1902 Encyclopedia > Pamphlets


PAMPHLETS. The earliest appearance of the word is in the Philobiblon (1344) of Richard de Bury, who speaks of "panfletos exiguous" (chap. viii). In English we have Chaucer’s "this leud pamphlet" (Test. of Love, bk. Iii.), Occleve’s "go litil pamfilet" (Mason’s ed., 1796, p. 77), and Caxton’s "paunflettis and bookys" (Book of Eneydos, 1490, Prologue). In all these examples pamphlet is used to indicate the extend of the production, and in contradistinction to book. In the 16th century it became almost exclusively devoted in English literature to short poetical effusions, and not till the 18th century did pamphlet begin to assume its modern meaning of a prose political tract. "Pamphlet" and "pamphlétaire" are of comparatively recent introduction into French from the English, and generally indicate fugitive criticism of a more severe, not to say libelous, character than with us. The derivation of the word is a subject of contention among etymologists. The experts are also undecided as to what is actually understood by a pamphlet. Some bibliographers apply the term to everything, except periodicals, of quarto size and under, if not more than fifty pages, while others would limit its application to two or three sheets of printed matter which have first appeared in an unbound condition. These are merely physical peculiarities, an include academical dissertations, chap-books and broadsides, which from their special subjects belong to a separate class from the pamphlet proper. As regards its literary characteristics, the chief notes of a pamphlet are brevity and spontaneity. It has a distinct aim, and relates to some matter of current interest, whether religious, political, or literary. Usually intended to support a particular line of argument, it may be descriptive, controversial, didactic, or satirical. It is not so much a class as a form of literature, and from its ephemeral character represents the changeful currents of public opinion more closely than the bulky volume published after the formation of that opinion. The history of pamphlets being the entire record of popular feeling, all that is necessarily here is to briefly indicate the chief families of political and religious pamphlets which have exercised marked influence, and more particularly in those countries—England and France—where pamphlets have made so large a figure in influencing thought and events.

It is difficult to point out much in ancient literature which precisely answers to our modern view of the pamphlet. The libelli famosi of the Romans were simply abusive pasquinades. Some of the small treatises of Lucian, the lost Anti-Cato of Caesar, Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis written against Claudius. Julian’s ____ and ____, from their general application, just escape the charge of being mere satires, and may therefore claim to rank as early specimens of the pamphelet.

At the end of the 14th century the Lollard doctrines were widely circulated by means of the tract leaflets of Wickliffe and his followers The Ploughman’s Prayer and Lanthorne of Light, which appeared about the time of Old castle’s martyrdom, were extremely popular, and similar brief vernacular pieces became so common that it was thought necessary in 1408 to enact the persons in authority should search out and apprehend all persons owning English books. The printers of the 15th century produced may controversial tractates, and Caxton and Wynkin de Worde printed in the lesser from. It was in France that the printing press first began to supply reading for the common people. During the last twenty years of the 15th century there arose an extensive popular literature of farces, tales in verse and prose, satires, almanacs, &c., extending to a few leaves apiece, and circulated by the itinerant booksellers still known as colporteurs. These folk-books soon spread from France to Italy and Spain, and were introduced into England at the beginning of the 16th century, doubtless from the same quarter, as most of our early chap-books are translations or adaptations from the French. Another form of literature even more transient was the broadside, or single sheet printed on one side only, which appears to have flourished principally in England, but which had been in use from the first invention of printing for papal indulgences, royal proclamations, and similar documents. Throughout western Europe, about the middle of the 16th century, the broadside made a considerable figure in times of political agitation. It England it was chiefly used for ballads, which soon become so extremely popular that during the first ten years of the reign of Elizabeth the names of no less than forty ballad-printers appear in the Stationers’ Registers. The humanist movement of the beginning of the 16th century produced the famous Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, and the leading spirits of the Reformation period—Erasmus, Hutten, Luther, Melanchthon, Francowitz, Vergerio, Curio, and Calvin—found in tracts a ready method of widely circulating their opinions.

