Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > The Beginnings of English Journalism > Muddiman’s newsletters
  Henry Muddiman and The Gazette  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XV. The Beginnings of English Journalism.

§ 8. Muddiman’s newsletters.

This was not his only reward, for the important privilege of free postage was also given to him. Thus, anyone was at liberty to write to him, post free, to tell him what was going on in any part of the kingdoms, he also having the right to send letters in return without charge. He, therefore, opened his first editorial office at the Seven Stars in the Strand, near the New Exchange (the site of Coutts’s old bank), and attached himself to the office of secretary of state Nicholas, afterwards of lord Arlington, whither, after a time, the bulk of his letters were addressed, either to himself or, by his own direction, to Sir Joseph Williamson, then under-secretary and, after a time, his censor. A correspondence of this kind, of course, was of very great importance to a government anxious to know what was going on in different parts of the realm, and it largely accounts for the great bulk of the restoration state papers. The fact that parliament, in June, 1660, prohibited printed reports of its proceedings and never removed the embargo until the end of the century, made his letters of news much in request, and, in this way, that which might have been thought the least important and the least lucrative part of his work really assumed the greatest consequence. So, when Sir Roger L’Estrange’s open request for the sole privilege of writing the “newsbooks” succeeded, at the end of 1663, Muddiman was but little injured and does not at all seem to have resented his supersession.   63
  A more dangerous enemy than L’Estrange was Sir Joseph Williamson, for whom Muddiman started the Gazette at the end of 1665 and crushed out L’Estrange; finally, when Williamson tried to deprive him of his newsletter correspondence, Muddiman started another periodical—the official The Current Intelligence (of 1666)—under protection of Monck’s cousin, another secretary of state, Sir William Morice. Thus, Williamson was brought to terms. He had to carry on a newsletter correspondence himself after this, in order to feed the Gazette; but his duties prevented his giving his personal attention either to the Gazette or to his newsletters; and, while the former lapsed into a moribund condition, the latter did not pay. The newsletters of the man whom he had attempted to oust became a household word throughout the kingdom.   64
  These newsletters, closely written by clerks (from dictation) on a single sheet, the size and shape of modern foolscap, headed “Whitehall,” to show their privilege, beginning “Sir,” and without any signature, misspelt, the writing cramped and crabbed to a degree, but literally crammed with parliamentary and court news, are easily distinguishable from the rarer productions of less successful writers. They were sent post free twice a week, or oftener, for £5 a year and, from the lists of correspondents at the Record office, as well as from numerous references to Muddiman in the various reports of the Historical Manuscripts commission, it is evident that no personage of consequence could afford to dispense with them. A vast number of them still exist; one collection contains a complete series for twenty-two years. They have never yet been systematically calendared and published.   65
  Anthony à Wood continually visited Short’s coffee-house in Cat street, Oxford, in order to read “Muddiman’s letter” and was in the habit of paying two shillings “quarteridge” for them when they were done with. Roger North, in the life of his brother, shows that they were held in much the same esteem at Cambridge.   66
  Once or twice, Muddiman got into trouble. In 1676, the king was much annoyed at a statement made in a newsletter found in a coffee-house, to the effect that a fleet was to sail against Algiers under Sir John Narborough and that the duke of Monmouth was to be one of his captains. The letter was at once suspected to be Muddiman’s. Pepys got a copy of it for Williamson, and Muddiman was examined before the council, the king stating that he would not suffer either Muddiman or any other person to divulge anything agitated in council “till he thought fit to declare it.” When the matter was enquired into, the writer was proved to have been Williamson’s own head clerk, and he had to dismiss him. The following year, Muddiman was arrested for “writing confidently that the Spaniards intended war against England,” but nothing seems to have come of it. Wood also records in his diary that, in 1686, in the days of James II, Street, judge of assize at Oxford, spoke in his charge to the grand jury against newsletters, particularly Muddiman’s, and, after noting that they “came not to Oxon afterwards,” adds, “other trite and lying letters came.” 29  But, as he was on the popular side and opposed to James II, his letters were soon back again. His Gazette may be said to have been the first printed newspaper, for it at once gained the title of a “paper” as being a departure from the ancient pamphlet form and no longer a “book.” It was only “half a sheet in folio” and clearly designed to be sent with his letters. The word “newes-paper” was not long in being coined as a result, and, from analogy with this, was at last obtained the word “newsletter.”   67
  The career of Sir Roger L’Estrange, who supplanted Henry Muddiman for about two years, would (like that of Henry Walker) require a volume to do it justice, if his surveyorship of the press were taken into account. Nevertheless, his rôle as journalist was brief, uneventful and unimportant. His two periodicals The Intelligencer and The News (31 August, 1663 to 29 January, 1666) were only half the size of his predecessor’s publications and, in 1664, were paged and numbered together as one periodical. This was a device to make them pay. L’Estrange was a better pamphleteer than journalist; his Observator, issued in later years, consisted of nothing but comment without news. When Muddiman put an end to L’Estrange’s journals with the Gazette in 1665, L’Estrange, by the king’s orders, was pensioned off with £100 a year charged on the Gazette, his future services as surveyor of the press being paid for, in like manner, by £200 a year out of the secret service money.   68
  Of the immense journalistic output which Cromwell had suppressed, the net results at the end of the reign of Charles II were: first, the official recognition of the necessity to gratify the public desire for news, shown in the continuance of the Gazette as a permanent institution; and, secondly, the striking manner in which newsletters were permitted, unfettered and uncensored, for the benefit of the upper classes, to supply the defects of the official print. No longer ridiculed, newsletters at last obtained a place in public esteem which had never been obtained by newsbooks. That, before the end of the century, the liberty of the press should begin and the modern newspaper follow, was but a logical corollary to this.   69

Note 29. Jeffreys took the extreme step of suppressing coffee-houses that “dealt in newsletters.” Ellis correspondence, by A. Ellis, II, p. 243. [ back ]

  Henry Muddiman and The Gazette  

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