"... a word too grossly indecent to be put into print": sabotage at The Times, 1882

Patrons of the early edition of The Times of Monday 24 January 1882 would have been surprised to read that, in the midst of a speech on current political issues, the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, had suddenly announced his intention to engage in sexual intercourse.

Even more remarkably, he was reported to have employed a demotic term, an obscenity regarded by respectable people as too indecent to be printed – or, indeed, even to be mentioned in private diaries. The ban on the word's publication in England was not lifted until the case of R v Penguin Books Ltd in 1960 (known as the Lady Chatterley case), and only then for works of literary merit. It is now widely, if informally, used around the English-speaking world, as a gerund (a noun formed by adding the suffix –ing  to a verb) to refer to sexual intercourse, or – more loosely – as an adverb, meaning "very",  or as an adjective that conveys generalised disapproval.[1] It is rendered here by asterisks (*******), not out of prurience, but because some segments of the Internet may still block its use en clair. It is sufficient to say that it rhymes with "clucking", and to acknowledge that, in this thin disguise, it possesses a salacious quality that is largely absent from its pedestrian transliteration.[2] The reticence of Victorian propriety means that many aspects of the episode are likely to remain shrouded in obscurity. Nonetheless, the Harcourt interpolation, as it is termed by Wikipedia,[3] offers an opportunity to explore neglected practical aspects of nineteenth-century newspaper history in an attempt to understand how The Times was produced and distributed – and became vulnerable to such blatant sabotage.

Harcourt's speech Sir William Harcourt was, in every sense of the term, a political heavyweight, and one of the principal ministers in Mr Gladstone's second ministry.[4] A former President of the Cambridge Union, he was also a rip-roaring speaker who kept audiences howling with laughter at his savage assaults on the Conservative opposition. His orations read well, while his political seniority meant that his words would be scanned for clues about the cabinet's intentions in the upcoming session of parliament.[5] The Reform Act of 1867 had extended the right to vote to working men in the towns, but the franchise remained restricted in rural areas, an anomaly that Gladstone's Liberal government was expected to tackle – as they did, successfully, in 1884-5.[6] Meanwhile, county constituencies remained strongholds of deference, generally returning Conservative MPs from the great landowning families, not least because they were the only representatives who could afford the expense of fighting the elections and of subsequently disgorging the required charitable subscriptions that were the implied price of sitting for a large constituency. However, all that was perhaps about to change, in a hard-fought by-election in the North Riding of Yorkshire, due later that week.

At general elections, North Yorkshire returned two MPs. Because the two parties had agreed to split the representation in 1874 and 1880, the constituency had not gone to the polls since the 1872 Ballot Act had introduced secret voting. The Liberals hoped to capture the seat being defended by their opponents. However, in the Honourable Guy Dawnay, the Tories had a young and glamorous candidate with good traditional credentials. The son of a North Riding aristocrat, he had fought in the Zulu War and promised the farmers that he would support the attractive but utterly impracticable policy of imposing a tariff on imported foreign wheat.  By contrast, in choosing their candidate, the Liberals had broken new ground, backing a tenant farmer, Samuel Rowlandson, whose election expenses were paid by public subscription.[7] The outcome of the by-election was likely to determine whether and when Gladstone's ministry might tackle the issue of the rural franchise. Victory for Rowlandson would clearly signal a major challenge to Conservative dominance in the countryside, and Harcourt mobilised his oratorical firepower to increase his opponents' sense of insecurity.

The Times report In order to cram the Home Secretary's remarks into three tightly-packed columns, The Times resorted to occasional summary through indirect speech. At roughly the half-way point, Harcourt was reported to have said: "I saw in a Tory journal the other day a note of alarm, in which they said, 'Why, if a tenant-farmer is elected for the North Riding of Yorkshire the farmers will be a political power who will have to be reckoned with.' The speaker then said he felt inclined for a bit of *******.  'I think that is very likely. (Laughter)'."[8] At The Times headquarters, Printing House Square, the interpolation was soon spotted, but not quickly enough to prevent the distribution of the paper's first edition. "Anything more abominably filthy I have never seen and it fell on the country like a thunderclap," wrote one shocked journalist.[9] In a welter of self-satisfaction, The Times regarded itself as Britain's newspaper of record: indeed, it was the only daily publication to have its own index.[10] The fact that the obscenity should have appeared in the country's leading newspaper made the incident all the more shocking, or delicious ("Talk of the printer's devil after this")[11], depending on attitudes to the Thunderer.

It should be stressed that the events of the next few days, and especially those of the night of 22-23 January, remain obscure. One reason for this can be found in the nature of official newspaper histories, which tend to focus upon proprietors, editors and journalists, saying little about the daily round of production and distribution.[12] This is particularly the case with the multi-volume History of The Times, which is ponderous, narcissistic and smug – and, of course, made no mention of the flawed edition of 23 January 1882. The important question of how the newspaper reached its customers is virtually ignored.[13] 

Producing and distributing The Times  Copies of The Times were sent out across the country by special trains overnight, for sale and delivery by newsagents, one of which, W.H. Smith & Son, had a national outreach, underpinned by a network of railway station bookstalls. "News Agents in the country can be supplied with papers from this office, carriage paid to their railway stations, on condition of their selling at 3d per copy."[14] However, outside the large urban areas, the corner-shop newsagent seems to have been relatively rare before the early twentieth century.[15] Beyond the railway network, it probably made little commercial sense for shopkeepers to stock London papers for sale to the small numbers of customers who patronised quality journalism. Fortunately, an alternative means of distribution, Britain's highly efficient postal system, reached into every corner of the realm. "The Times will be forwarded by Inland Post to subscribers desirous of receiving it through that channel on payment of £1 quarterly in advance." With an average of 78 daily copies per quarter delivered by mail costing the same as 80 editions over the counter, this was a remarkably good bargain for the proprietors: the newspaper postal rate was a heavily subsidised halfpenny a copy, far less (as discussed below) than the discount allowed to newsagents. "Subscribers residing within the London Postal District have The Times delivered to them by the first post."[16] The downside of this dual distribution network, through newsagents and the GPO, was that early editions of the paper had to be produced against the clock to catch special newspaper trains. As the Harcourt interpolation demonstrated, this left them dangerously vulnerable in the final stages of production. The fact that sabotage could be attempted at all undermined the pretensions of The Times to total and impassive efficiency, and hence challenged its infallible authority: "vast and varied as are the phases of the business connected with the Times", an admiring writer of 1871 had claimed, "the system of business is so comprehensive, that the slightest error or mistake in any particular department would be detected in a moment."[17] Whoever inserted the word ******* into the edition of 23 January 1882 had rocked that comfortable myth.