The course of ecclesiastical events was precipitated in England by the Supplicacyon for the Beggars (1523) of Simon Fish, answered by Sir Thomas More’s Supplycacion Soulys. In the time of the Edward VI. brief tracts were largely used as a propagandist instrument in favour of the Reformed religion ; political tracts were represented by the address of the rebels in Devonshire (1549). The licensing of the press by Mary greatly hindered the production of this kind of literature. From about 1570 there came an unceasing flow of Puritan pamphlets, of which more than forty were reprinted under the title of A parte of a register (London, Waldegrave, 4to). To this publication Dr John Bridges replied by a ponderous quarto, A defence of the government established in the church of England (1587), which gave rise the Oh read over D. John Bridges…by the reverend and worthie Martin Marprelate gentleman (1588), the first of the famous Martin Marprelate tracts, whose titles sufficiently indicate their opposition to priestly orders and episcopacy. Bishop Cooper’s Admonition to the People of England (1589) came next, followed on the other by Hay and worke for Cooper…by Martin the Metropolitane, and by others from both parties to the number of about twenty-three. The controversy lasted about a year, and ended in the discomfiture of the Puritans and the seizure of their secret press. The writers on the Marprelate side are generally supposed to have been Penry, Throgmorton, Udal, and Fenner, and their opponents Bishop Cooper, John Lilly, and Nash.

As early as the middle of the 16th century we find ballads of news; and in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. small pamphlets, translated from the German and French, and known as "news-books," were circulated by the so-called "Mercury-women." These were the immediate predecessors of weekly newspapers, and continued to the end of the 17th century. A proclamation was issued by Charles II., May 12, 1680, "for suppressing the printing and publishing of unlicensed news-books and pamphlets of news."

In the 17th century pamphlets began to contribute more than ever to the formation of public opinions. Nearly one hundred were written by or about the restless John Lilburne, but still more numerous were those of the undaunted Prynne, who himself published above and quartos. Charles I. found energetic supporters in Peter Heylin and Sir Roger L’Estrange, the latter noted for the coarseness of his pen. The most distinguished pamphleteer of the period was John Milton, who began his career in this direction by five anti-episcopal tracts (1641-42) during the Smectymnus quarrel. In 1643 his wife’s desertion caused him to publish anonymous Doctrine and discipline of divorce, followed by several others on the same subject. He printed the Tract on Education in 1644, and unlicensed and unregistered, his famous Areopagitica—a speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing. He defended the trial and execution of the king in Tenure of kings and magistrates (1648). The Eikon Basilike dispute was conducted with more ponderous weapons than the kind we are now discussing. When Monk held supreme power Milton addressed to him The present means of a free commonwealth and Readie and easie way (1660), both pleading for a commonwealth in preference to a monarchy. John Goodwin, the author of Obstructors of Justice (1649), John Phillipps, the nephew of Milton, and Abiezer Coppe were violent and prolific partisan writers, the last-named specially known for his extreme Presbyterian principles. The tract Killing no murder (1657), aimed at Cromwell, and attributed to Colonel Titus or Colonel Sexby, excited more attention than any other political effusion of the time. The history of the civil war period is told day by day in the well-known collection made by Thomson the bookseller, now preserved in the British Museum. It numbers 30,000 separate books, pamphlets, and broadsides, ranging from 1640 to 1662, and is bound in 2000 volumes. Each article was dated by Thomason at the time of acquisition. William Miller was another bookseller famous for his collection of pamphlets which were catalogued by Tooker in 1693. Wm. Laycock printed a Proposal for raising a fund for buying them up for the nation.

