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JOHN WALTER (2) (1776-1847)

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 296 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN WALTER (2) (1776-1847), who really established the great newspaper of which his father had sown the seed, was born on the 23rd of February 1776, and was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and Trinity College, Oxford. About 1798 he was associated with his elder brother in the management of his father's business, and in 1803 became not only sole manager but also editor of The Times. The second John Walter was a very remarkable man, the details of whose practice would be extremely interesting if we could recover them. But the conditions of newspaper work at that time, together with the natural reticence of one born to do, not to talk about doing, drew over his operations a veil of secrecy which there are now no means of penetrating. His greatness must be measured by the work he did. He found The Times one of a number of unconsidered journals whose opinions counted for little, and whose intelligence lagged far behind official reports, the accuracy of which they had no independent means of checking. He found it unregarded by the great except when a stringent law of libel enabled them to inflict vindictive punishment in the pillory and in prison for what in our days is ordinary political criticism. He left it in 1847 a great organ of public opinion, deferred to and even feared throughout Europe, consulted and courted by cabinet ministers at home, and in intimate relations with the best sources of independent information in every European capital. The man who, alone among contemporaries of older standing and with better opportunities, raised a struggling newspaper to a position such as no other journal has ever attained or is likely to attain in future, needs no further attestation of his exceptional ability and character. The secret of an achievement of that unique kind is incommunicable. Yet we may note some at least of the elements of John Walter's monumental success. From his father he inherited a fearless and perhaps slightly aggressive independence, to which he joined a steady and tireless energy and a concentration of purpose which are less conspicuous in his father's career. He had been associated with his brother in the management of the paper for five years before he took entire control and became his own editor in 1803. In the same year he signalized the new spirit of the direction by his opposition to Pitt, which cost him the withdrawal of government advertisements and the loss of his appointment as printer to the Customs, besides exposing him to the not too scrupulous hostility of the official world. These were undoubtedly serious discouragements in the circumstances of that day. In John Walter's way of meeting them we find a principle upon which he consistently acted through life, and which goes far to explain his success. He never allowed himself to be diverted from the pursuit of a great though distant object by any petty calculation of immediate gain or loss. He had set himself to build up a journal which all the world should recognize as independent of government favour, and which governments themselves should be compelled to respect and reckon with. He was not going to barter that splendid inheritance for to-day's mess of pottage, so he let the government do its worst and held on his way. At times the way must have been hard and the anxiety great, but great also was the reward. For the public in ever-widening circles received assurance, in an age of considerable literary and political servility, of a man who could not be bought, and a newspaper that could be neither hoodwinked nor terrorized. His determination to avoid even the appearance of being amenable to influence was forcibly illustrated when the king of Portugal sent him, through the Portuguese ambassador, a service of gold plate. It was a princely gift, and a flattering testimony to the European reputation and authority of his newspaper. Mr Walter promptly returned it, courteously recognizing the honourable motives of the giver, but stating that to accept the gift would place him undera sense of obligation incompatible with the perfect independence of thought and action which he desired to maintain. It was the same jealous regard for the complete independence of The Times that led him to insist, as he did with remarkable success, upon the strict anonymity of the able men whom he selected with the eye of a general to act as his coadjutors. From about 1810 he delegated to others editorial supervision (first to Sir John Stoddart, then to Thomas Barnes, and in 1841 to J. T. Delane), though never the supreme direction of policy. Their influence was essentially due to the fact that they had a great newspaper behind them, and behind the great newspaper was the remarkable man who made it, and never ceased from giving it inspiration and direction. To unassailable independence, inflexible integrity and sure sagacity he added complete business knowledge of details, a sound judgment of men and things, and untiring energy in the pursuit of excellence in literary quality, in typography (see PRINTING), in mechanical appliances, and in the organization for the collection of news. These are the things that went to the making of The Times, and the measure of the greatness of the second John Walter is that he supplied them all. In 1832 Mr Walter, who had purchased an estate called Bear Wood, in Berkshire (where his son afterwards built the present house), was elected to Parliament for that county, and retained his seat till 1837. In 1841 he was returned to Parliament for Notting-ham, but was unseated next year on petition. He was twice married, and by his second wife, Mary Smythe, had a family. He died in London on the 28th of July 1847.
End of Article: JOHN WALTER (2) (1776-1847)
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