Prince Albert's Toast. The Stamp Duty on Newspapers

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 18 June 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 283, June 21, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.280-282), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, June 18. There were several curious circumstances connected with the publication of Prince Albert's speech and Palmerston's reply. The speeches were made at Trinity House[1] on Saturday, June 9. The following Monday the daily newspapers only mentioned the annual dinner of the Trinity Brotherhood in passing, without dwelling on Prince Albert's toast. Not until Wednesday, June 13, did The Daily News print the toast and the speech of thanks, followed by The Times on Thursday, June 14. It has turned out that their publication was a trick of Lord Palmerston's to restore his own popularity at the expense of his royal wellwisher. Prince Albert has now discovered at his own expense where "self-sacrificing confidence" in the noble viscount leads, the sort of confidence that he recommended so eagerly to the country. The following extract from Reynolds' Weekly will show how Prince Albert's toast was received by the majority of the weekly press. Reynolds' Weekly[2], it should be noted, has a circulation of 2,496,256 copies. After detailed criticism it goes on to say:

"The royal censor maintains that no want or weakness exist, which is not at once denounced, and even sometimes exaggerated with a kind of morbid satisfaction. The patience of the English people is proverbial; [...] like Issachar, they may be compared to an ass crouched down between two burdens—usury and land monopoly; but this taunt of the Prince-Consort is the most insolent and deadly insult with which even Englishmen have borne. "Morbid satisfaction!" That is, the English people have a 'morbid satisfaction' in contemplating the horrible sufferings to which [...] treason and aristocratic imbecility have exposed our heroic soldiers—morbid satisfaction at having been made the dupes of Austria—morbid satisfaction at having squandered 40,000,000 l. of treasure and lost 40,000 of the bravest human lives—morbid satisfaction at having excited the distrust of the ally whom we profess to help, and the contempt of the foe whom we wish to chastise. But the charge is not only insolent and insulting, it is also false and calumnious in the highest degree. Whatever may be the faults of the English people—and heaven knows they are many—they have no satisfaction in the miseries and disasters of their soldiers and sailors, nor in the disgrace that have been entailed on the national character [...] with the exception of royal Germans, aristocratic traitors and their abominable and disgusting parasites.... At the same time, we are prepared to admit that it is very difficult for an obese and lazy Sybarite and feather-bed soldier to conceive of the sufferings and trials of real soldiers and sailors.... There is one thing in which we agree with the royal warrior. Constitutionalism is an enormous sham—a most clumsy, bungling, incongruous, and mischievous form of government. But the Prince is silly in supposing that there is no other alternative than despotism. We beg to remind him that there is such a thing as republicanism—an alternative to which it is possible for this nation to have recourse, and in the direction of which, we think, the current of public opinion is tending, rather than to the unlimited despotism which the martial Prince covets."

Thus writes Reynolds' [Weekly Newspaper].[3]

The new Act for the abolition of stamp duty on newspapers received the royal assent last Sunday and will come into force on June 30. Thereafter, stamp duty is only required on copies to be sent free by post. Of the London dailies, The Morning Herald is the only one to announce that it will reduce its price from 5d. to 4d. A large number of weeklies, on the other hand, such as Lloyd's[4], Reynolds', The People's Paper, etc., have already announced a reduction from 3d. to 2d. A new London daily, the Courier and Telegraph, in the same format as The Times, is announced, price 2d. As for new weekly papers at 2d., the following have appeared in London to date: The Pilot (Catholic magazine); the Illustrated Times and Mr. Charles Knight's Town and Country Paper. Finally Messrs. Willet and Ledger have given notice of a new weekly London penny paper[5]. What is more significant, though, is the revolution in the provincial press caused by the abolition of stamp duty. In Glasgow alone four new daily penny papers are to appear. In Liverpool and Manchester the papers that have hitherto only appeared weekly or twice weekly are to turn into dailies at 3d., 2d., and 1d. The emancipation from London of the provincial press, the decentralisation of journalism was, in fact, the main aim of the Manchester School in their fierce and protracted campaign against stamp duty.

  1. The headquarters of the British mariners' corporation in London (for the speeches of Prince Albert and Palmerston see Napier's Letters. Roebuck's Committee).—Ed.
  2. Reynolds' Weekly Newspaper.—Ed.—Ed.
  3. Reynolds' Newspaper, No. 253, June 17, 1815.—Ed.
  4. Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper.—Ed.
  5. The Penny Times. Marx uses the English expression "penny paper" here and below.—Ed.