The Catholic controversy during the reign of James II. gave rise to a multitude of books and pamphlets, which have been described by Peck (Catalogue, 1735) and by Jones (Catalogue, Chetham Society, 1859-65), 2 vols.). Politics were naturally the chief feature of the floating literature connected with the Revolution of 1688. The political tracts of Lord Halifax are interesting both in matter and manner. He is supported to have written The character of a political trimmer (1689), sometimes ascribed to Sir W. Coventry. About the middle of the reign Defoe was introduced to William III., and produced the first of his pamphlets on occasional conformity. He issued in 1697 his two defences of standing armies in support of the Government, and published sets of tracts on the partition treaty, the union with Scotland, and many other subjects. His Shortest way with the Dissenters (1702) placed him in the pillory.

Under Queen Anne pamphlets arrived at a remarkable degree of importance. Never before or since has this method of publication been used by such masters of thought and language. Political writing of any degree of authority was almost entirely confined to pamphlets. If the Whigs were able to command the services of Addison and Steele, the Tories fought with the terrible pen of Swift. Second in power if not in literary ability were Bolingbroke, Somer, Atterbury, Prior, and Pulteney. The Government viewed with a jealous eye the free use of this powerful instrument, and St John seized upon fourteen booksellers and publishers in one day for "libels" upon the administration (see Annals of Queen Anne, October 23, 1711). In 1712 a duty was laid upon newspapers and pamphlets, displeasing all parties, and soon falling into disuse. Bishop Hoadly’s sermon on the kingdom of Christ (1717), holding that the clergy could claim no temporal jurisdiction, occasioned the Bangorian controversy, which produced seventy or eighty pamphlets. Soon after this period party-writing declined from its comparatively high standard and fell into meaner and venal hands. Under George III. Bute took Dr Shebbeare from Newgate in order to employ his pen. The court part received the support of a few able pamphlets, among which may be mentioned The consideration of the German War against the policy of Pitt, and The prerogative droit de Roy (1764) vindicating the prerogative. We must not forget that although Samuel Johnson was a pensioned scribe he has for an excuse that his political tracts are his worst performances. Edmund Burke, on the other hand, has produced in this form some of his most valued writings. The troubles in America and the union between Ireland and Great Britain are subjects which are abundantly illustrated in pamphlet literature.

Early in the present century the rise of the quarterly reviews threw open a new channel of publicity to those who had previously used pamphlets to spread their opinions, and later on the rapid growth of monthly magazines and weekly reviews afforded controversialists a much more certain and extensive circulation than they could ensure by an isolated publication. Although pamphlets are no longer the sole or most important factor of public opinion, the minor literature of great events is never likely to be entirely confined to periodicals. The following topics, which might be largely increased in number, have each been discussed by a multitude of pamphlets, most of which, however, are likely to have been hopeless aspirants for a more certain means of preservation:—the Bullion Question (1810), the Poor Laws (1828-34), Tracts for the Times and the ensuing controversy (1833-45), Dr Hampden (1836), the Candian Revolt (1837-38), the Corn Laws (1841-48), Gorham Controversy (1849-50), Crimean War and Indian Mutiny (1854-59), Schleswig-Holstein (1863-64), Ireland (1868-69), the Franco-German War, with Dame Europa’s School and its imitators (1870-71), Vaticanism, occasioned by Mr Gladstone’s Vatican Decrees (1874), the Eastern Question (1877-80), and the Irish Land Laws (1880-82).

France.—The activity of the French press in putting forth small tracts in favour of the Reformed religion caused the Sorbonne in 1523 to petition the king to abolish the diabolical art of printing. Even one or two sheets of printed matter were found too cumbersome, and single leaves or placards were issued in such numbers that they were the subject edict, September 28, 1553. An ordonnance of February 1566 was specially directed against libellous pamphlets, and those who wrote, printed, or even possessed them. The rivalry between Francis I. and Charles V. gave rise to many political pamphlets, and under Francis II. the Guises were attacked by similar means. Fr. Hotman directed his Epistre envoiée au tygre de France against the Cardinal de Lorraine. The Valois and Henry III. in particular were severely handled in Les Hermaphrodites (c. 1605), which was followed by a long series of imitations. Between Francis I. and Charles I.X. the general tone of the pamphlet-literature was grave, pedantic, and dogmatic, with few songs and an occasional political satire. From the latter period to the death of Henry IV. it became audacious, cruel, and dangerous, attended, however, with a considerable increase of political songs.

