Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History: 1995 Annual

By Michael Harris ; Tom O'Malley | Go to book overview

any slow, persistent attack on clerical imbecility. By examining these journals, one does notice an increasing inclusiveness in clerical satire: Church of England priests are mocked alongside the Methodists, Quakers and other sects traditionally satirized by literary figures. In the Grub-Street Journal, which ran from January 8, 1730, to the end of 1737, references to the clergy are notably more satiric than those references in the Spectator. But the main targets of its satire are religious groups "outside the pale of the establishment." 21

A third problem is that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine whether the images had any effect on the public at large. At its height, the Spectator reached a circulation of nine thousand, a number that does not take into consideration those who read them in coffeehouses. 22 But it would be too much to say that the positive images caused sympathetic responses to the clergy. And though the World and Connoisseur papers are persistently negative, it is certain that the majority of the populace, unable to read or unconcerned with events in London, maintained a respect for their parish priests in the same way that the majority of the populace does today, despite media assaults on church corruptions. The church was a symbol of God's presence in daily affairs and the clergyman, however he appeared to the public through a secularized press, and especially to a highly literate public sometimes vying for attention at the book stalls, was called upon to provide spiritual support and to conduct the ritualized exercises so dominant in the lives of those professing religious faith. But it is plausible that a persistently negative image repeatedly stamped on the public mind does make an impression, and if it is true that the reputation of the English parson was at a low point in the mid-eighteenth century, it is an open but important question as to what part, if any, the popular media played in contributing to that decline.


NOTES
1
Samuel Johnson periodical, The Rambler, had completed its run of 208 numbers, some ten months before the appearance of Moore's. Still, it was unusual for periodicals to survive for 200 numbers.
2
George P. Winship Jr., "The Printing History of the World," in Studies in the Early English Periodical, ed. Richmond Bond ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), p. 193.
3
In fact, I will be discussing four periodicals, but since the Tatler and Spectator papers are customarily spoken of in the same breath, and likewise the World and Connoisseur papers, I will normally use the abbreviated references for convenience.
4
Early commentary on the World appears in George Marr, The Periodical Essayists of the Eighteenth Century ( New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1924), and in Walter Graham, English Literary Periodicals ( New York: T. Nelson, 1930).

-43-

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