prefer a tax on it which raises its price three or four fold to all the consumers of that article ; and the interests of the country are what alone ought to be regarded by the government and the legislature. The Petition from a most respectable portion of the citizens of London enumerates the evils of this tax; and we shall state them with some illustrations, the rather, because the newspaper press will continue for some time to keep this important subject as much as possible out of public view.

The price of a common newspaper, without stamp, is three pence to buy ; but the publisher sells it to the newsman for twopence--and the tax is fourpence; therefore the necessary of political life-political intelligence-the very staff of political lifeis taxed two hundred per cent. To the landlords who tax the staff of natural life twenty or thirty per cent, perhaps more, this burden may appear unimportant. To every reflecting man in the country it must appear quite intolerable.

The petitioners most justly remark, that a government is bound to make all its acts generally and speedily known to its subjects. Chiefly is it bound to make the proceedings of the legislature known. What can be more necessary to good, or indeed to just and fair government, than that the subject should have early and accurate notice of the laws he is to obey ? Those laws are changed from time to time; and what to-day is permitted is to-morrow made an offence severely punishable-or the civil right which this year can be enforced at pleasure, is the year after not to be enforced at all, because time has been suffered to run, which but for a change in the law was quite immaterial. Can any thing be more grossly unjust than to punish men for what they cannot know to be crimes; or to confiscate their property without giving them a chance of saving it? Yet this must daily happen as long as laws are made without any pains being taken to bring the people acquainted with their provisions. Many devices have

been suggested for effecting this publicity. None but one can be adequate. Newspapers, if cheap, are sure to be universally read, and in them all the people may see, from day to day, each act of the legislature, and many acquire a thorough acquaintance with the rules laid down for regulating their conduct, and disposing of their rights. The government says-newspapers shall only be read by persons in easy circumstances, who have the least occasion for such information, because they can receive it through many other channels! If you would reconcile men to new laws, there is no such efficacious expedient as letting them see every step in the progress of a measure, from its being opened and defended against the objections first taken, to its being finally passed into a law. The government, whose interest it is beyond that of all other parties, that its measures should thus be made palatable to the people, says, that all such information shall be confined to those whom it is useless, or impossible, to reconcile by such means—the rich—the professed politicians—those who have a variety of other means of knowing all that passes at the seat of power!

Nothing, as the Petition well observes, can be more useful for the people of any country than to assist in person—but as that is impossible beyond a limited extent—to read in the newspapers, all that passes at Criminal Trials. This sort of knowledge affords one of the best lessons of practical morality which the people can learn. It inculcates a reverence for the laws to see them administered with inflexible justice—it begets an affection for the judicial system to observe how these laws are administered in mercyand it conduces to a dread of violating them, that the subjects of the realm should witness the trial as well as the punishment of offenders. Happily there is no kind of reading, so great a favourite of all classes, as trials, whether criminal or civil. But this useful, this instructive reading, is withheld from the portion of the people which has the greatest occasion for it. Noblemen may read trials for theft, and ladies of quality may see the details of proceedings against murderers and incendiaries ; but daylabourers, and common soldiers, and sailors, can no more afford to buy a stamped paper than to eat off plate. But it is not merely in teaching the people the laws that are made to govern them, or the trials that are held under these laws, that the newspapers conduce to good government, and to the advantage of the subject as well as his rulers. All matters of a public nature—the acts of the government the conduct of the public servantsthe occurrences of moment abroad as well as at home all that we learn of the course of events, interest, and ought to occupy a portion of the people's attention. It is even the duty of free subjects to consider these things, and to form their opinions upon them; but the price of papers, raised by the stamps, keeps this intelligence from them; and the monopoly enjoyed by a few papers, owing

[graphic]

to the stamp, prevents the people from having access to that full variety of opinions, arguments, and statements of fact, in which alone free discussion can consist ; and which can alone prevent deceptions from being daily practised upon the country. That the people should be habituated to political discussion, no man in these times is hardy enough to deny. It is too late to prevent them from thinking on such subjects; and the only question being whether they shall think soundly and like well-informed men, or ignorantly and lightly, and after the model of others interested perhaps in misleading them, it is clear that any impediment to the fullest political information, is both unjust to the people, and dangerous to our institutions.

Perhaps the greatest of all the advantages of repealing this tax remains to be told. Nothing can more completely obstruct the progress of general knowledge than the stamp on newspapers. For the most efficient of all the means of diffusing information among every class of the people are assuredly to be found in the newspaper press. The newspapers furnish by far the best vehicles for disseminating important truths and useful information. Other works are repulsive to ignorant men ; therefore they are closed books to those who most stand in need of being instructed. Books, how cheap soever, and however popularly written, are not likely to be read by the uninformed. To buy, or to get, and to begin reading a volume, indicates a certain progress in improvement to have been already made. But all men will read The Neus; and even peasants, farm servants, country daylabourers, will look at, nay pore over the paper that chronicles the occurrences of the neighbouring market-town. Here then is a channel through which, alongst with political intelligence and the occurrences of the day, the friends of human improvement, the judicious promoters of general education, may diffuse the best information, and may easily allure all classes, even the humblest, into the paths of general knowledge. Every man of good sense must at once perceive what an engine this would be in the hands of the Educator; but at present it exists not for any purposes of his. The stamp paralyses that arm, which, were it removed, might easily bring learning and science into the habitation of every man in the country. Can we wonder that the friends of

« PreviousContinue »