The Satyre Ménippée (1594), one of the most perfect models of the pamphlets in the languages, did more harm to the League than all the victories of Henry IV. The pamphlets against the Jesuits were many and violent. Père Richeome defended the order in Chasse du renard Pasquier (1603), the latter person being vigorous opponent Étienne Pasquier. On the death of the king the country was filled with appeals for revenge against the Jesuits for his murder ; the best known of them was the Anti-Coton (1610), generally attributed to César de Plaix. During the regency of Mary de’ Medici the pamphlet changed its severer form to a more facetious type. In spite of the danger of such proceeding under the uncompromising ministry of Richelieu, there was no lack of libels upon him, which were even in most instances printed in France. These largely increased during the Fronde, but it was Mazarin who was the subject of more of this literature than any other historical personage. It has been calculated that from the Parisian press alone there came sufficient Mazarinades to fill 150 quarto volumes each of 500 pages. Eight hundred were published during the siege of Paris (February 8 to March 11, 1649). A collection of satirical pieces, entitled Tableau du gouvernement de Richelieu, Mazarin, Fouquet, et Colbert (1693) extends to 432 pages. Pamphlets dealing with the amours of the king and his courtiers were in vogue in the time of Louis XIV., the most caustic of them being the Carte Géographique de la Cour (1668) of Bussy-Rabutin. The presses of Holland and the Low Countries teemed with tracts against Colbert, Le Tellier, Louvois, and Père Lachaise. The first of the ever-memorable Provinciales appeared on January 23, 1656, under the title of Lettre de Louis de Montalte à un provincial de ses amis, and the remaining eighteen came out at irregular intervals during the next fifteen months. They excited extraordinary attention throughout Europe. The Jesuit replies were feeble an ineffectual. John Law and the schemes of the bubble period caused much popular raillery. During the long reign of Louis XV. the distinguished names of Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Helvetius, and Beaumarchais must be added to the list of writers in this class.

The preliminary struggle between the parliament and the crown gave rise to hundreds of pamphlets, which grew still more numerous as the Revolution approached. Linguet and Mirabeau began their appeals to the people. Camille Desmoulins came into notice as a publicist during the elections for the states-general ; but perhaps tho piece which caused the most sensation was the Qu’est ce que le Tiers État (1789) of the Abbé Sieyès. The Domine salvum fac Regem and Pange lingua (1789) were two royalist brochures of unsavoury memory. The financial disorders of 1790 occasioned the Effects des assignats sur le prix du pain of Dupont de Nemours ; Necker was attacked in the Criminelle Neckerologie of Marat ; and the Vrai miroir de la noblesse dragged the titled names of France through the mire. The massacre of the Champ de Mars, the death of Mirabeau, and the flight of the king in 1791, the noyades of Lyons and the crime of Charlotte Corday in 1793, and the terrible winter of 1794 have each their respective pamphets literature, more or less violent in tone. Under the consulate and the empire the only writers of note who ventured to seek this method of appealing to the world were Madame de Staël, B. Constant, and Chateaubriand. The royalist reaction in 1816 was the cause of ht Pétition of Paul Louis Courier, the first of those brilliant productions of a master of the art. He gained the distinction of judicial procedure with his Simple Discours in 1821, and published in 1824 his last political work Le pamphlets, the most eloquent justification of the pamphlets, the most eloquent justification of the pamphlet ever penned. The Mémoire à consulter of Montlosier attacked the growing power of the Congrégation. The year 1827 saw an augmentation of severity in the press laws and the establishment of the censure. The opposition also increased in power and activity, but found its greatest support in the songs of Béranger and the journalism of Mignet, Thiers, and Carrel. M. de Comenin was the chief pamphleteer of the reign of Louis-Philippe. His Oui et non (1845), Feu, feu (1846), and Livre des orateurs, par Timon, were extremely successful. The events of 1848 gave birth to a number of pamphlets, chiefly pale copies of the more virile writings of the first revolution. Among the few men of power Louis Veuillot was the Père Duchesne of the clericals and Victor Hugo the Camille Desmoulins or Marat of the republicans. After 1852 there was no lack of venal apologies of the coup d’état. Within more recent times the second empire suffered from many bitter attacks, among which may be mentioned the Lettre sur l’histoire de France (1861) of the Duc d’ Aumale, Propos de Labiénus (1865) of Rogeard, Dialogue aux enfers (1864) of Maurice Joly and Ferry’s Comptes fantastiques d’ Haussmann (1868).

