The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
After walking for a time in easy conversation, which comes without thought and passes without impression, Archimago said—"Let us not neglect business. Step in here."
We entered a large reading room. Men of all classes and ages, were rushing in and perusing the newspapers that lay about, as eagerly, hurriedly, and devouringly as I have seen them at their mid-day meals, and then off again.
"This is the most interesting journal," said Archimago. "It is the last number of the History of the Country."
I turned, and saw that he had spread upon a table before him, that day's impression of a leading newspaper. I smiled. One person said, "queer fish;" another, "lunatic;" a third, "senseless factionist;" a fourth, "wretched slanderer;" and a fifth, "brazen panegyrist." I smiled again, and said—
"If you are in earnest, you must mean to say the History of the World, for it contains a register of the events that are daily happening in every corner of the earth."page 25
"Not so," replied Archimago. "It is only the writer's or the editor's representation of those events. He does not give the true history of other countries, but his representation of them do form a paragraph in the history of his own. You see in that," pointing to a page, "the mind that perverts. In those who read," sweeping his arm round, as if to include those within the room and the whole kingdom without, "you see the minds that accept the perversion—thence flows our history."
"Nay, nay," I observed, forgetting that I was talking with one who was an Imperator of the human mind; "you are calumniating the greatest force of civilization, and would put down (for as I would infer from your words) the communication of knowledge."
"You are wrong," said he, in a whisper. "I love it—it is my work. Consider a moment. This is a newspaper. Now look at the news. Here, a fire has taken place; there, a house has fallen down; yonder, a ship has been launched; and, in that corner, a bridge has been built. Each has five lines allotted to it. But here a Vicegerent has given our national flag to shield criminal foreigners; their country's laws, however, will not recognise the illegal act, but seize upon the offenders. Oh, ho! how soon the dogs of war are slipt. We have bombarded a town for it, and an innocent human being has perished for every fretful hair of the consul. There is blood enough spilt to recrimson the standards of both army and navy—at a friend's expense, let us say, and quite apropos—inasmuch as this high-blown official pretends to be a teacher of political economy. Look at the remarks upon this transaction—column page 26 after column. Refer to previous papers, and see how inexhaustible has been the theme. Every note of the cornupeon of national vanity has been touched; and the hearers thrill to the sounds of honour, cupidity, valour, hatred, the might of bomb-shells, the interests of commerce, and progress of Christianity. Like our fashionable music, the true tune is lost, in the variations that envelop and overwhelm it. . . . . . . . . One might suppose it was the narrative of another siege of Troy, but this is not Homer's strain. . . . . .The Chinese, you may be aware, had the first newspapers, and they whipped the man who added any remarks of his own in printing news.
"That is not all. Behold, a squadron of ours has sailed up an oriental gulf, to a city with which we are not at war. Our Representative there knew of their coming, but the people did not. I was there with my beloved disciple, and he did not inform them; nay, he told them—not the truth. The ships came in sight, he sailed out to them, and then,—then, they attacked the ill-fated city. Ha! ha! how I revelled—fire and destruction—ravishing and flames,—and streams of blood. What news find you there of this? Not five lines, I warrant you. The printer's ink has blotted out the event."
"But," said I, "that was—"
"Your but," he answered, with a cutting sneer, must go out of the world, for practices like these embrace the whole of it."
"Then how does this happen?" I exclaimed.
"Your newspapers are part of your government," the Spirit answered.page 27
"That is true," said I, "and 'twere better—"
"Nothing can be better for me," he sharply replied.
"Don't let us discuss, or 'twill be Archimago against Archimago. To business. Here are news of men for places and places for men, which course will you take?"