[This extract is drawn from the second of four parts in Dallas's series on "Popular Literature" published during 1859; there he focuses in particular on the function of anonymous authorship in the periodical press. - Graham Law]

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ow it seems to us, that in most of the discussions regarding the periodical press, a great deal of misapprehension arises from the fact, that the old idea of journalism as a fourth estate - as a distinct power in the realm - still exists. We trust that in our last article it was made sufficiently clear that it is the merest fallacy to regard the press as in any sense a fourth estate; it is but a second representation of the third. It has a constituency as real and an election as genuine as any that the House of Commons can boast. But there is this difference between the two systems of representation which we enjoy in the press and in Parliament: - parliamentary representation is a district representation, while that of the press is for the most part a class representation. Pursue this distinction to its last result, and what does it come to? It comes to this, that whereas the parliamentary deputy represents certain individuals, the literary organ represents certain abstractions. No doubt the member of Parliament is an exponent of principles as well as of individuals; and the literary organ, in the discussion of opinions and the advocacy of interests, has to do also with individuals. The one implies the other; yet directly, as we have said, the parliamentary representation is of individuals, the journalistic representation is of classes, interests, subjects, opinions - in one word, abstractions, things which do not exist except in thought. But if there be any truth in this view of the function of the English press, is it not palpable that it necessitates anonymous writing? If it be true that, unlike the journals of France and America, which represent individual opinions and interests, English newspapers and periodicals represent class or party opinions and interests, is it not natural - is it not inevitable, that the advocacy of these opinions and interests should be published as the advocacy, not of individuals, but of a class or of a party - in one word, should be anonymous? Away with all these discussions as to whether the signature of articles would increase or diminish the power of the press! The question that is here involved is not whether the power of the press may be increased or diminished, but whether the character of the press is to be reversed or not? Shall the English journals represent classes as heretofore - a characteristic that of late years has been developed with extraordinary vigour? - or shall they represent individuals as in America, where the editor's name is under the heading of the newspaper, and the authority of the journal is identical with his personal influence? To sign or not to sign? - that is the question; but as applied to the English press it is only another form of the question, To be or not to be? The anonymous is the corner-stone of class journalism - it is the one postulate of the English system; and when we are asked to abolish it, the proposition really is to change the nature of the system, to violate all the traditions and subvert all the principles upon which the press, that Englishmen make their boast, has been founded, and through which it has won all its battles. Whether the principle of class journals should be retained or not, is a question which maybe very safely left to the English public, for out of this principle it has come to pass that the press is no longer a fourth estate, that it is a popular representation, that to a very large extent it is in fact - the public. [183b-184b]

Links to Related Material


[Dallas, Eneas Sweetland]. "Popular Literature: The Periodical Press" II, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 85 (February 1859): 180-95.

Created 2 February 2024