A frantic response by The Times The London correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald provided a graphic account of the management's desperate response.[18] "The whole of the early train and post edition had been printed and sent away before the attention of the publisher was drawn to what had happened; but the instant the fact became known prompt and vigorous action was taken with the view of securing the recall of the many thousands of copies already dispatched to their customary destinations. Cabs, carts, and almost every sort of vehicle that could be procured on the spur of the moment were pressed into the publisher's service and sent to all the newsrooms, libraries, clubs, hotels, and public-houses, the addresses of which appeared on the Times list of regular subscribers and in addition to this, the telegrams were forwarded after all the paper trains, which were stopped at the first convenient stations and relieved of the parcels sent from the offices of Messrs Smith and the other great newspaper agents for distribution along the different lines of railway. Beyond all, all private subscribers were written to and asked to return the early copies dispatched by the morning's post, and in point of fact everything that a lavish expenditure of money and an indefatigable employment of labour could possibly do was done in order that the attempted pollution of the public mind might be restricted to the narrowest limits."

It sounds like a heroic – and otherwise unrecorded – effort at damage limitation, and it must have cost The Times a great deal of money.  One Irish newspaper quoted reports of "hundreds, and it is said even thousands, of pounds", plausible if subscribers outside the metropolitan area were alerted by telegram.[19] A Canadian journalist estimated that the expenditure at £15,000, while an Australian journal claimed that the hapless proprietors had paid up to £10 a copy, 800 times the masthead price.[20] The first edition had to be reprinted, probably by running additional copies of later versions. Of course, management could not recover all the papers that had been despatched. Although an appeal was made to the Postmaster-General to intercept the sabotaged consignment, items entrusted to the mail could not legally be returned: as many as 10,000 copies were believed to have remained in circulation.[21] It was probably the postman who delivered the scandalous copy to the Earl of Derby at his home in Lancashire. "Odd incident in yesterday's Times," he wrote in his diary. "In the middle of the report of a speech by Sir William Harcourt ... is interpolated a line, wholly irrelevant, & ending with a word too grossly indecent to be put into print. It looks like a practical joke of some one employed in the printing at the expense of the editor. I do not remember anything of the sort having happened before. The newspaper was as far as possible suppressed, but the early editions had gone out before the mistake was detected."[22] Edward Hamilton, one of Gladstone's private secretaries, was also aware of "the obscene misprint", which he unfeelingly regarded as "[t]he most amusing incident of the week".[23] Charles Bradlaugh was trying to take his seat in the House of Commons as MP for radical Northampton, despite attempts to block him as an atheist. Since The Times had helped him publicise his case, he had no score to settle, yet Bradlaugh still managed to leave a copy of the offending paper at a hotel in Maidenhead, his base for a fishing expedition on the Thames.[24] There was a "discreditable demand" for souvenirs: Hamilton heard of copies changing hands at louche Brighton for as much as £1.[25] They quickly  became collectors' items, "as scarce as the Vinegar Bible, and comparatively as dear".[26]  (The Vinegar Bible of 1717 had mis-titled the Parable of the Vineyard. That had been an honest mistake, although a good deal less embarrassing than the blunder in the Wicked Bible of 1631, which accidentally omitted a key "not" from the Ten Commandments, thereby enjoining the faithful to commit adultery.)[27] Despite the flurry of telegrams, management had not even succeeded in stopping all the distribution by rail, apparently opening opportunities for rivals to exploit its embarrassment.  "One enterprising individual connected with a newspaper office in Fleet-street heard of the hoax at an early hour on Monday morning and secured nearly fifty copies of the paper by telegraphing to Manchester and Edinburgh, where the first edition was despatched as usual by special train."[28] If the Harcourt interpolation could be used to impugn the reliability of The Times, Britain's journal of record might find it difficult to secure scoops from government ministers keen to manipulate public opinion.[29]

The Times fails to control the news agenda There followed several days of eerie silence. Offended by the appearance of an obscenity at their breakfast tables, or simply puzzled by the late arrival of Monday's paper, readers of The Times probably scanned the columns of next day's edition for some explanation. They would have found nothing. On Wednesday, the streets of central London were invaded by small boys hawking a pamphlet, "undertaken by traders in such garbage", which claimed to be a reprint of Harcourt's unexpurgated remarks.  So indeed it was, and customers who handed over their twopence – it "sold like wildfire" – found that they had been duped into purchasing the accurate version of his speech.[30] On Thursday, Edward Hamilton noted as curious that the proprietors of The Times had not sent Harcourt "a line of apology".[31] Equally ominous was the restraint shown by the rest of the press. The longer the issue remained buried, the more tempting it would be for some rival journal to denounce The Times for alleged failure to take seriously a threat to public decency. In particular, the Sunday newspapers, with their mass, low-brow circulation, might well engage in their standard combination of exciting titillation while ostensibly denouncing sin.

The Times finally addressed the issue on Friday, four days after the incident. Hamilton regarded its statement as "an apology to Harcourt".[32] In fact, it was nothing of the kind. Rather, it was a terse, ill-tempered and defiant proclamation of victimhood, so opaquely worded that readers who had not encountered the obscenity would have been left mystified. "No pains have been spared by the management of this journal to discover the author of a gross outrage committed by the interpolation of a line in the speech of Sir William Harcourt reported in our issue of Monday last. This malicious fabrication was surreptitiously introduced shortly before the paper went to press. The matter is now under legal investigation, and it is hoped that the perpetrator of the outrage will be brought to punishment."[33] There was no expression of regret to Harcourt, nor any apology to offended and inconvenienced readers. The description of the incident as an "outrage" was also overblown: the term was used for such horrors as the massacres of Russian Jews and Fenian attempt to dynamite London. The threat of revenge was bombastic and unconvincing. Even assuming that The Times could identify a culprit beyond reasonable doubt, the paper was likely to look foolish if it took one of its compositors to court, since any competent defence lawyer would have asked how such a "dastardly act"[34] could have been permitted. Employment legislation certainly gave bosses extensive control over their employees, but it might still be difficult to frame a precise charge: the offender could hardly be charged with uttering an obscene publication, since it was The Times itself that had hurried bundles of copies to the railway stations, and hundreds of packages to the mail.

