By MICHAEL MACDONAGH.
The most splendid testimony to the Irish genius in journalism is afforded by the London press of the opening decades of the twentieth century. One of the greatest newspaper organizers of modern times is Lord Northcliffe. As the principal proprietor and guiding mind of both the Times and the Daily Mail, he directly influences public opinion, from the steps of the Throne and the door of the Cabinet, to the errand boy and the servant maid. T.P. O’Connor, M.P., is the most popular writer on current social and political topics, and so amazing is his versatility that every subject he touches is illumined by those fine qualities, vision and sincerity. The most renowned of political writers is J.L. Garvin of the Pall Mall Gazette and the Observer. By his leading articles he has done as much as the late Joseph Chamberlain by his speeches to democratize and humanize the old Tory party of England. The authoritative special correspondent, studying at first hand all the problems which divide the nations of Europe, and knowing personally most of its rulers and statesmen, is E.J. Dillon of the Daily Telegraph. And when the quarrels of nations are transferred from the chancelleries to the stricken field there is no one among the war correspondents more enterprising and intrepid in his methods, or more picturesque and vivid with his pen, than M.H. Donohoe of the Daily Chronicle. All these men are Irish. Could there be more striking proof of the natural bent and aptitude of the Irish mind for journalism?
Dean Swift was the mightiest journalist that ever stirred the sluggish soul of humanity. Were he alive today and had he at his command the enormous circulation of a great daily newspaper, he would keep millions in a perpetual mental ferment, such was the ferocious indignation into which he was aroused by wrong and injustice and his gift of savage ironical expression. Swift, as a young student in Trinity College, Dublin, saw the birth of the first offspring of the Irish mind in journalism. The Dublin News Letter made its appearance in June, 1685, and was published every three or four days for the circulation of news and advertisements. Only one copy of the first issue of this, the earliest of Irish newspapers, is extant. It is included in the Thorpe collection of tracts in the Royal Dublin Society. Dated August 26, 1685, it consists of a single leaf of paper printed on both sides, and contains just one item of news, a letter brought by the English packet from London, and two local advertisements. As I reverently handled it, I was thrilled by the thought that from this insignificant little seed sprang the great national organ, the Freeman’s Journal; the Press of the United Irishmen; the Nation of the Young Irelanders; the United Ireland of the Land League; the Irish World and the Boston Pilot of the American Irish; and the Irish Independent, the first half-penny Dublin morning paper, and the most widely circulated of Irish journals. If Swift did not write for the Dublin News Letter, he certainly wrote for the Examiner, a weekly miscellany published in the Irish capital from 1710 to 1713, and the first journal that endeavored to create public opinion in Ireland. It was at Swift’s instigation that this paper was started, and he was doubtless encouraged to suggest it by the success that attended his articles in the contemporary London publication of the same name, the Tory Examiner, in which his journalistic genius was fully revealed. As it has been expressively put, he wrote his friends, Harley and St. John, into a firm grip of power, and thus, as in other ways, contributed his share to the inauguration and maintenance of that policy which in the last four years of Queen Anne so materially recast the whole European situation. About the same time there appeared in London the earliest forms of the periodical essay in the Tatler and the Spectator, which exhibit the comprehensiveness of the Irish temperament in writing by affording a contrast between the Irish force and vehemence of Swift and the Irish play of kindly wit and tender pathos in the deft and dainty periods of Richard Steele.
Dr. Charles Lucas was, even more than Swift perhaps, the precursor of that type of Irish publicist and journalist, of which there have been many splendid examples since then in Ireland, England, and America. Lucas first started the Censor, a weekly journal, in 1748. Within two years his paper was suppressed for exciting discontent with the government, and to avoid a prosecution he fled to England. In 1763 the Freeman’s Journal was established by three Dublin merchants. Lucas, who had returned from a long exile and was a member of the Irish parliament, contributed to it, sometimes anonymously but generally over the signature of “A Citizen” or “Civis.” The editor was Henry Brooks, novelist, poet, and playwright. His novel, The Fool of Quality, is still read. His tragedy, The Earl of Essex, was, wrongly, supposed to contain a precept, “Who rules o’er freemen should himself be free,” which led to the more famous parody of Dr. Samuel Johnson, “Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.” The object of Lucas and Brooke, as journalists, was to awaken national sentiment, by teaching that Ireland had an individuality of her own independently of England. But they were more concerned with the assertion of the constitutional rights of the parliament of the Protestant colony as against the domination of England. Therefore, the first organ of Irish Nationality, representative of all creeds and classes, was the Press, the newspaper of the United Irishmen, which was started in Dublin in 1797, by Arthur O’Connor, the son of a rich merchant who had made his money in London. Its editor was Peter Finnerty, born of humble parentage at Loughrea, afterwards a famous parliamentary reporter for the London Morning Chronicle, and its most famous contributor was Dr. William Drennan, the poet, who first called Ireland “the Emerald Isle.”
