PRATIE PLACE

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Samuel Johnson, early blogger, on newspapers (and blogs)


As part of my general retreat from the 21st century, I gave up my newspaper subscriptions long ago. I get the emailed headlines everyday to reassure myself that the world goes on as usual. Life is better without the constant noise.

Extracts from
The Idler, Saturday, May 27, 1758

One of the principal amusements of the Idler is to read the works of those minute historians the writers of news, who, though contemptuously overlooked by the composers of bulky volumes, are yet necessary in a nation where much wealth produces much leisure, and one part of the people has nothing to do but to observe the lives and fortunes of the other.

To us, who are regaled every morning and evening with intelligence, and are supplied from day to day with materials for conversation, it is difficult to conceive how man can subsist without a newspaper, or to what entertainment companies can assemble, in those wide regions of the earth that have neither Chronicles nor Magazines, neither Gazettes nor Advertisers, neither Journals nor Evening Posts.

There are never great numbers in any nation, whose reason or invention can find employment for their tongues, who can raise a pleasing discourse from their own stock of sentiments and images; and those few who have qualified themselves by speculation for general disquisitions are soon left without an audience.

Whatever is found to gratify the publick, will be multiplied by the emulation of vendors beyond necessity or use. This plenty indeed produces cheapness, but cheapness always ends in negligence and deprivation.

The compilation of newspapers is often committed to narrow and mercenary minds, not qualified for the task of delighting or instructing; who are content to fill their paper, with whatever matter, without industry to gather, or discernment to select.

Thus journals are daily multiplied without increase of knowledge. The tale of the morning paper is told again in the evening, and the narratives of the evening are bought again in the morning. These repetitions, indeed, waste time, but they do not shorten it. The most eager peruser of news is tired before he has completed his labour; and many a man, who enters the coffee-house in his nightgown and slippers, is called away to his shop, or his dinner, before he has well considered the state of Europe.


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