When Edward Hamilton concluded on Saturday that "the paragraph of course has drawn more attention than ever to the compositor's obscene line", he must have been referring to gossip in the political world, for it was not until the following week that press comment erupted.[35] "The matter was made worse by the apology", declared the Toronto Globe, since it had "increased the morbid curiosity of the prurient", especially among those who had not heard of the "hideously indecent expression".[36] In the British press, there was a marked lack of sympathy for the proprietors of the country's proudest journal, with some claiming that The Times had been forced into admitting its blunder by the Home Secretary himself. "Even the crass creatures who now hold authority in Printing-house-square have too much sense wittingly or willingly to blow the ashes of an expiring scandal; but Sir William Harcourt insisted on an official explanation of the manner in which the offensive matter obtained publicity." It was claimed that there were "hundreds of stupid persons who believe that what appeared in the speech was actually said by the Home Secretary". Harcourt was believed to have received a deluge of letters demanding to know why he had interjected his copulatory intentions into a discussion of the North Yorkshire by-election, and there were fears that he would be challenged on the subject the next time he spoke in public.[37] However, this story seems unlikely. Harcourt's political companion and chronicler, his son Lewis ("Loulou") simply noted the interpolation in his diary, adding that it was promptly removed.[38] The Home Secretary was not lacking in self-esteem, but he would probably have foreseen that any formal approach to The Times would have been portrayed as a ministerial attempt to bully the press.

The utterly uninformative and unsatisfactory nature of the irritable paragraph in The Times triggered a wave of comment in other newspapers. Editors who had held back presumably out of reluctance to publicise an obscenity now had a peg on which they could report rumour and speculation, little of it to the credit of their mighty rival. One of the few items that may be factually based was the suggestion that a Monday morning edition was targeted because the Sunday night newspaper trains departed earlier than on weekdays.[39] But the motive of the perpetrators of this "scoundrelly act"[40] remained a subject for guesswork, some of it wild. "Possibly they were pulling off a bet," suggested a New Zealand newspaper, no doubt evidence of the centrality of gambling in colonial culture.[41] We may dismiss two hypotheses, neither of which was even canvassed by contemporaries.  First, there is no evidence that it represented an Irish nationalist attempt to discredit a powerful enemy, for The Times certainly adopted a hawkish attitude towards Ireland. Certainly, we should not forget the context: between 1879 and 1887, Irish issues occupied a central place in the British political agenda. In the winter of 1881-2, Parnell and his lieutenants were interned in Kilmainham Gaol, and there seemed no prospect of finding a formula that might secure their release. However, no contemporary suggested or even hinted at a Hibernian connection, although Nationalist newspapers greatly enjoyed the episode.[42] More intriguing is the second possibility, that the interpolation was specifically aimed at Harcourt himself. In the eighteen-nineties, partly thanks to Gladstone's scrappy and directionless fourth ministry, Sir William Harcourt would become an irascible and even feared figure. By contrast, in the early 'eighties, he was a well-regarded personality. When Edward Hamilton commented that "Harcourt will never hear the end of it", he simply reflected the friendly badinage of the enclosed Westminster world, with no suggestion of feuds or vendettas.[43] However, a Harcourt speech would have been a plausible target for the saboteur, precisely because he aroused audiences to laughter. "His addresses abound with boisterous animal spirits", perhaps providing temptation for an obscene interpolation.[44] Overall, however, it seems safest to assume that Sir William Harcourt was collateral damage, his speech chosen as the convenient occasion for an act of sabotage directed against The Times itself.

The challenge of new technology? To modern-day readers, the most attractive explanation offered at the time may be the one that blamed a labour dispute over the introduction of new technology.[45] An Exeter newspaper, the Western Times reported that, "for years", printers at The Times had "consented to be non-unionists on the understanding that their situations were permanent ... enduring years of obloquy, during which they have been stigmatized by their fellow creatures in the type line as 'knobsticks' and 'blacklegs', and other scientific phenomena". In return, the paper had "the reputation of always behaving honourably and kindly to all its employees however humble their position". However, management now threatened "the introduction of composing machines at the commencement of the session", and a bitter dispute had broken out. Much of this sounded plausible, although the report "that eventually the printing staff of the Times will be a body of females" suggested some exaggeration.[46] Printing House Square was indeed a non-union operation, with its printers collectively – and, according to the official History, proudly – known as "The Times Companionship".[47] Tension between organised labour and non-unionists ("knobsticks") would be no surprise. Fox Bourne, the contemporary chronicler of the British press, claimed that trade unions had "wickedly raised the wages of compositors and others to a level far above their deserts" and, of course, staff at The Times benefited from those victories.[48]

Yet there is reason to doubt the story of a dispute caused by the introduction of new technology. The Times had installed its own in-house invention, the Walter printing press, in 1868, and adopted the Kastenbein composing machine two years later.[49] The Western Times was thus ill-informed in stating that The Times management was threatening "the introduction of composing machines". Since the equipment commissioned in 1868-70 remained in use for almost forty years,[50] any change in working practices contemplated in 1881-2 could only have been minor, and there is no evidence that it was pressed to the point of confrontation with the compositors. We should also note that The Times probably lacked the resources to finance large-scale innovation, although obscurity clouds the precise state of its finances at this period. "There is no great establishment in the world where the commercial state of matters is kept more sacred than in Printing House Square," observed newspaper historian James Grant in 1871.[51] However, there is evidence that The Times operated on relatively narrow margins: its circulation, of around 60,000 copies a day (and falling), was only one quarter of that achieved by at least one of its London rivals, the Standard.[52] Nor, in 1881-2, does it seem likely that there was any revolutionary technological development that might have tempted management to launch a major challenge to accepted work practices.[53] Indeed, The Times was proud of its existing typesetting equipment. "The original form of the machine in use at this office was introduced here soon after the Franco-German war, and has ever since been undergoing such modifications in detail as experience has from time to time suggested, until it has now reached a state of very great efficiency."[54] Rather, the innovation that seems to have sparked tensions between The Times and its compositors was probably the telephone.

