Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Of the Contents of Newspapers
By Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866)
 
From Gryll Grange

Mrs. Opimian.  Perhaps, doctor, the world is too good to see any novelty except in something wrong.
  1
  The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  Perhaps it is only wrong that arrests attention, because right is common, and wrong is rare. Of the many thousand persons who walk daily through a street you only hear of one who has been robbed or knocked down. If ever Hamlet’s news—“that the world has grown honest”—should prove true, there would be an end of our newspaper. For, let us see what is the epitome of a newspaper? In the first place, specimens of all the deadly sins, and infinite varieties of violence and fraud; a great quantity of talk, called by courtesy legislative wisdom, of which the result is “an incoherent and undigested mass of law, shot down, as from a rubbish cart, on the heads of the people”; lawyers barking at each other in that peculiar style of hylactic delivery which is called forensic eloquence, and of which the first and most distinguished practitioner was Cerberus; bear-garden meetings of mismanaged companies, in which directors and shareholders abuse each other in choice terms, not all to be found even in Rabelais; burstings of bank bubbles, which, like a touch of harlequin’s wand, strip off their masks and dominos from highly respectable gentlemen, and leave them in their true figures of cheats and pickpockets; societies of all sorts, for teaching everybody everything, meddling with everybody’s business, and mending everybody’s morals; mountebank advertisements promising the beauty of Helen in a bottle of cosmetic, and the age of Old Parr in a box of pills; folly all alive in things called réunions; announcements that some exceedingly stupid fellow has been entertaining a select company; matters, however multiform, multifarious, and multitudinous, all brought into family likeness by the varnish of false pretension with which they are all overlaid.  2
  Mrs. Opimian.  I do not like to interrupt you, doctor; but it struck me, while you were speaking, that in reading the newspaper, you do not hear the bark of lawyers.  3
  The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  True; but no one who has once heard the wow-wow can fail to reproduce it in imagination.  4
  Mrs. Opimian.  You have omitted accidents, which occupy a large space in the newspaper. If the world grew ever so honest, there would still be accidents.  5
  The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  But honesty would materially diminish the number. High-pressure steam boilers would not scatter death and destruction around them, if the dishonesty of avarice did not tempt their employment, where the more costly low-pressure would ensure absolute safety. Honestly built houses would not come suddenly down and crush their occupants. Ships, faithfully built and efficiently manned, would not so readily strike on a lee shore, nor go instantly to pieces on the first touch of the ground. Honestly made sweetmeats would not poison children; honestly compounded drugs would not poison patients. In short, the larger portion of what we call accidents are crimes.  6
  Mrs. Opimian.  I have often heard you say, of railways and steam-vessels, that the primary cause of their disasters is the insane passion of the public for speed. That is not crime, but folly.  7
  The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  It is crime in those who ought to know better than to act in furtherance of the folly. But when the world has grown honest, it will no doubt grow wise. When we have got rid of crime, we may consider how to get rid of folly. So that question is adjourned to the Greek Kalends.  8
  Mrs. Opimian.  There are always in a newspaper some things of a creditable character.  9
  The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  When we are at war, naval and military heroism abundantly; but in time of peace, these virtues sleep. They are laid up like ships in ordinary. No doubt, of the recorded facts of civil life some are good, and more are indifferent, neither good nor bad; but good and indifferent together are scarcely more than a twelfth of the whole. Still, the matters thus presented are all exceptional cases. A hermit reading nothing but a newspaper might find little else than food for misanthropy; but living among friends, and in the bosom of our family, we see the dark side of life in the occasional picture, the bright in its everyday aspect. The occasional is the matter of curiosity, of incident, of adventure, of things that really happen to few, and may possibly happen to any. The interest attendant on any action or event is in just proportion to its rarity; and, happily, quiet virtues are all around us, and obtrusive virtues seldom cross our path. On the whole, I agree in opinion with Theseus, that there is more good than evil in the world.  10
  Mrs. Opimian.  I think, doctor, you would not maintain any opinion if you had not an authority two thousand years old for it.  11
  The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  Well, my dear, I think most opinions worth mentioning have an authority of about that age.  12
 
 
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