Literature.—In the article LIBRARIES will be found references to collections of pamphlets in public libraries. An excellent catalogue by W. Oldys of those in the Harleian Library is added to the 10th volume of the edition of the Miscellany by T. Park ; and in the Biblioteca volante di G. Cinelli. 2d ed., 1734—47, 4 vols. may be seen a bibliorgraphy of pamphlet-literature, chiefly Italian and Latin, with notes. It is of course impossible to supply an account of all the volumes of collected pamphlets, but a few of the more representative in English may be mentioned. These are—The Phenix. 1707, 2 vols. 8vo ; Morgan’s Phoenix Britannicus, 1732, 4to ; Bishop Edmund Gibson’s Preservative against Popery, 1738, 3 vols. folio, new ed., 1848-49, 18 vols. sm. 8vo, consisting chiefly of the anti-Catholic discourses of James II.’s time ; The Harleian Miscellany, 1744-53, 8 vols. 4to. new ed. By T. Park, 1808-13, 10 vols. 4to, containing 600 to 700 pieces illustrative of English history. From the library of Edward Harley. Early of Oxford ; Collection of scarce and valuable tracts [known as Lord Somers Tracts], 1748-52, 16 parts 4to, 2d ed, by Sir W.Scott, 1809-15, 13 vols. 4to, also full of matter for English history ; and The Pamphleteer, 1813,28, 29 vols. 8vo, containing the best pamphlets of the day.

For the derivation of the word pamphlet consult Skeats Etymological Diet.; Pegge’s Anonymiana ; Notes and Queries, 3d series, iv. 315, 379, 462, 482, v. 167, 290 ; 6th series. ii. 156. The general history of the subject may be traced in M. Davies. Iron libellorum, 1715; W. Oldys, "History of the Origin of Pamphlets," in Morgan’s Phoenix Brit. And Nichols’s Lit. Anecdotes ; Dr Johnsons Introduction to the Harleian Miscellany : D’Israeli. Amenities of Literature ; Revue des Deux Mondes, April 1, 1846 ; Irish Q. Review, vii. 267; Edinb. Rev., Oct. 1855; Huth’s Ancient Ballands and Broadsides (Philobibion Soc.); Maskell, Martin-Marprelate Controversy ; T. Jones, Cat. Of collection of tracts for the against Popery—the whole of Peck’s lists and his references (Chetham Soc., 1856-65) ; Blakery’s Hist. of Political Literature Andrews, Hist. of British Journalism ; Larousse, Grand Dict. Universal; Nodier, Sur la liberté de la presse ; Leber, De l’état réel de la presse; Moreau, Bibliographie des Mazarinades ; Bulletin du Bibliophile Belge, 1859-62 ; Nisard, Hist, des livres populaires. (H. R. T.)

The above article was written by: H. R. Tedder, F.S.A., Librarian, Athenaeum Club, London.

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