Walter, John (1818-1894) (DNB00)
|←Walter, John (1776-1847)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Walter, John (1818-1894)
WALTER, JOHN (1818–1894), chief proprietor of 'The Times,' eldest son of John Walter (1776-1847) [q. v.], was born in Printing House Square in 1818. He was educated at Eton and matriculated from Exeter College, Oxford, on 3 Feb. 1836. He graduated B.A. in 1840, having obtained a second class in classics in the Easter term of that year, and M.A. in 1843. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1847. Soon after taking his degree he was associated with his father in the management of 'The Times,' and became sole manager at the death of the latter. The active management of the paper was, however, soon afterwards committed by him to the charge of Mowbray Morris, who from that time was generally spoken of as the manager. At an early stage of his management a serious difference arose between Walter and his father. 'Like most laymen of his age, the elder Mr. Walter distrusted the Oxford movement and never brought himself to understand it. Like most young men of open minds and generous sentiments, the younger Mr. Walter fell under its influence for a time, though probably in later years his attitude towards it was not widely different from that of his father. Hence when Mr. Walter was first associated with his father in the management of "The Times," a serious difference arose between them on this point—so serious, indeed, as to induce Mr. Walter, jun., to withdraw for a time from the counsels of the paper. In the end, however, the views of the son so far prevailed that a change came over the attitude of "The Times" towards the Tractarian movement and its leaders—a change which is noted in more than one passage in Newman's and Pusey's correspondence, and overtures were even made to Newman to become a contributor to the paper' (The Times, 5 Nov. 1894). These overtures came directly to nothing; but it is well known that Newman's brother-in-law, Thomas Mozley [q.v.], was for many years a constant contributor to the paper.
Walter was first returned to parliament for the borough of Nottingham in 1847 on 28 July, the day of his father's death. He had previously sought election for the constituency when his father was unseated, but was not successful. In 1847, however, the people of Nottingham, who had strongly sympathised with the elder Walter's determined opposition to the new poor law, resolved to elect his son, then unknown to them, as a mark of respect for his father. The borough was radical in sentiment; Walter was nominally a conservative, though a free-trader and virtually a Peelite. He did not offer himself as a candidate, and never canvassed or even visited the constituency, being detained at his father's bedside. But he was placed at the head of the poll, with a majority of four hundred over Feargus O'Connor [q. v.], who was returned as his colleague. He shortly afterwards visited the constituency and made his profession of political faith, which was that of a liberal-conservative. This attitude he maintained throughout his parliamentary career, sitting, however, in later years on the liberal side of the house, though 'he always belonged to the extreme right wing of the liberal party' (The Times, ut sup.) He was twice re-elected for Nottingham, each time as a liberal-conservative, in 1852 and 1857, though he stood unsuccessfully for Berkshire in the latter year. On 3 May 1859 he was returned as a liberal for Berkshire. Defeated for that constituency in 1865, he was again returned in 1868, and held the seat until he finally retired from parliament in 1885. From 1886 onwards his sympathies were strongly unionist, as were also those of 'The Times.' The attitude of both towards the Irish party and its leaders, especially Charles Stewart Parnell [q. v.], is a matter of history; but no materials are available for determining the respective shares of the paper and its chief proprietor in the treatment of this and other public questions of the day.
For this reason the internal history of 'The Times' during Walters management cannot be included in his personal biography. This was his own opinion. 'It was once suggested to him that the history of "The Times" ought to be written before it was too late, and that he alone was in possession of the materials necessary for the purpose. He reflected for a moment, and then said, "It would be profoundly interesting, but it is quite impossible; the thing can never be done"' (The Times, ut sup.) But the external history of the paper and of its relations to Walter is not without many features of interest. Walter's position in parliament was of course largely due to his known relation to 'The Times.' This relation was, however, studiously ignored by himself in all his public actions, and only on one occasion did he acknowledge it reluctantly, and under protest. During the debates on the Reform Bill in 1860, 'Mr. [Edward] Horsman [q. v.] … wished to fix upon Mr. Walter the personal responsibility for an article in this journal, which Mr. Horsman disliked, and which he thought insulting to the House of Commons. Moreover, to make matters worse, after giving Mr. Walter formal notice by letter that he intended to attack him, he thought better of it and kept silence; whereupon Mr. Walter, in a spirited speech, raised the question of privilege, and made a vigorous defence of the independence of the press, of the rights of anonymity, and of his own position. Mr. Horsman's long reply was generally thought to be feeble and ineffective' (The Times, ut sup.) On another occasion in 1864 an attack by Lord Robert Cecil (now Lord Salisbury) on the administration of Robert Lowe (afterwards Lord Sherbrooke) [q. v.] at the education office, which led to the resignation of the latter, was founded on documents brought to the notice of the house by Walter. But this was the personal action of the member for Berkshire, and had nothing to do with 'The Times.' A certain piquancy attaches to the episode, however, because it was well known that before he became a minister Lowe had been for several years a regular contributor to the paper.