Management, labour and the telephone There were certainly tensions at The Times in the early eighteen-eighties. In 1878, following the retirement of J.T. Delane, its long-serving editor, Thomas Chenery had been appointed as his successor.[55] Chenery could be abrasive – not necessarily a disadvantage in a job where diffidence was hardly an asset – but the main drawback in his elevation was his relative lack of editorial experience, although he had been associated with the paper in other roles for over twenty years. To help fill this gap, an experienced reporter, Frederick Clifford, was promoted to assistant editor, but his health began to fail in 1880. For Chenery, the editorship carried one unavoidable burden. Delane had made it a principle that the editor of The Times should be seen at political dinner tables, although in his later years it was said that he would only dine with dukes. In his early fifties when he was appointed, and a chain-smoker who took little exercise, Chenery was "almost a recluse". Nonetheless, he manfully donned his white tie and devoted his evenings to the menus and malice assembled by leading politicians and fashionable hostesses. "Since he became editor of the Times, poor Mr Chenery has been compelled to emerge from his loved retirement, and accept invitations to many more dinners than he has any fancy for. But he takes the infliction easily enough.... If he finds his vicinity not particularly congenial, Mr Chenery concerns himself with his food, and goes placidly to sleep between the courses. He is an amazing man for catching forty winks at odd times."[56] Yet these culinary marathons were merely the prelude to a night's work, for Chenery returned to Printing House Square where he might be trapped in the editor's chair sometimes beyond three o'clock in the morning. A colleague noted that he became "very comatose" after dinner.[57] A New Zealand newspaper picked up a rumour that the Harcourt interpolation was a response to "some arbitrary exercise of authority on the part of one of the managers of that paper", and it would not be surprising if a harassed Chenery were the culprit.[58]

Compositors were rightly ranked among the aristocracy of labour. They were expected to possess a command of the English language and spelling far superior to the slipshod standards of twenty-first century Britain, even though in 1882 few of them could have benefited from the system of mass schooling introduced just twelve years earlier. They were required to work through the night against inflexible deadlines. In 1871, it was estimated that to produce an average edition of The Times, containing 96 columns, "two millions and a half of separate pieces of type have to be taken out of the cases by the hands of individual compositors…. yet this work is nightly accomplished with the greatest regularity, and without a seeming effort – amid, too ... a quietude and silence which could hardly be surpassed if there were but one person, instead of forty or fifty in each of the several composing rooms."[59] After Delane's long tenure, it was likely that the incoming Chenery-Clifford regime might seek some modifications in work practices.[60] It was also clear that any such changes would require tactful handling, a quality that was perhaps in short supply. From the summer of 1880, a combination of new reporting technology and a heavy-handed management initiative disrupted labour relations at Printing House Square.

The Times prided itself on its next-morning parliamentary reporting. Unfortunately, the House of Commons frequently sat into the small hours, causing the paper "great difficulties" in covering later speeches while meeting its publication deadline. The problem was compounded by the rules of debate, which required, or at least permitted, a ministerial spokesman – it might be Harcourt or even Gladstone himself – to wind up proceedings, perhaps by appealing for support in the division lobbies, or maybe by signalling some newsworthy gesture of concession. The location of the paper's headquarters, over a mile from Westminster, added to the delay in transmitting material to the compositors. "After about one o'clock in the morning to produce in time for the early edition a full report of a speech, however important it might be, became a matter of extreme difficulty, and after two the record of proceedings became necessarily a mere abstract."[61] The solution was the installation of a special telephone line through the tunnel of the Embankment section of the District Line, the underground railway that had been completed in 1870. (The Metropolitan Board of Works was supportive, but there were objections from the Post Office, which claimed a monopoly over the recently invented device). Telephone reporting began in May 1880, shortly after Gladstone had formed his second Liberal government which foreshadowed a wide-ranging and controversial legislative programme. A room adjoining the parliamentary press gallery was made available for the paper's parliamentary stenographer, or an assistant, to read reports of speeches over the loudspeaker telephone to a compositor in the office who would set it directly into type. The compositor operated a system of bells to start and stop transmissions, and a two-way voice facility could also be used for queries, such as requests to spell out proper names – an important safeguard for a newspaper which might face actions for defamation if it inadvertently misidentified some target for senatorial wrath. The manuscript copy was still rushed from Westminster to Blackfriars, but it was now used not as the source for typesetting but for checking the proof of the already prepared columns. The new procedure meant that debates could "be reported and printed from half to three-quarters of an hour later than had previously been possible". Given that the telephone had only been patented four years earlier, its adoption as a news-gathering device was something of a coup for The Times.[62] Yet the innovation made considerable demands upon print workers. Compositors were accustomed to setting type from dictation on the premises, but the telephone added an additional responsibility for accuracy, made all the more challenging by the problem that the new medium was susceptible to interference.[63] The Times editorially swept these problems aside as "matters of detail, which either are, or certainly soon shall be, in a fair way to be overcome".[64] Unfortunately this reflected a mindset that chose not to reward its employees for their flexibility, but rather to use the new system as an opportunity to increase its control over them.

Rebellion at The Times Compositors on The Times received a basic rate, supplemented by payments for piecework.[65] Each compositor was supplied with successive sheets of 'copy', which they set in type, signing the original manuscript to identify their work. At the end of the night's work, they entered the details on a printed slip, from which their wages were calculated. The slips were completed on an honour system, the men simply totalling how many lines they had set, and specifying the size of the type used. Evidently, management did not go to the trouble of verifying these claims by checking them, item by item, against signed copy, which meant that there was no simple means of establishing which employee had set any particular item. The process added an extra fifteen or twenty minutes to a long shift, time for which no pay was offered, but the arrangement was accepted by the men as reasonable. However, if direct transmission of news by telephone was to become standard operating practice, some other system of associating compositors with their end-product was required. Taking dictation of parliamentary reports by telephone would have been demanding work, and it is likely that relays of compositors were employed for each sitting. While the new Gladstone government was getting into its stride during the summer of 1880, the House of Commons had conducted its business within reasonably civilized hours, but the new session, due to commence in February 1881, promised (or threatened) to tackle a major legislative agenda, especially in relation to Ireland. The Times no doubt needed to have a new system for recording piecework in operation before late-night parliamentary conflicts complicated its system of calculating employee pay. On 8 December, management produced framed slips of the completed newspaper, ordering compositors to put their names against the type they had set up. The new system was time-consuming, since instead of filling in an individual return, employees had to queue for access to a single set of slips cut from the paper. No pay was offered for this additional chore. The men objected that the old system had worked well for them, while safeguarding the interests of their employer, whereas the innovation did not take account of the fact that a compositor might have set only two lines in a news item, presumably if a report required last-minute modification. There were angry meetings, and type from the paper was found dumped in the Thames. Some compositors walked out and others – nineteen in all – were dismissed. In January 1881, one of them, Charles Edward Usher, brought a test case before the City magistrates, seeking £9 in unpaid wages, in effect a demand for a fortnight's pay in lieu of notice. Essentially, the case was a claim for wrongful dismissal. It failed, on the grounds that Usher had no formal contract with The Times and, hence, he and his fellow insurgents were simply servants whose duties could be determined from time to time by their employer.[66]

