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And never were they actually perused by so large a majority of all classes since the art of printing was discovered.
“The general effect of this unprecedented multiplication and diffusion of public prints, forms a subject of most interesting and complex calculation. On the one hand,
. when well conducted, they have a tendency to disseminate useful information ; to keep the public mind awake and active; to confirm and extend the love of freedom; to correct the mistakes of the ignorant, and the impositions of the crafty; to tear off the mask from corrupt and designing politicians; and, finally, to promote union of spirit and of action among the most distant members of an extended community. But to pursue a path calculated to produce these effects, the conductors of public prints ought to be men of talents, learning, and virtue. Under the guidance of such characters, every Gazette would be a source of moral and political instruction, and, of course, a public blessing
“On the other hand, when an instrument so potent is committed to the weak, the ignorant, and the vicious, the most baneful consequences must be anticipated. When men of small talents, of little information, and of less virtue, undertake to be (as the editors of public gazettes, however contemptible their character may, in a degree, be considered) the directors of public opinion, what must be the result? We may expect to see the frivolities of weakness, the errors and malignity of prejudice, the misrepresentations of party zeal, the most corrupt doctrines in politics and morals, the lacerations of private character,
1 " The extreme cheapness with which newspapers are conveyed by the mail, in the United States, added to the circumstance of their being altogether unincumbered with a stamp duty, or any other public restriction, renders their circulation more convenient and general than in any other country.”
and the poluting language of obscenity and impiety, daily issuing from the press, poisoning the principles, and disturbing the repose of society; giving to the natural and salutary collisions of parties the most brutal violence and ferocity; and, at length, consuming the best feelings and noblest charities of life, in the flame of civil discord.
“ In the former part of the eighteenth century, talents and learning, at least, if not virtue, were thought necessary in the conductors of political journals. Few ventured to intrude into this arduous office, but those who had some claims to literature. Towards the close of the century, however, persons of less character, and of humbler qualifications, began, without scruple, to undertake the high task of enlightening the public mind. This remark applies, in some degree, to Europe; but it applies with particular force to our own country, where every judicious observer must perceive, that too many of our gazettes are in the hands of persons destitute at once of the urbanity of gentlemen, the information of scholars, and the principles of virtue. To this source, rather than to any peculiar depravity of national character, we may ascribe the faults of
1“ This has not been, generally, so much the case in America as in Europe. From the earliest period too many of our Gazettes have been in the hands of persons who were destitute both of talents and literature. But in later times, the number of editors who fall under this description has become even greater than formerly."
OBSERVATION. There are few instances in which I would presume to differ with the ingenious author of these remarks, in opinion ; but, on this oocasion, I must be allowed to observe, that I conceive there are among the men who conduct the public journals of America, many, whose literary acquirements are not inferior to those of their predecessors. The great difficulty proceeds from the rage of party spirit, which is kept alive by the frequency of elections, in which the conductors of newspapers engage as partizans; and some of them, it is true, as is also the case in Great Britain, display a greater degree of asperity and opprobriousness than can be justified, which must be a subject of regret to those who are truly interested in the welfare of the country.
American newspapers, which have been pronounced by travellers the most profligate and scurrilous public prints in the civilized world.
“If the foregoing remarks be just, then the friend of rational freedom, and of social happiness, cannot but contemplate with the utmost solicitude, the future influence of political journals on the welfare of society. As they form one of the great safeguards of free government, so they also form one of its most threatening assailants. And unless public opinion (the best remedy that can be applied) should administer an adequate correction of the growing evil, we may anticipate the arrival of that crisis in which we must yield either to an abridgment of the liberty of the press, or to a disruption of every social bond.”2
1“ These considerations, it is conceived, are abundantly sufficient to account for the disagreeable character of American newspapers. In every country the selfish principle prompts men to defame their personal and political enemies; and where the supposed provocations to this are numerous, and no restraints are imposed on the indulgence of the disposition, an inundation of filth and calumny must be expected. In the United States, the frequency of elections leads to a corresponding frequency of struggle between political parties; these struggles naturally engender mischievous passions, and every species of coarse invective; and, unhappily, too many of the conductors of our public prints have neither the discernment, the firmness, nor the virtue to reject from their pages the foul ebullitions of prejudice and malice. Had they more diligence, or greater talents, they might render their gazettes interesting, by filling them with materials of a more instructive and dignitied kind; but wanting these qualifications, they must give such materials, accompanied with such a seasoning, as circumstances furnish. Of what kind these are no one is ignorant.”
? The above remarks from Miller's Retrospect are not less applicable now than they were in 1810. — II.
CATALOGUE OF BOOKSELLERS IN THE COLONIES, FROM THE
FIRST SETTLEMENT OF THE COUNTRY TO THE COMMENCEMENT OF TIE REVOLUTIONARY WAR, IN 1775.
The dates of the years which precede the names of the booksellers, spe
cify the earliest periods when they are known to have been in business. The precise time could not, in all cases, be ascertained.
BOSTON 1652. HEZEKIAH Usner, was the first bookseller in English America of whom I can find any account. Books formed a proportion of his stock in trade; and the first works which were published in this country were printed for him. Of these an edition of the New England version of the Psalms, small 12mo, to bind up with Bibles, claims the precedence. The imprint to that book is, “ Cambridge, Printed for Hezekiah Usher, of Boston.” The date and the name of the printer are omitted; but I have no doubt the book had gone through three or four editions, as early
1652. Soon after the settlement of some parts of America, a corporation was established in England for propagating the gospel among the Indians in New England; and Usher
1 In 1692, a respectable man whose name was Hezekiah Usher, was accused of witchcraft, in consequence of which accusation he was ordered to be confined in the common prison; but on account of the goodness of his character, he was, by connivance, allowed to secrete himself in the house of a friend; and, afterwards to escape out of the hands of his persecutors, until the delusion or madness of the times, in part, subsided, and reason restored the balm of tranquility to the public mind. The person so accused was, probably, the bookseller, or one of his sons. See Brattle's Letter, Mass. Hist. Coll., 1st vol.- II.
was agent for managing the pecuniary concerns between the corporation and the commissioners of the United colonies in New England. He procured the types, paper, &c., and managed the transactions relating to printing the Bible in the Indian language, which was in the press from 1660 to 1663. Besides bookselling, he conducted a commercial establishment, and acquired considerable property.
1672. JOHN USHER, the son of IIezekiah. In 1672 an edition of the laws, revised and alphabetically arranged, was printed by S. Green, in Cambridge, for John Usher in Boston. I have seen several books printed for him since that time.
An English bookseller, who was an author, and resided some time in Boston,' wrote thus concerning John Usher. “ This Trader makes the best figure in Boston; he's very Rich, adventures much to Sea; but has got his estate by Book-Selling; he proposed to me the buying of my whole Venture, but would not agree to my Terms; and so we parted with a great deal of seeming respect."
John Usher was treasurer of the province when Sir Edmund Andros was governor. IIe was employed by the government of Massachusetts, when he was in England, to purchase the province of Maine from the heirs of Sir Ferdinando Gorges. In 1683, he became lieutenant governor of New Hampshire, which office he retained some years ; but, during the time he resided chiefly in Boston, and carried on his business as usual. “He was a man of unpolished manners, severe in the execution of his office, was but little of a statesman, and less of a courtier, and became so odious to the people, that they prevailed on the king and council to remove him.” He had a seat at Charles
1 John Dunton.
A large collection of books bought by Dunton to sell in Boston, anno 1686.
3 Belknap's Ilistory of New Ilampshire, 1, p. 289.