Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The post brought knowledge alike to the door of the cottage and to the gate of the palace

From Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. Page 37.
Harris' abortive effort inspired other attempts at newspaper publication: for example, the Boston News-Letter, published in 1704, generally regarded as the first continuously published American newspaper. This was followed by the Boston Gazette (in 1719) and the New-England Courant (in 1721), whose editor, James Franklin, was the older brother of Benjamin. By 1730, there were seven newspapers published regularly in four colonies, and by 1800 there were more than 180. In 1770, the New York Gazette congratulated itself and other papers by writing (in part):
'Tis truth (with deference to the college)
Newspapers are the spring of Knowledge,
The general source throughout the nation,
Of every modern conversation.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the Reverend Samuel Miller boasted that the United States had more than two-thirds the number of newspapers available in England, and yet had only half the population of England.

In 1786, Benjamin Franklin observed that Americans were so busy reading newspapers and pamphlets that they scarcely had time for books. (One book they apparently always had time for was Noah Webster's American Spelling Book, for it sold more than 24 million copies between 1783 and 1843.) Franklin's reference to pamphlets ought not to go unnoticed. The proliferation of newspapers in all the Colonies was accompanied by the rapid diffusion of pamphlets and broadsides. Alexis de Tocqueville took note of this fact in his Democracy in America, published in 1835: "In America," he wrote, "parties do not write books to combat each other's opinions, but pamphlets, which are circulated for a day with incredible rapidity and then expire." And he referred to both newspapers and pamphlets when he observed, "the invention of firearms equalized the vassal and the noble on the field of battle; the art of printing opened the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post brought knowledge alike to the door of the cottage and to the gate of the palace."

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