While it is evident that there were workplace tensions at The Times, it is by no means straightforward to link this episode to the Harcourt interpolation. The dispute occurred over a year earlier and, since the malcontents had departed, it has to be assumed that those who remained had accepted the management's right to impose new conditions of employment. It does not help that the gruff paragraph published by The Times on 27 January unleashed a flurry of unreliable journalistic speculation. The Toronto Globe heard that twenty compositors and two proof-readers had been dismissed. The London correspondent of Dublin's Freeman's Journal reported that nearly forty compositors had been given notice to quit because they were maintaining a conspiracy of silence about the identity of the offender or offenders.  But other reports insisted that most of the paper's employees were "eager to catch the culprit".[67] Perhaps the most revealing evidence came from the York Herald, which dismissed "stories of wholesale dismissal from the Times printing-staff" as "exaggerations", significantly adding: "Only one compositor has been dismissed; he was the last to handle the metal, and had been heard to vow vengeance a few days previously for having been fined."[68] Since the eighteen-fifties, The Times had imposed fines upon its proof-readers for failing to eliminate mistakes. It seems that the new system of compelling compositors to accept responsibility for their printed columns had also made it possible to penalise them for errors in typesetting.[69] 

Final reflections  The  episode of the Harcourt interpolation leaves many unresolved threads. The hypothesis of a lone saboteur settling scores with a harsh employer seems to make sense of what happened. Compositors worked in silent solitude, or at most in pairs where dictation of text was required. A widespread conspiracy therefore seems unlikely. Even if we dismiss as romantic nonsense the notion that staff felt some kind of feudal loyalty towards the paper, it remained the case that high wages could be earned on The Times, a factor that surely created some shared sense of self-interest between employees and management. Nor should we discount the legendary association between skilled workers and Nonconformity: Chapel folk did not indulge in obscenity. Yet the perpetrator's motives remain a puzzle. Inserting an obscenity into the columns of Britain's premier newspaper would have provided a delicious form of immediate revenge, but in the longer term it was hardly a career-enhancing initiative. One possibility is that the culprit had decided to leave the country. The eighteen-eighties would prove a golden decade for artisan emigration. Steamship services provided relatively cheap and reliable escape routes to distant parts of the globe, where nascent overseas English-speaking communities were emerging from the stagnant 'seventies into a phase of buoyant economic activity. On arriving in America or Australia, the saboteur could presumably produce sufficient documentation to establish a connection with so prestigious a journal, while counting upon the obstacle of distance to ensure that his credentials were not too closely scrutinised.[70]

Given how closely Printing House Square guarded information about its affairs, it is difficult to assess the impact of the episode on The Times itself. Thomas Chenery survived as editor for only seven years, which makes all the more striking the statement in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that circulation fell by a quarter on his watch. Perhaps that legendary censorious English newspaper reader, 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells', reacted negatively to the obscenity and cancelled his subscription.

While the evidence is opaque, a second embarrassing incident shortly afterwards would have further undermined the confidence of some readers in the Thunderer's reliability. Worse still, a few weeks after the well-publicised Harcourt interpolation, it seems that The Times was the victim of a different kind of hoax, a small advertisement announcing of the birth of a child that was intended to reflect on the sexual morality of the Prince of Wales. In fact, the British press seems to have been uniformly silent about the prank, hardly surprising since a muckraking editor had recently been sent to prison for alleging that the heir to the throne was having an affair with Society beauty Lillie Langtry (which, at the time of the report, happened to be true). The story surfaced in print in the Victoria (British Columbia) Daily Colonist, which probably took it from the less respectful (and less easily intimidated) press of the United States.

On 21 February 1882, four weeks after the Harcourt interpolation, the births column of The Times published a brief announcement, in standard form: "On 20th inst., at 27 Park Lane, W[est], the wife of Albert Edward, of a son." Park Lane was one of the smartest addresses in London's West End. Number 27 belonged to General Alistair Macdonald, a Crimea veteran who in 1881 had been appointed to command the troops in Scotland, an assignment that would last for four years. Accordingly, he had let his London home to "a well-known fashionable beauty". And the Daily Colonist meaningfully added: "There is only Albert Edward in England."[71]  The implication, that the Prince of Wales had fathered a child by a Society lady, seems implausible. Biographers have probed Edward VII's extramarital adventures – he was in fact been between mistresses at the time – but uncovered no trace of any illegitimate offspring. No doubt Society ladies did from time to time incur the hazard of ex-nuptial pregnancy, but any such unfortunate female would have been despatched to give birth in some more discreet location than London's Park Lane. The key point is that, although respectable publications chose not to mention the matter, The Times seems to have been the victim of a second, probably unrelated, hoax within a very short period. It is likely that London clubs and counting houses buzzed with the story, further undermining its claims to omniscient authority.[72]

Of course, these prankish pinpricks would have been far less damaging to the paper's reputation than its absurdly credulous endorsement of Richard Pigott's forged letters, attributed to Parnell, in the late 'eighties. We can only speculate how far a felt need to recover its trusted status through a sensational scoop may have influenced the management of The Times in that disastrous initiative. However, the underlying problem for The Times was not that it was prone to bad luck, but rather that Chenery's editorship was perceived as a failure. At his death in February 1884, Lord Derby described him as "a good scholar ... & an agreeable member of society, but a very unskilful editor. ... The Times has certainly lost for the moment the position which it has held ever since the Crimean War". Indeed, the paper had sunk to the level of "the worst of the dailies".[73] At most, the Harcourt interpolation was a symptom, or maybe merely a symbol, of a deeper and longer decline.

