The Warden, by Antony Trollope

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Why, oh why, ye earthly ministers, why have ye not followed more closely this heaven-sent messenger that is among us? Should we not delegate all decision-making to The Daily Times? Would it not be wise to abandon useless talking, idle thinking, and profitless labour? Away with majorities in the House of Commons, away with verdicts from the judiciary given after much consideration, with doubtful laws, and the fallible attempts of humanity! Does not The Daily Times, coming forth daily with fifty thousand impressions full of unerring decision on every mortal subject, set all matters sufficiently at rest?

In “The Warden“, the press comes in for some stick from Antony Trollope.  He criticises The Times newspaper (parodied in his book as The Jupiter) for its dominance, its undue influence in society, and its lack of accountability in its reporting and its editorials. Here is  a slightly updated version of his comments in Chapter 14:

It is a fact amazing to ordinary mortals that The Daily Times is never wrong. With what endless care do we elect as MPs the people we think most likely to represent our interests well? And how we fail! Parliament is always wrong: look at The Daily Times, and see how futile are the politicians’ meetings, how fruitless their debates, how needless all their endeavours! With what pride do we regard our cabinet ministers, the great secretaries of state, the oligarchs of the nation on whose wisdom we rely, to whom we look for guidance in our difficulties! But what are they to the writers of The Daily Times? The great and the good hold council together, and determine their political strategies; but when all is done, The Daily Times declares that all is naught.

Why should we look to the prime minister – why should we pay attention to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the leader of the opposition, when Mr Journalist without a struggle can put us right? Look at our hospitals, how NHS funds are misspent; at our schools, how badly are our children educated. Targets are set; initiatives introduced; people held accountable; and yet how badly are things managed. Ministers do their best to reduce unemployment, and improve life chances for disadvantaged young people; but in vain. All, all is wrong – alas! alas! Mr Journalist, and he alone, knows all about it.

Why, oh why, ye earthly ministers, why have ye not followed more closely this heaven-sent messenger that is among us? Should we not delegate all decision-making to The Daily Times? Would it not be wise to abandon useless talking, idle thinking, and profitless labour? Away with majorities in the House of Commons, away with verdicts from the judiciary given after much consideration, with doubtful laws, and the fallible attempts of humanity! Does not The Daily Times, coming forth daily with fifty thousand impressions full of unerring decision on every mortal subject, set all matters sufficiently at rest? Is not Mr Editor here, able to guide us and willing? Yes indeed, able and willing to guide all men in all things, so long as he is obeyed as autocrat should be obeyed -with undoubting submission: let church and state, law and science, commerce and technology, all listen and obey, and all will be made perfect. Has not Mr Editor an all-seeing eye? From both sides of the Atlantic, from the streets of Syria and the camps of Calais, right round the globe, does he not know, watch, and chronicle the doings of everyone? From the candidacy of Trump to that of Clinton, is he not the only fit judge of capability? From Brexit and Bake Off to fracking and wind farms – from aspirin and Alzheimer’s to poverty and pensions, nothing can escape him. Britons have but to read, to obey, and be blessed.

None but the fools doubt the wisdom of The Daily Times; none but the mad dispute its facts. No established religion has ever been without its unbelievers, even in the country where it is the most firmly fixed; no creed has been without scoffers; no church has so prospered as to free itself entirely from dissent. There are those who doubt The Daily Times! They say that Fleet Street has its price, that Mr Journalist can be bought for gold! Such is Fleet Street, the mouthpiece of all the wisdom of this great country. No parliamentary white paper armed with the signatures of all the government has half the power of one of those broad sheets, which fly forth from hence so abundantly, armed with no signature at all.

Some great man, some mighty peer – we’ll say a noble duke – goes to bed one night respected and honoured by all his countrymen; if not a good man, at any rate a mighty man – too mighty to care much what men may say about his want of virtue. He rises in the morning degraded, mean, and miserable; an object of men’s scorn, anxious only to retreat as quickly as possible to somewhere out of sight. What has made this awful change? What has so afflicted him? An article has appeared in The Daily Times; some fifty lines of a narrow column have destroyed all his grace’s equanimity, and banished him for ever from the world. No man knows the origin of the bitter words; the twitterati speculate on the matter, whispering to each other this and that comment; while Mr Journalist walks quietly along Pall Mall, with his coat buttoned close against the east wind, as though he were a mortal man, and not a god dispensing thunderbolts from Fleet Street.

