Lessons for the press from Dickens

Chalk Talk

You never know what you will find when you start rummaging away in the attic.

In Aidan Bell's case, it was the first edition of a newspaper – The Daily News – edited by Charles Dickens and dating back to 1846.

It was simply lying on its own among dusty boxes at his home in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and had probably been there for up to half a century. "It was a jaw-dropping moment," Bell said. "When I saw the date, I was amazed. I immediately realised it was something special."

He contacted the University of Buckingham, whose English professor, John Drew, has mounted a project to publish online Dickens' weekly magazines Household Words and All The Year Round – which were first produced in the 1850s and 1860s.

"Having spent a year or so studying grainy files of this paper on microfilm, I was tremendously excited to think I might actually get to see an original copy," Professor Drew said.

"I was far from disappointed: crumbling, browned, stained by thumbprints and coffee, the old paper reeked of 160 years of British political history, all kicked off in fine style by Charles Dickens' opening editorial."

The editorial said: "The principles advocated by The Daily News will be principles of progress and improvement of education, civil and religious liberty and equal legislation: principles such as its conductors believe the advancing spirit of the time requires: the condition of the country demands: and justice, reason and experience legitimately sanction.

"We seek, so far as is in us, to elevate the character of the Public Press in England. We believe it would attain a much higher position and that those who wield its powers would be infinitely more respected as a class, and an important one, if it were purged of a disposition to sordid attacks on itself, which only prevails in England and America."

Sounds as if we could do with him being around today!

No decision has yet been taken as to what to do with the newspaper yet – it is in such a delicate condition that it cannot be opened at present. Eventually, Bell may see if it could be made available to an institution where it can be looked at by members of the public.