And what of the word itself, the seven leaden letters that provoked such holy horror? "Low weekly papers reprint the report verbatim, and these papers are being sold by thousands," lamented the Toronto Globe.[74] If so, they do not seem to have survived. In Australia's burgeoning cities, where the newspaper press was "thoroughly respectable and well-conducted",[75] editors generally published guarded reports that bristled with disapproval, under neutral headlines such as "The London 'Times' in Trouble". But in the backblocks of New South Wales, where society was essentially masculine and middle-class decorum was scarce, a few journals more daringly carried the news under the heading "The London Times in a Fix".[76] That seems to have been as close as the mainstream press of the English-speaking world came to direct quotation of Sir William Harcourt's alleged intention to copulate. In itself, the episode of the Harcourt interpolation amounted to little more than a minor hiccup in the saga of a famous newspaper. Nonetheless, it has some value in helping to throw light on the production and distribution of The Times as it entered the age of the railway and the telephone.

ENDNOTES I owe warm thanks to Dr Andrew Jones for bringing this delightful episode to my attention, and for his advice on the text.

 [1] Emphatic adverbial usage would include statements such as "a ******* silly idea"; negative adjectival examples may be illustrated by "the ******* government" or "you ******* idiot". Frequently, the word has no particular meaning, but is used to convey vehemence of opinion.  

[2] The Times itself, referring to the episode as late as 29 September 1992, also used asterisks.

[3] As of April 2023, Wikipedia provides a useful summary of the episode:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harcourt_interpolation#cite_ref-12.

[4] P. Stansky, "Harcourt, Sir William George Granville Venables Vernon (1827–1904)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[5] Henry W. Lucy, parliamentary correspondent of Punch, thought that Harcourt's speeches "read well". He was skilled at "adding in delivery much to their force and charm" but those who did not hear him "may be well content to read a verbatim report". H.W. Lucy, A Diary of the Salisbury Parliament 1886-1892 (London, 1892), 479.

[6] A. Jones, The Politics of Reform 1884 (Cambridge, 1972).

[7] Dawnay beat Rowlandson, but only by 8,135 votes to 7,749. Following the widening of the franchise in 1884, and redistribution of constituencies, he was heavily defeated for the Yorkshire seat of Cleveland in 1885. Thus freed to travel, Dawney was killed by a buffalo in Kenya in 1889.

[8] The rogue edition is illustrated in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harcourt_interpolation#cite_ref-12. The text was quoted in P. Fryer, Mrs. Grundy: Studies in English Prudery (London, 1963), 73, possibly for the first time in Britain since its unauthorised appearance.

[9] Victoria (British Columbia) Daily Colonist, 2 March 1882.

[10] Palmer's Index to The Times had begun quarterly publication in 1867, and had later been back-projected to 1790. Ever faithful to textual minutiae, its 1882 (i) volume included an allusion to "Gross Line Maliciously Interpolated in a  Few Copies only of the Issue", without which the comment in the 27 January edition could not have been noted.

[11] A widely quoted comment in the New Zealand press, e.g. Dunedin Evening Star, 21 March 1882, cited via the National Library of New Zealand website, PapersPast.

[12] Regrettably, this was also true of the major contemporary study of the British press, H.R. Fox Bourne, English Newspapers: Chapters in the History of Journalism (2 vols, London, 1887): ii, 367-8 made a brief allusion to production methods; there was no mention of W.H. Smith & Son.

[13] The History of The Times (4 vols in 5, London, 1935-52). A 5th volume (and 6th tome) was published in 1984. The volumes cited here are ii: The Tradition Established 1841-1884 (1939) and iii, The Twentieth Century Test 1884-1912 (1947). Although no author is given, it is generally reported that it was the work of S.A. Morison. He was a typographer by profession but showed little interest in production methods as author or editor (both roles are attributed to him). It is characteristic of the whole approach of the official history that it should have attributed "inerrancy" to the The Times in the mid-Victorian era. Presumably this was the media equivalent of infallibility in religion.  The History of The Times, iii, 89.

[14] Lucy Brown examined dispatch records kept by W.H. Smith & Son in 1877, but found them unhelpful. "In general it is impossible to say what proportion of the trade was in W. H. Smith’s hands, though in 1877, where there are available circulation figures for the Daily Telegraph, and the Standard, and The Times, it seems that over one third of the circulation was involved. It is also impossible to tell how far the papers sent by train actually went: what proportion stayed in the Home Counties and what was directly competing with provincial papers." L. Brown, Victorian News and Newspapers (Oxford, 1985), 11.

[15] Kelly's Directory for Essex gives one column of newsagents for the county in 1886, 5 by 1908. Romford, a market town of 7,000 people by the 1880s, had no dedicated newsagent.

[16] These notices appeared every day, and are quoted here from 24 January 1882. Outside London, second delivery of The Times allowed space for provincial dailies to supply breakfast-time news. As usual, The History of The Times provides little information, and even that lacks clarity. In 1860, The Times conceded a discount of about 40% to newsagents (ii, 354-5). Even allowing for incidental costs of packaging and labelling, the costs of despatching newspapers by post could hardly have accounted for more than 25% of the masthead price, i.e. 16.66% for the stamp, and the rest for preparation.

[17] J. Grant, The Newspaper Press: its Origin, Progress and Present Position (2 vols, London 1871), ii, 35.  I have been unable to consult a 3rd volume, The Metropolitan Weekly and Provincial Press, which appeared in 1872.

[18] Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 1882 (London correspondent, 27 January). The Toowoomba Chronicle, 18 March 1882, indicates that the wording was taken from a report in the (London) Morning Herald. Australian newspapers are cited via the National Library of Australia's Trove website. They frequently transcribed reports from British and Irish newspapers, not always with acknowledgement, thereby preserving sources that may not survive in libraries.

[19] Kerry Evening Post, 1 February 1882.

[20] Victoria (British Columbia) Daily Colonist, 2 March 1882 (which estimated the cost at $75,000); Brisbane Telegraph, 24 March 1882.

[21] Victoria (British Columbia) Daily Colonist, 2 March 1882.

[22] J. Vincent, ed., The Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby … between 1878 and 1893 … (Oxford, 2003), 393 (24 January 1882).

[23]  D.W.R. Bahlman, ed., The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton (2 vols, Oxford, 1971), ii, 214 (26 January 1882).

[24] Derby Evening Telegraph, 31 January 1882.

[25] Bahlman, ed., Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, ii, 214.

[26] Derby Evening Telegraph, 31 January 1882. The New Testament section of the Revised Version of the Bible had been published the previous year, to widespread lack of enthusiasm. Thomas Chenery, editor of The Times, was a member of the revising committee, which may explain the Biblical parallels.

[27] The Otago Daily Times, 1 April 1882, was among journals that were reminded of the Wicked Bible.

