Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820

By Hannah Barker; Simon Burrows | Go to book overview
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France, 1750–89 1
Jack Censer

By 1789, educated Frenchmen and women had gained wide experience of reading periodicals, even though a half-century earlier, periodicals featured little even in the lives of the elite. 2 Although many other kinds of periodicals served the general public–primarily advertisers and literary journals–newspapers attracted the most interest. French eighteenthcentury readers, who understood the politics of culture extremely well and tended to see cultural politics as that arena left open when politics was censored or obscured, saw newspapers, with their political emphasis, as the most significant of all serial publications. Perhaps future analysts might find gender or class or regional differences played a part in the public's assessment, but it does appear that, for the educated, politics, narrowly conceived, trumped cultural and other disputes. For these reasons, and because the chapter by Simon Burrows on 'The Cosmopolitan Press' above has already given considerable information on the business, structure and control of the French press, this chapter concentrates on the political messages circulating in the press inside ancien regime France.

The French political press originated in 1631 when Théophraste Renaudot, under the aegis of Cardinal Richelieu, founded the Gazette de France. Closely tied to the government, this newspaper depended on and reflected royal policy. While handbills, fliers and manuscript materials abounded, the government squashed any effort to begin alternative serial publications because it had guaranteed a monopoly to Renaudot. 3 Nonetheless, within fifteen years, new Francophone organs established themselves across the border to address the French market and other readers throughout Europe. By the mid-eighteenth century, this political press consisted of the Gazette de France and several extra-territorial gazettes, though only a few were allowed to enter France. An alteration of policy in the late 1750s opened the borders to about a dozen more periodicals. 4 The six most important were based in four Dutch cities (The Hague, Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht), Avignon and Germany (the Courier du Bas-Rhin, founded in 1767). 5 Along with the Gazette de France,


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