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Nor will he take upon him to give any Comments or Conjectures of his own, but will relate only Matter of Fact; supposing other People to have Sense enough, to make Reflections for themselves.
What should the press write about? What sources of news are reliable? What place is there for opinion? These are all questions that are perfectly relevant today, of course, in a time of war in Europe and when fake news and propaganda are rife on all sides. But as it happens, they were all considered by the editor of the very first daily newspaper in Britain, which was first published – exactly 320 years ago as I write this – on 11th March 1702, in Fleet Street… at a time when much of Europe was at war.
Who was that editor? All that we learn from the paper itself is this:
LONDON. Sold by E. Mallet, next Door to the King’s-Arms Tavern at Fleet-Bridge.
It is most likely that although this person refers to themselves as ‘He’, as we’ll see, this appears to be rhetorical and typical of the time, and it is generally believed that the editor in question was female.
We know little of Elizabeth Mallet’s life. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography tells usthat she ‘flourished’ between 1672 and 1706, and that she was a printer and bookseller married to a City of London printer called David Mallet (d.1683). Before he died the couple had specialised in printing collections of speeches given by prisoners before they were executed at ‘Tyburn Tree’ gallows, where Marble Arch stands today. Elizabeth then worked with her son, also David, and in September 1701 launched a news publication called The New State of Europe. This was clearly a precursor to her more ambitious project, The Daily Courant, the first of its kind in Britain. (News-sheets of various kinds existed beforehand, from the early 17th century, and the London Gazette continues to this day, having first been published as the Oxford Gazette in 1665.)
Elizabeth herself only actually published it for 40 days, but the paper was taken on by Samuel Buckleyand it continued until 1735, and was then merged into the Daily Gazetteer, which itself existed in various forms until 1797. But by then The Times had been founded (first as The Daily Universal Register in 1785, changing name in 1788), and newspapers as we know them were hitting their stride.
The last contemporary reference known to Elizabeth is from 1706, relating to her estate, so it seems likely that she died around then. In his 1705 memoir The Life and Errors of John Dunton, Dunton (1659–1733, and another bookseller/author – in this era, it was common to be an author, publisher, printer and bookseller all at once, which is something I can relate to), she is mentioned in a cursory list of “honest (Mercurial) Women” who were booksellers at the time, but that’s all we get.
The first edition of the Courant consisted of just two pages, one for a digest of foreign news – which I’ll give you below the picture but isn’t very exciting – and one for advertisements. The most interesting part, which returns us to my opening remarks, is the editor’s ‘advertisement’, and here it is:
It will be found from the Foreign Prints, which from time to time, as Occasion offers, will be mention’d in this Paper, that the Author has taken Care to be duly furnish’d with all that comes from Abroad in any Language. And for an Assurance that He will not, under Pretence of having Private Intelligence, impose any Additions of feign’d Circumstances to an Action, but give his Extracts fairly and Impartially; at the beginning of each Article he will quote the Foreign Paper from whence ’tis taken, that the Publick, seeing from what Country a piece of News comes with the Allowance of that Government, may be better able to Judge of the Credibility and Fairness of the Relation: Nor will he take upon him to give any Comments or Conjectures of his own, but will relate only Matter of Fact; supposing other People to have Sense enough, to make Reflections for themselves.
This Courant (as the Title shews) will be Publish’d Daily; being design’d to give all the Material News as soon as every Post arrives: and is confin’d to half the Compass, to save the Publick at least half the Impertinences, of ordinary News-Papers.
It’s hard not to like this frankness and statement of good intent, including providing details of the sources. And let’s remember that this new endeavour to publish news daily is something that has become part of the fabric of our lives, even if now in online form. Is this where doomscrolling first began..?
[Much of what follows is in the context of the War of the Spanish Succession.]
From the Harlem Courant, Dated March 18. N. S.
Naples, Feb. 22. On Wednesday last, our New Viceroy, the Duke of Escalona, arriv’d here with a Squadron of the Galleys of Sicily. He made his Entrance drest in a French habit; and to give us the greater Hopes of the King’s coming hither, went to Lodge in one of the little Palaces, leaving the Royal One for his Majesty. The Marquis of Grigni is also arriv’d here with a Regiment of French.
Rome, Feb. 25. In a Military Congregation of State that was held here, it was Resolv’d to draw a Line from Ascoli to the Borders of the Ecclesiastical State, thereby to hinder the Incursions of the Transalpine Troops. Orders are sent to Civita Vecchia to fit out the Galleys, and to strengthen the Garrison of that Place. Signior Casali is made Governor of Perugia. The Marquis del Vasto, and the Prince de Caserta continue still in the Imperial Embassador’s Palace; where his Excellency has a Guard of 50 Men every Night in Arms. The King of Portugal has desir’d the Arch-Bishoprick of Lisbon, vacant by the Death of Cardinal Sousa, for the Infante his second Son, who is about 11 Years old.
