Autobiography and Selected Essays HTML version

Youthful Propagandism. The "Westminster Review"
The occupation of so much of my time by office work did not relax my attention to my
own pursuits, which were never carried on more vigorously. It was about this time that I
began to write in newspapers. The first writings of mine which got into print were two
letters published towards the end of 1822, in the Traveller evening newspaper. The
Traveller (which afterwards grew into the Globe and Traveller, by the purchase and
incorporation of the Globe) was then the property of the well-known political economist,
Colonel Torrens, and under the editorship of an able man, Mr. Walter Coulson (who,
after being an amanuensis of Mr. Bentham, became a reporter, then an editor, next a
barrister and conveyancer, and died Counsel to the Home Office), it had become one of
the most important newspaper organs of Liberal politics. Colonel Torrens himself wrote
much of the political economy of his paper; and had at this time made an attack upon
some opinion of Ricardo and my father, to which, at my father's instigation, I attempted
an answer, and Coulson, out of consideration for my father and goodwill to me, inserted
it. There was a reply by Torrens, to which I again rejoined. I soon after attempted
something considerably more ambitious. The prosecutions of Richard Carlile and his wife
and sister for publications hostile to Christianity were then exciting much attention, and
nowhere more than among the people I frequented. Freedom of discussion even in
politics, much more in religion, was at that time far from being, even in theory, the
conceded point which it at least seems to be now; and the holders of obnoxious opinions
had to be always ready to argue and re-argue for the liberty of expressing them. I wrote a
series of five letters, under the signature of Wickliffe, going over the whole length and
breadth of the question of free publication of all opinions on religion, and offered them to
the Morning Chronicle. Three of them were published in January and February, 1823; the
other two, containing things too outspoken for that journal, never appeared at all. But a
paper which I wrote soon after on the same subject, à propos of a debate in the House of
Commons, was inserted as a leading article; and during the whole of this year, 1823, a
considerable number of my contributions were printed in the Chronicle and Traveller:
sometimes notices of books, but oftener letters, commenting on some nonsense talked in
Parliament, or some defect of the law, or misdoings of the magistracy or the courts of
justice. In this last department the Chronicle was now rendering signal service. After the
death of Mr. Perry, the editorship and management of the paper had devolved on Mr.
John Black, long a reporter on its establishment; a man of most extensive reading and
information, great honesty and simplicity of mind; a particular friend of my father,
imbued with many of his and Bentham's ideas, which he reproduced in his articles,
among other valuable thoughts, with great facility and skill. From this time the Chronicle
ceased to be the merely Whig organ it was before, and during the next ten years became
to a considerable extent a vehicle of the opinions of the Utilitarian Radicals. This was
mainly by what Black himself wrote, with some assistance from Fonblanque, who first
showed his eminent qualities as a writer by articles and jeux d'esprit in the Chronicle.
The defects of the law, and of the administration of justice, were the subject on which
that paper rendered most service to improvement. Up to that time hardly a word had been
said, except by Bentham and my father, against that most peccant part of English
institutions and of their administration. It was the almost universal creed of Englishmen,