Based on Chapter 14 of The Warden, by Antony Trollope, written in 1855.

It is a fact amazing to ordinary mortals that The Jupiter is never wrong. With what endless care, with what unsparing labour, do we not strive to get together for our great national council the men most fitting to compose it. And how we fail! Parliament is always wrong: look at The Jupiter, and see how futile are their meetings, how vain their council, how needless all their trouble! With what pride do we regard our chief ministers, the great servants of state, the oligarchs of the nation on whose wisdom we lean, to whom we look for guidance in our difficulties! But what are they to the writers of The Jupiter? They hold council together and with anxious thought painfully elaborate their country’s good; but when all is done, The Jupiter declares that all is naught.

 Why should we look to Lord John Russell–why should we regard Palmerston and Gladstone, when Tom Towers without a struggle can put us right? Look at our generals, what faults they make; at our admirals, how inactive they are. What money, honesty, and science can do, is done; and yet how badly are our troops brought together, fed, conveyed, clothed, armed, and managed. The most excellent of our good men do their best to man our ships, with the assistance of all possible external appliances; but in vain. All, all is wrong–alas! alas! Tom Towers, and he alone, knows all about it.  

Why, oh why, ye earthly ministers, why have ye not followed more closely this heaven-sent messenger that is among us? Were it not well for us in our ignorance that we confided all things to The Jupiter? Would it not be wise in us to abandon useless talking, idle thinking, and profitless labour? Away with majorities in the House of Commons, with verdicts from judicial bench given after much delay, with doubtful laws, and the fallible attempts of humanity! Does not The Jupiter, coming forth daily with fifty thousand impressions full of unerring decision on every mortal subject, set all matters sufficiently at rest? Is not Tom Towers here, able to guide us and willing? Yes indeed, able and willing to guide all men in all things, so long as he is obeyed as autocrat should be obeyed–with undoubting submission: only let not ungrateful ministers seek other colleagues than those whom Tom Towers may approve; let church and state, law and physic, commerce and agriculture, the arts of war, and the arts of peace, all listen and obey, and all will be made perfect. Has not Tom Towers an all-seeing eye? From the diggings of Australia to those of California, right round the habitable globe, does he not know, watch, and chronicle the doings of everyone? From a bishopric in New Zealand to an unfortunate director of a North-west passage, is he not the only fit judge of capability? From the sewers of London to the Central Railway of India– from the palaces of St Petersburg to the cabins of Connaught, nothing can escape him. Britons have but to read, to obey, and be blessed.

None but the fools doubt the wisdom of The Jupiter; none but the mad dispute its facts. No established religion has ever been without its unbelievers, even in the country where it is the most firmly fixed; no creed has been without scoffers; no church has so prospered as to free itself entirely from dissent. There are those who doubt The Jupiter! They live and breathe the upper air, walking here unscathed, though scorned–men, born of British mothers and nursed on English milk, who scruple not to say that Mount Olympus has its price, that Tom Towers can be bought for gold! Such is Mount Olympus, the mouthpiece of all the wisdom of this great country. It may probably be said that no place in this 19th century is more worthy of notice. No treasury mandate armed with the signatures of all the government has half the power of one of those broad sheets, which fly forth from hence so abundantly, armed with no signature at all.

Some great man, some mighty peer–we’ll say a noble duke –retires to rest feared and honoured by all his countrymen– fearless himself; if not a good man, at any rate a mighty man –too mighty to care much what men may say about his want of virtue. He rises in the morning degraded, mean, and miserable; an object of men’s scorn, anxious only to retire as quickly as may be to some German obscurity, some unseen Italian privacy, or indeed, anywhere out of sight. What has made this awful change? What has so afflicted him? An article has appeared in The Jupiter; some fifty lines of a narrow column have destroyed all his grace’s equanimity, and banished him for ever from the world. No man knows who wrote the bitter words; the clubs talk confusedly of the matter, whispering to each other this and that name; while Tom Towers walks quietly along Pall Mall, with his coat buttoned close against the east wind, as though he were a mortal man, and not a god dispensing thunderbolts from Mount Olympus.