Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rintoul, Robert Stephen

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RINTOUL, ROBERT STEPHEN (1787–1858), journalist, born at Tibbermuir, Perthshire, in 1787, was educated at the parish school of Aberdalgie, and served his apprenticeship in Edinburgh as a printer. In 1809 he removed to Dundee and undertook the printing of the ‘Dundee Advertiser,’ a weekly newspaper which had been established in 1801 as an exponent of advanced political opinions. Rintoul's first connection with the ‘Dundee Advertiser’ was merely as printer, his name appearing in that capacity on the issue for 7 April 1809. Within two years, however, he had become the responsible editor, and the imprint from 1811 till 10 Feb. 1825 declares that the ‘Advertiser’ was ‘edited, printed, and published by R. S. Rintoul.’ The bold and independent tone which he took up while advocating political and municipal reform soon brought him under the notice of many of the leading Scottish reformers. Among the writers associated with Rintoul at this time were Dr. Thomas Chalmers [q. v.] and Robert Mudie [q. v.], while he had the friendship and support of Lord Panmure, Lord Kinnaird, Francis Jeffrey, Henry Cockburn, and James Moncreiff, then the recognised leaders of liberal opinion. In 1819 Rintoul was sent to London to give evidence as to the municipal condition of Dundee before the commission appointed to inquire into the condition of the Scottish burghs, and his exposure of the ‘close burgh’ system of municipal administration led to several important reforms.

Rintoul's view of his function as a journalist was in advance of his day. ‘His first aim was to make his paper as complete a record of contemporary history as possible. In order that nothing of importance should be omitted, he sought to economise space; in order that none of the contents should be overlooked by the readers, he sought to perfect their distribution and arrangement’ (Spectator, 1 May 1858). To attain these ends he, at least on one occasion, rewrote the whole contents of a number of his journal. Rintoul retained his position as editor of the ‘Dundee Advertiser’ until 10 Feb. 1825, and saw the paper established as one of the chief liberal organs in Scotland. He then removed to Edinburgh on the advice of some of his political friends, and started a new paper called the ‘Edinburgh Times,’ which had a very brief existence. Douglas James William Kinnaird [q. v.], brother of Lord Kinnaird and the friend of Byron, induced Rintoul to try his fortune in London, and in 1826 he joined the staff of the ‘Atlas’ newspaper, which was founded in that year. A dispute with the proprietors soon terminated his engagement. Some of Rintoul's friends came to his assistance, and a fund was formed for the purpose of establishing a new weekly paper which should be non-political, but chiefly devoted to literature and questions of social interest. The new paper was entitled ‘The Spectator,’ Rintoul was appointed editor, and the first number was published on 6 July 1828. From the outset the ‘Spectator’ was a model of exact journalism, alike in matter and form. The project of keeping the paper free from politics was, however, quickly abandoned, and Rintoul threw himself and his paper into the conflict for political reform with all his original energy. Advocacy of the Reform Bill became one of his principal objects. To him was due the invention of the now hackneyed formula ‘The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill.’ The same suave personality and brilliant talents which had attracted friends in Scotland soon brought around him men like Bentham, Mill, and Perronet Thompson, and his literary staff was one of the most talented in London. He carefully supervised their articles, suggested topics and forms of treatment, but wrote little himself. For thirty years he conducted the ‘Spectator’ with success. In February 1858 he negotiated the sale of the paper for a sum of money and a large annuity, but he survived his retirement only till 22 April 1858.

In journalism Rintoul attained the foremost rank. Ever ready to champion any scheme which was likely to ameliorate the condition of the working classes, he was one of the first to advocate the emigration and colonisation proposals made by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The ‘Spectator’ took a prominent part in the discussion of every important reform, social or political, achieved during the thirty years that he acted as its editor.

[Norrie's Dundee Celebrities, p. 175; Maclaren's History of Dundee, pp. 142, 347; Dundee Advertiser, 1809–25, and 27 April 1858; Daily News, 24 April 1858; Spectator, 1 May 1858; private information.]

A. H. M.