1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stead, William Thomas

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STEAD, WILLIAM THOMAS (1849–), English journalist, was born at Embleton, Northumberland, on the 5th of July 1849, the son of a Congregational minister. He went to school at Wakefield, but was early apprenticed in a merchant's office at Newcastle-on-Tyne; he soon gravitated however, into journalism, and in 1871 became editor of the Darlington Northern Echo. In 1880 he went to London to be assistant editor of the Pall Mall Gazette under John Morley, and when the latter retired he became editor (1883–1889). Up to 1885 he had distinguished himself for his vigorous handling of public affairs, and his brilliant modernity in the presentation of news. He introduced the “interview,” made a feature of the Pall Mall “extras” (see also Newspapers: London), and his enterprise and originality exercised a potent influence on contemporary journalism and politics. His enthusiasm, however, carried him too far when in 1885 he entered upon a crusade against vice by publishing a series of articles on the “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.” Though his action undoubtedly furthered the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, it made his position on the paper impossible; and his imprisonment at Holloway for three months on a charge arising out of his crusade made his connexion with the whole subject a source of considerable prejudice. On leaving the Pall Mall he founded the monthly Review of Reviews (1890), and his abundant energy and facile pen found scope in many other directions in journalism of an advanced humanitarian type. He started cheap reprints (Penny Poets and Prose Classics, &c.), conducted a spiritualistic organ, called Borderland (1893–1897), in which he gave full play to his interest in psychical research; and became an enthusiastic supporter of the peace movement, and of many other movements, popular and unpopular, in which he impressed the public generally as an extreme visionary, though his practical energy was recognized by a considerable circle of admirers and pupils. At the time of the Boer War of 1899 he threw himself into the Boer cause and attacked the government with characteristic violence. Yet amid all his unpopularity, and all the suspicion and opposition engendered by his methods, his personality remained a forceful one both in public and private life. He was an early imperialist dreamer, whose influence on Cecil Rhodes in South Africa remained of primary importance; and many politicians and statesmen, who on most subjects were completely at variance with his ideas, nevertheless owed something to them. Mr Rhodes made him his confidant, and was inspired in his will by his suggestions; and Mr Stead was intended to be one of Mr Rhodes's executors, though his name was struck out after the Boer War (see his Last Will and Testament of C. J. Rhodes, 1902). The number of his publications gradually became very large, as he wrote with facility and sensational fervour on all sorts of subjects, from The Truth about Russia (1888) to If Christ came to Chicago (1893), and from Mrs Booth (1900) to The Americanization of the World (1902). In private life his keen sense of merit and kindly interest influenced many aspirants to journalism and literature.