[28] Freeman's Journal (Dublin), 25 January 1882. In 1906, the fastest express service from Kings Cross to Edinburgh took 8 hours and 15 minutes. Given the immediacy of the telegram, it is puzzling that The Times should have failed to intercept copies sent to Scotland.

[29] In March 1882, Gladstone referred to "the idiotic Times", but a year later he wondered "why the Times – really an anti-reforming paper – is (apparently) the most successful in getting hold of anticipations of Government Measures". The first comment perhaps reflected momentary irritation, the second was a warning to his correspondent, Lord Granville, to be careful in acting as a channel of communication with the paper. A. Ramm, ed., The Political Correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville 1876-1886 (2 vols, Oxford 1962), i, 352 (29 March 1882); ii, 24 (14 February 1882).

[30] Kerry Evening Post, 1 February 1882.

[31] Bahlman, ed., Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, ii, 214.

[32] Bahlman, ed., Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, ii, 216 (28 January 1882).

[33] The Times, 27 January 1882. This may have headed off moralistic denunciation from the Sundays. Reynolds's Newspaper, 29 January 1882, simply reprinted the notice from The Times, slightly amended, as its own report.

[34] The phrase used by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, 18 March 1882, and doubtless borrowed from the British press.

[35] Bahlman, ed., Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, ii, 216 (28 January 1882).

[36] Toronto Globe, 30 March 1882.

[37] York Herald, 2 February 1882. A very similar report had appeared in the Derby Evening Telegraph of 31 January, and a Fleet Street source may be suspected.

[38] P. Jackson, ed., Loulou: Selected Extracts from the Journals of Lewis Harcourt … (Madison, NJ, 2006), 34. Parliament was not in session, so the proprietor of The Times, John Walter III, who was MP for Berkshire, would not have been subject to lobbying by fellow politicians.

[39] Kerry Evening Post, 1 February 1882. Pressure on office routines caused by the departure times of the newspaper trains is briefly mentioned in History of The Times, ii, 514.

[40] Victoria (British Columbia) Daily Colonist, 2 March 1882.

[41] Otago Daily Times, 1 April 1882.

[42] In 1887, the hostility of The Times towards Irish nationalism would lead to the disaster of its naive publication of the forged Pigott letters, alleging that Parnell approved of terrorist activity. The episode cost The Times around £200,000, leaving it without capital or reserves to face the competition of the New Journalism of the 1890s. The reputational damage was probably even worse. History of The Times, iii, 89.

[43] Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, ii, 214. "Harcourt is exceptionally gifted in many forms; but his endowments do not include an angelic temper," Henry Lucy commented in 1900. However, in an affectionate obituary in 1904 (also probably by Lucy), Punch contested the widespread view that Harcourt was "cantankerous". But it did admit the following: "Some years ago there was current a fable about a dinner-party jointly given by six men. In fantastic mood it was resolved that each should invite the most disagreeable man he knew. When they foregathered at the table it was found that the party consisted of seven. Each of the hosts had asked Harcourt." H. Lucy, The Diary of a Journalist (3 vols, London, 1920-3), i, 158 (1900); Punch, 12 October 1904, 266.

[44] Graphic, 28 January 1882. Henry Lucy even came close to suggesting that Harcourt's oratorical style invited trouble. "He is sprightly, fluent, and witty.... [but] altogether deficient in that weight of character which Lord Hartington brings to bear upon all he undertakes. There is an impression on the mind of his audience, rightly or wrongly acquired, that Sir William Harcourt when speaking is thinking more of the success of his next jokes than of the right or wrong of the cause he is advocating or attacking." Henry W. Lucy, "Glimpses of Great Britons", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1882, 174, also quoted Brisbane Courier, 22 September 1882. It was widely known that Harcourt had contributed authoritative articles on international law to The Times in earlier decades under the pen-name "Historicus", but he had never been on the paper's staff.

[45] This is the explanation accepted by Wikipedia.

[46] Western Times, 31 January 1882. The report quoted "Court Journal", but I have not traced it in the Morning Post. The feminist Edith Simcox demanded that female compositors be paid the same rate as men, and complained that the men's union barred its members from working where women were employed. The Times, 8 October 1879.

[47] History of The Times, iii, 110. A visitor commented that "the persons employed in The Times office always appear to feel that they are in an exceptional and distinguished service". J. Hatton, "Journalistic London", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1881, 839ff.

[48] Fox Bourne, English Newspapers: Chapters in the History of Journalism, ii, 215.

[49] The Times described the effect of the mechanisation in typesetting since 1870 in an article of 27 May 1880: "the increased rapidity of setting up type … has been due to the employment of a machine as a substitute for the manual labour of the compositor. The most skilful workman, setting up type by hand, would not exceed a general average of about forty lines per hour, or a maximum rate of fifty lines per hour during short periods of great pressure; but the machine, in which the types are brought down and placed in position by striking upon keys something like those of a piano or organ, enables a fair workman to attain an average speed of 100 lines an hour even when composing from manuscript, which he has had to read for himself; and this speed can be doubled, or nearly so, when the operator is assisted by a reader, and thus composes from dictation." There is a brief discussion of mechanical typesetting during the 1870s in Brown, Victorian News and Newspapers, 11.

[50] History of The Times, iii, 110, 596.

[51] Grant, The Newspaper Press: its Origin, Progress and Present Position, ii, 40. In the early 20th century, one of the lesser shareholders – known in Times-speak as the "small proprietors" – conducted a prolonged legal case demanding to inspect the accounts. At one point, the paper's solicitor threatened that any interference by shareholders would result in its closure. History of the Times, iii, 436-41.

[52] History of the Times, ii, 358; D. Griffiths, Plant Here the Standard (Basingstoke, 1996), 131-3. A near-contemporary estimate suggested that the Standard made an annual profit of £60,000 against an expenditure of £270,000. The calculation was made at a time when the Standard sold for a penny a copy, whereas The Times cost threepence, and may have charged at a higher rate for classified advertisements. However, as noted, generous discounts to newsagents reduced the net revenue from sales. Given its need to maintain a global network of news sources comparable to, if not exceeding, those of its rivals, The Times, although still profitable, was probably operating on very narrow margins.

