Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 59.djvu/261

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Walter
Walter
255

to obtain employment on any terms, he determined to set a memorable example of what one man's energy can accomplish. For six-and-thirty hours he himself worked incessantly at case and at press; and on Monday morning the conspirators, who had assembled to triumph over his defeat, saw to their inexpressible astonishment and dismay "The Times" issue from the hands of the publisher with the same regularity as ever. A few months passed on, and Mr. Walter brought out his journal every day without the aid of his quondam workmen '(The Times, 5 Nov. 1894, quoted from an article which first appeared at the time of Walter's death). Walter ultimately found a permanent remedy for labour troubles of this kind by organising 'The Times Companionship' in a form which identified his employes' interests with his own, and cutting it entirely adrift from outside combinations of the trade. He was still, however, his own best workman on occasion. In 1833 an important despatch from Paris reached him at the office when most of the compositors had left. Walter at once translated it, and then, with the assistance of a single compositor, proceeded to set it up in type. Another workman, dropping in about noon, 'found Mr. Walter, M.P. for Berks, working in his shirt-sleeves.' An hour later a new edition of 'The Times' was circulating in the city containing the speech of the king of the French on the opening of the chambers (Smiles, ut sup.)

Having thus organised his staff and settled the industrial economy of his workshop on lines of permanent stability, Walter next sought to meet the growing circulation of his paper by the application of steam to the printing-press. He adopted and improved the invention of a German printer named Koenig for printing by means of cylinders. Machines driven by steam and embodying this principle were set up secretly, to forestall the opposition of the workmen, in premises adjoining the office in Printing House Square. On the morning of 29 Nov. 1814 Walter, issuing from these premises, announced to his pressmen that '"The Times" is already printed by steam,' informing them at the same time 'that, if they attempted violence, there was a force ready to suppress it; but if they were peaceable their wages should be continued to every one of them until they could obtain similar employment.' This quieted them, and there was no disturbance. 'The Times ' of the same morning contained an article announcing the adoption 'of the greatest improvement connected with printing since the discovery of the art itself' (ib.)

From this time forward the personal biography of Walter parts company from the history of 'The Times.' The latter runs underground in channels which have never been explored and cannot now be traced. The external changes in 'The Times' were inconsiderable after steam printing was introduced the first double sheet of the paper was issued in 1829 and its changes of policy were less the result of individual influence than the reflection of corresponding changes in the drift of public opinion. One possible exception, of which the history has often been distorted, may, however, be noted. In the spring of 1834 'The Times,' contrary to general expectation, violently opposed the bill for a new poor law introduced by Lord Grey's government. A letter was written by Althorp to Brougham reflecting on the conduct of 'The Times.' Campbell gives an inaccurate transcript of this letter (Campbell, Lives of the Chancellors, viii. 441), which is still extant and in the possession of the present chief proprietor of 'The Times.' Its text is as follows: 'The subject I want to talk to you about is the state of the Press, and whether we should declare open war with "The Times" or attempt to make peace.' By some means the fragments of this letter, hastily thrown away, came into the hands of the persons on whose conduct it reflected. 'From that hour,' says an ill-informed and often prejudiced historian, 'the virulence with which the leading paper pursued the lord chancellor, the new poor law, and the parties concerned in its preparation exceeded any hostility encountered by the whig government from any other quarter' (Marineau, Hist. of the Peace, ii. 509). The imputation refutes itself, for 'The Times' had taken up its attitude towards the new poor law before the letter in question came into the hands of its conductors. Possibly the incident exacerbated the tone of its opposition; but Walter himself was bitterly opposed to the measure, and remained opposed to it to the end of his days. Three years later, when the Irish poor law was introduced, his opposition was unabated. 'An agitation was arising against the cruelties of the English law. "The Times" supported the attack upon it in its columns; the principal proprietor of "The Times" renewed it, night after night, in his place in parliament' (Walpole, Hist. of England, iii. 451). It seems clear that the attitude of the paper was in this case largely determined by the personal convictions of its proprietor, which cost him his seat in parliament.

As the prosperity of 'The Times' increased, Walter purchased the residence and estate