Irishmen did not become prominently associated with American journalism until after the Famine and the collapse of the Young Ireland movement in 1848. The journalist whom I regard as having exercised the most fateful influence on the destinies of Ireland was Charles Gavan Duffy, the founder and first editor of the Nation, a newspaper of which it was truly and finely said that it brought a new soul into Erin. Among its contributors, who afterwards added lustre to the journalism of the United States, was John Mitchel. In the Southern Citizen and the Richmond Enquirer he supported the South against the North in the Civil War. The Rev. Abram Joseph Ryan, who was associated with journalism in New Orleans, not only acted as a Catholic chaplain with the Confederate army, but sang of its hopes and aspirations in tuneful verse. Serving in the army of the North was Charles G. Halpine, whose songs signed “Private Miles O’Reilly” were very popular in those days of national convulsion in the United States. Halpine’s father had edited the Tory newspaper, the Dublin Evening Mail; and Halpine himself, after the war, edited the Citizen of New York, famous for its advocacy of reforms in civic administration. Perhaps the two most renowned men in Irish-American journalism were John Boyle O’Reilly of the Boston Pilot and Patrick Ford of the Irish World. O’Reilly was a troop-sergeant in the 10th Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own), and during the Fenian troubles of 1866 had eighty of his men ready armed and mounted to take out of Island Bridge Barracks, Dublin, at a given signal, to aid the projected insurrection. Detected, he was brought to trial, summarily convicted, and sentenced to be shot. This sentence was commuted to twenty-five years’ penal servitude; but O’Reilly survived it all to become a brilliant man of letters and make the Boston Pilot one of the most influential Irish and Catholic newspapers in the United States. Ford, who had served his apprenticeship as a compositor in the office of William Lloyd Garrison at Boston, founded the Irish World in 1870. This newspaper gave powerful aid to the Land League. A special issue of 1,650,000 copies of the Irish World was printed on January 11, 1879, for circulation in Ireland; and money to the amount of $600,000 altogether was sent by Ford to the headquarters of the agitation in Dublin. A journalist of a totally different kind was Edwin Lawrence Godkin. Born in County Wicklow, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, Godkin in 1865 established the Nation in New York as an organ of independent thought; and for thirty-five years he filled a unique position, standing aside from all parties, sects, and bodies, and yet permeating them all with his sane and restraining philosophy.
In Canada, Thomas D’Arcy Magee won fame as a journalist on the New Era before he became even more distinguished as a parliamentarian. When the history of Australian journalism is written it will contain two outstanding Irish names: Daniel Henry Deniehy, who died in 1865, was called by Bulwer Lytton “the Australian Macaulay” on account of his brilliant writings as critic and reviewer in the press of Victoria. Gerald Henry Supple, another Dublin man, is also remembered for his contributions to the Age and the Argus of Melbourne. In India one of the first–if not the first–English newspapers was founded by a Limerick man, named Charles Johnstone, who had previously attained fame as the author of Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea, and who died at Calcutta about 1800.
Stirring memories of battle and adventure leap to the mind at the names of those renowned war correspondents, William Howard Russell, Edmond O’Donovan, and James J. O’Kelly. Russell, a Dublin man, was the first newspaper representative to accompany an army into the field. He saw all the mighty engagements of the Crimea–Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol–not from a distance of 60 or 80 miles, which is the nearest that correspondents are now allowed to approach the front, but at the closest quarters, riding through the lines on his mule, and seeing the engagements vividly, so that he was able to describe them in moving detail for readers of the Times. O’Donovan–son of Dr. John O’Donovan, the distinguished Irish scholar and archaeologist–was in the service of the London Daily News. That dashing campaigner–as his famous book, The Merv Oasis, shows him to have been–perished with Hicks Pasha’s Army in the Sudan in November, 1883. At the same time James O’Kelly, also of the Daily News, was lost in the desert, trying to join the forces of the victorious Sudanese under the Madhi. Ten years before that he had accomplished, for the New York Herald, the equally daring and hazardous feat of joining the Cuban rebels in revolt against Spain. He escaped the perils of the Mambi Land and the Sudan, and survived to serve Ireland for many years as a Nationalist member in the British parliament. John Augustus O’Shea, better known, perhaps, as “The Irish Bohemian”, also deserves remembrance for his quarter of a century’s work as special correspondent in Europe–including Paris during the siege–for the London Standard.
Indeed, no matter to what side of journalism we turn, we find Irishmen filling the foremost and the highest places. John Thaddeus Delane, under whose editorship the Times became for a time the most influential newspaper in the world, was of Irish parentage. The first editor of the Illustrated London News (1842)–one of the pioneers in the elucidation of news by means of pictures–was an Irishman, Frederick Bayley. Among the projectors of Punch, and one of its earliest contributors, was a King’s county man, Joseph Sterling Coyne. The founder of the Liverpool Daily Post (1855), the first penny daily paper in Great Britain, was Michael Joseph Whitty, a Wexford man. His son, Edward M. Whitty, was the originator of that interesting feature of English and Irish journalism, the sketch of personalities and proceedings in parliament. Of the editors of the Athenaeum–for many years the leading English organ of literary criticism–one of the most famous was Dr. John Doran, who was of Irish parentage. “Dod” is a familiar household word in the British Parliament. It is the name of the recognized guide to the careers and political opinions of Lords and Commons. Its founder was an Irishman, Charles Roger Dod, who for twenty-three years was a parliamentary reporter for the Times. And what name sheds a brighter light on the annals of British journalism for intellectual and imaginative force than that of Justin MacCarthy, novelist and historian, as well as newspaper writer?
At home in Ireland the name of Gray is inseparably associated with the Freeman’s Journal. Under the direction of Dr. John Gray this newspaper became in the sixties and seventies the most powerful organ of public opinion in Ireland; and in the eighties it was raised still higher in ability and influence by his son and successor, Edmund Dwyer Gray. In the south of Ireland the most influential daily newspaper is the Cork Examiner, which was founded in 1841 by John Francis Maguire, who wrote in 1868 The Irish in America. It is doubtful whether any country ever produced a more militant and able political journal than was United Ireland in the stormy years during which it was edited by William O’Brien as the organ of the Land League.
The Irish mood is gregarious, expansive, glowing, and eager to keep in intimate touch with the movements and affairs of humanity. That, I think, is the secret of its success in journalism.
Madden: Irish Periodical Literature (1867); Andrews: English Journalism (1855); North: Newspaper and Periodical Press of the United States (1884); MacDonagh: The Reporter’s Gallery (1913).