Walter was a man of more scholarly tastes than his father. He had a fine literary sense, founded on classical models, and this characteristic was strongly reflected in the literary and ethical tone of 'The Times.' The full-bodied rhetoric affected by Barnes and his colleagues was no longer to the taste of a more fastidious age, and under Delane, a man of Walter's own age and of similar tastes and training, 'The Times' was credited by Sir James Graham with having 'saved the English language.' Delane himself never wrote in the paper. But there never was a better or more painstaking editor of what others wrote, and perhaps no editor of a newspaper was ever associated with a more distinguished staff of contributors. The connection of many of these with the paper has never been acknowledged by themselves nor disclosed by 'The Times;' but it is no secret that among the contributors to the paper under Walter and Delane were men like William Makepeace Thackeray [q. v.], Sir Frederic Rogers (afterwards Lord Blachford) [q. v.], Henry Reeve (1813-1895) [q. v.], Sir George Dasent, who for many years was assistant editor, George Stovin Venables [q. v.], and Thomas Mozley [q. v.], a man who gave up to journalism a rare assemblage of gifts which might have won for him in literature a place beside the greatest writers of his time. It may here be mentioned that Delane retired from the editorship, in consequence of failing health, towards the close of 1878. In his place Walter appointed Thomas Chenery [q. v.], the well-known Oriental scholar, who had long been a contributor to the paper. Chenery died in 1884, and was succeeded by the present editor, Mr. G. E. Buckle, who had for some time acted as Chenery's assistant.
Walter was destined, like his father, to effect organic and far-reaching improvements in the mechanical production of 'The Times.' The Kœnig press, on which the paper was first printed by steam, was further developed and improved by a succession of inventors in England and America (see Smiles, Men of Intention and Industry; Fraser Rae in Nineteenth Century, January 1885; Encyclopadia Britannica, s.v. 'Typography'), and each successive improvement was eagerly adopted in 'The Times' office. But at last the limits of development on the lines pursued by Applegath, Hoe, and others were reached, and no existing machine was found to satisfy the requirements of the newspaper press, whose growing circulation imperatively demanded increased rapidity of production, greater ease, simplicity, and economy of working, and assured immunity from interruption and breakdown. To satisfy these conditions experiments were instituted and conducted for several years in 'The Times' office under the general superintendence of Walter and his manager of the printing office, John C. MacDonald. The 'Walter' press, first employed for the printing of 'The Times' in 1869, was the result. It was an entirely new departure in the application of steam machinery to the process of printing. The idea was taken from the calendering machine employed in calico printing, and its principle consisted in using a continuous roll of paper which was successively passed over and under a series of cylinders to which were attached cylindrical stereotype plates cast from 'formes' representing the several pages of the newspaper to be printed. When printed the roll was divided by automatic machinery into separate sheets, and these sheets could, if required, be automatically folded by an auxiliary machine into the form required for delivery. The rate of production of a single machine was twelve thousand copies an hour. One overseer could superintend the working of two machines, and the only other labour required was that of three boys to take away the papers as they were printed. Such was the 'Walter' press as originally introduced at 'The Times' office. Its principle was simplicity itself, but enormous mechanical difficulties had to be overcome before it was brought into practical working order. It was the pioneer of all modern newspaper machines, and it has perhaps contributed more than any other single invention to the development of a cheap press. Smiles (ut sup.) gives a lucid description of its mechanism, and further details, together with an instructive analysis of its far-reaching influence on the larger economy of newspaper production, will be found in an article by Mr. A. J. Wilson in 'Macmillan's Magazine ' (vol. xxxix.)
Walter had a strong native inclination for building, which displayed itself in the reconstruction of 'The Times' office, and in the rebuilding of his residence at Bear Wood. In both cases the designs were inspired by himself, the bricks were supplied from his estate, and the woodwork was constructed in his workshops at Bear Wood.
Walter died, after a short illness, at Bear Wood, on 3 Nov. 1894. He was twice married: first, on 27 Sept, 1842, to Emily Frances (d. 28 April 1858), eldest daughter of Major Henry Court of Castlemans, Berkshire; and, secondly, on 1 Jan. 1861, to Flora, third daughter of Mr. James Monro Macnabb of Highfield Park, Hampshire. John Balston Walter, eldest son of the first marriage, was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, and destined to succeed his father in the management of 'The Times.' After quitting Oxford he travelled round the world, but a few days after his return he was drowned in the lake at Bear Wood, on Christmaseve 1870, while attempting to rescue one of his brothers and a cousin who had fallen through the ice. The present chief proprietor of 'The Times' is Mr. Arthur Fraser Walter, Walter's second son by the first marriage.
Walter's task in the conduct of 'The Times' was a less arduous one than that of either his father or his grandfather, but it was marked by the same qualities of sobriety, sagacity, independence, unswerving honesty of purpose, and disinterested devotion to the public welfare. Few men of his time exercised a greater or more continuous influence on public affairs, and none could have wielded it more unobtrusively. He was naturally of serious temper and retiring disposition, and, though in parliament and in the discharge of other public duties he could not but be conscious of the immense influence he wielded, he never presumed in his own person on the power he derived from 'The Times.' He spoke with gravity, as became one who directly or indirectly had made more public opinion than any man of his time; but he claimed no authority for his own opinions higher than that which intrinsically belonged to them, and he always regarded his relation to 'The Times' as a matter for which he would answer only to his own conscience.[Personal knowledge; the authorities cited in the text; information communicated by Mr. Arthur F. Walter.]