Vienna, Mar. 4. Orders are sent to the 4 Regiments of Foot, the 2 of Cuirassiers, and to that of Dragoons, which are broke up from Hungary, and are on their way to Italy, and which consist of about 14 or 15000 Men, to hasten their March thither with all Expedition. The 6 new Regiments of Hussars that are now raising, are in so great a forwardness, that they will be compleat, and in a Condition to march by the middle of May. Prince Lewis of Baden has written to Court, to excuse himself from coming thither, his Presence being so very necessary, and so much desir’d on the Upper-Rhine.
Francfort; Mar. 12. The Marquiss d’Uxelles is come to Strasburg, and is to draw together a Body of some Regiments of Horse and Foot from the Garisons of Alsace; but will not lessen those of Strasburg and Landau, which are already very weak. On the other hand, the Troops of His Imperial Majesty, and his Allies, are going to form a Body near Germeshein in the Palatinate, of which Place, as well as of the Lines at Spires, Prince Lewis of Baden is expected to take a View, in three or four days. The English and Dutch Ministers, the Count of Frise, and the Baron Vander Meer; and likewise the Imperial Envoy Count Lowenstein, are gone to Nordlingen, and it is hop’d that in a short time we shall hear from thence of some favourable Resolutions for the Security of the Empire.
Liege, Mar. 14. The French have taken the Cannon de Longie, who was Secretary to the Dean de Mean, out of our Castle, where he has been for some time a Prisoner, and have deliver’d him to the Provost of Maubeuge, who has carry’d him from hence, but we do not know whither.
Paris, Mar. 13. Our Letters from Italy say, That most of our Reinforcements were Landed there; that the Imperial and Ecclesiastical Troops seem to live very peaceably with one another in the Country of Parma, and that the Duke of Vendome, as he was visiting several Ports, was within 100 Paces of falling into the Hands of the Germans. The Duke of Chartres, the Prince of Conti, and several other Princes of the Blood, are to make the Campaign in Flanders under the Duke of Burgundy; and the Duke of Maine is to Command upon the Rhine.
From the Amsterdam Courant, Dated Mar. 18.
Rome, Feb. 25. We are taking here all possible Precautions for the Security of the Ecclesiastical State in this present Conjuncture, and have desir’d to raise 3000 Men in the Cantons of Switzerland. The Pope has appointed the Duke of Berwick to be his Lieutenant-General, and he is to Command 6000 Men on the Frontiers of Naples: He has also settled upon him a Pension of 6000 Crowns a year during Life.
From the Paris Gazette, Dated Mar. 18. 1702.
Naples, Febr. 17. 600 French Soldiers are arrived here, and are expected to be follow'd by 3400 more. A Courier that came hither on the 14th. has brought Letters by which we are assur'd that the King of Spain designs to be here towards the end of March; and accordingly Orders are given to make the necessary Preparations against his Arrival. The two Troops of Horse that were Commanded to the Abruzzo are posted at Pescara with a Body of Spanish Foot, and others in the Fort of Montorio.
Paris, March. 18. We have Advice from Toulon of the 5th instant, that the Wind having long stood favourable, 22000 Men were already sail’d for Italy, that 2500 more were Embarking, and that by the 15th it was hoped they might all get thither. The Count d’Estrees arriv’d there on the Third instant, and set all hands at work to fit out the Squadron of 9 Men of War and some Fregats, that are appointed to carry the King of Spain to Naples. His Catholick Majesty will go on Board the Thunderer, of 110 Guns.
We have Advice by an Express from Rome of the 18th of February, That notwithstanding the pressing Instances of the Imperial Embassadour, the Pope had Condemn’d the Marquis del Vasto to lose his Head and his Estate to be confiscated, for not appearing to Answer the Charge against him of Publickly Scandalizing Cardinal Janson.
The name comes from being au courant, i.e. current or up to date. Papers like this only became possible after legal restrictions under the Licensing of the Press Act 1662 were abandoned in 1697.
Buckley was another bookseller and printer, who a decade later (between 1711 and 1714) was publisher of The Spectator.
What I don’t understand is how the Amsterdam and Paris papers are dated from a week after the Daily Courant was published! A mistake? Should it say 8th March – or perhaps more plausibly, 18th February? Newspapers do, after all, have a long history of typos… [EDIT] The most likely explanation is that the UK was of course still using the Julian calendar in 1702 and therefore dates were almost a fortnight behind those in Europe!
Fascinating and yes reading it seemed no different to doomscrolling today. And I was going to ask about the dateline, hardly a typo since it was repeated. What were the time zones like back then?