[53] The biggest change in typesetting technology since Gutenberg, the linotype machine, was invented in 1885. It took time for innovations to get into production: Gladstone inspected "the remarkable but ill named Linotype invention" in 1889, and its spread in Canada caused labour unrest in the early 1890s. "No Newspaper Proprietor can afford to disregard this greatest invention of the age," its manufacturers boasted in 1895, but most did: only two London morning papers, the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times, and one evening sheet, the Globe, had invested. Gladstone Diaries, xii (26 June 1889), 213; P. Rutherford, A Victorian Authority: the Daily Press in Late Nineteenth-Century Canada (Toronto, 1982), 95 (part of a useful discussion of the Canadian newspaper industry); Newspaper Press Directory, 1895, 255. Existing work practices were challenged by the Thorne typesetting machine, which was operated by a three-person team: two skilled keyboard operators, one in charge of setting type, the other of justification, using the machine's graduated type-feed to eliminate ugly gaps in the lines, while a third – usually a boy – fed in type. Although the Thorne machine was patented in September 1880, a Scientific American feature in 1895 implied that it had only gone into mass production in 1887. It spread relatively slowly: the Manchester Guardian installed the equipment in 1887, but it was not entirely satisfactory. However, the Kastenbein composing machines remained in use at The Times at least until 1907, when they were unkindly described as "scrap". Scientific American, 24 August 1895 (https://www.historyofinformation.com/image.php?id=7854); D. Ayerst, The Manchester Guardian … (Ithaca, NY, 1971), 295-6; History of The Times, iii, 595-8.

[54] The Times, 27 May 1880.

[55] H. C. G. Matthew, "Chenery, Thomas (bap. 1826, d. 1884)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; S. Koss, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain... (2 vols, Chapel Hill NC, 1981), i, 213-14.

[56] The description comes from a feature article written by Archibald Forbes, the opinionated war correspondent of the Daily News, who was moonlighting for the Sydney Morning Herald. It was published on 13 February 1884, the Herald's editorial staff being unaware that Chenery had died two days earlier. Until his appointment as editor, Chenery had been Professor of Arabic at Oxford, contributing to The Times as an external correspondent. His health broke down in 1883, and he died early the following year: The Times, 12 February 1884. For Clifford, The Times, 31 December 1904. The hazards of press reporting through wire services may be illustrated by the apology of the Launceston (Tasmania) Daily Telegraph, 14 February 1884, for its initial report of the death of Thomas C. Henry.

[57] History of The Times, ii, 513-20. Of course, Chenery's somnolence did not explain the Harcourt interpolation. The Times employed proof-readers to scan its draft columns, and the rogue type had obviously been introduced at a very late stage, after all checks. But widespread awareness in the political world of Chenery's  tendency to nod off probably added to the derision that the incident sparked.

[58] Dunedin Evening Star, 29 March 1882. However, it is not easy to understand just how The Times was run on a day-to-day basis, and available accounts seem to indicate a series of autonomous watertight compartments. John Walter, the Chief Proprietor, mainly kept in the background, although he constituted a kind of invisible presence. Chenery, as Editor, determined the paper's attitude on policy issues, directed leader-writers and determined which news items were to appear. The Printer, Francis Goodlake, possessed a degree of latitude in actually setting out the columns, although their basic arrangement was well established. (Not until 1887 did The Times supply a daily List of Contents.) Curiously, the Editor was not expected to concern himself with the paper's financial position, which was entirely the responsibility of J.C. Macdonald (MacDonald in the History of The Times), the long-serving Manager. It was Macdonald who controlled the means of securing overseas news reports and – fatally both for The Times and for Macdonald himself – who took the decision to purchase the forged Pigott letters. History of the The Times, iii, chs 1 and 3, 781, 787-8.  Brown, Victorian News and Newspapers, 90  also cited Macdonald's role in the acquisition of the forged letters as evidence of his authority. For consistency, I follow the History of The Times in using capital letters for their job titles in this endnote, but not elsewhere. Macdonald, who died in 1889, was from Glencoe, presumably a descendant of those who survived the infamous Massacre of 1693.

[59] Grant, The Newspaper Press: its Origin, Progress and Present Position, ii, 36.  The atmosphere of silence, also noted by Harper's, was conducive to an individual act of sabotage, since employees presumably did not enquire into each others' activities.  

[60] Delane was seriously ill for the last 2 years of his tenure. Despite his determination to battle on, it is possible that some management issues were not confronted. A.I. Dasent, John Thadeus Delane... (2 vols, London, 1908), ii, 323-37.

[61] The Times, 27 May 1880.

[62] The first telephone had been patented by the Scots-Canadian Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The Times adopted an improved version with a loudspeaker developed by Thomas Alva Edison in 1878.

[63] The statement in History of The Times, ii, 450 that "compositors in The Times office had long since been accustomed by the Continental private lines to taking down from dictation" is an obvious absurdity, based on a misreading of the 27  May 1880 article which stated that it had "for some time been the custom to transmit the foreign intelligence from Paris, Vienna and Berlin to this office by means of Hughes's printing telegraph, and to dictate the contents of the telegraph slip to a compositor at the machine". Taking dictation from a colleague sitting at your side was a wholly different and far less demanding task than dealing with communication by means of a new invention. The Hughes telegraph was an early form of teleprinter which transferred text direct on to a paper tape.

[64] Here is a longer account of the new system of telephone reporting, from The Times, 27 May 1880, text reprinted Melbourne Age, 30 July 1880: "the telephone was brought into actual operation as a means of verbal communication between distant points; and the conductors of this journal, having obtained permission from the Metropolitan Board of Works to lay down the necessary wire in the subway of the [E]mbankment, formed a new connection between the House of Commons and the office and placed one of Edison's loud speaking telephones at either end. The immediate result of this arrangement has been to bring the compositor at the machine into direct communication with the parliamentary reporter at the House, and to enable the debate to be reported and printed from half to three-quarters of an hour later than had previously been possible. The notes made by the reporter can be read directly into the telephone receiver in a room adjoining the gallery, either by the reporter himself when relieved or by another person employed for the purpose; and the compositor, at his machine in the office, sits with his ears in juxtaposition with the other terminal of the instrument. The plan which has been found the most efficacious for the purpose of shutting out distracting sounds of other kinds is to place the disc of the telephone above and behind the compositor, and then to arrange two tubes, each with two trumpet-shaped extremities, in such a manner that these extremities are applied at one end to the two sides of the telephone disc and at the other end to the two ears of the compositor. The compositor is also furnished with a speaking instrument, with a key for ringing a bell, and with a bell which is rung from the House; a simple code of bell signals, consisting of one, two, or three strokes, sufficing for the ordinary requirements of each message. The compositor announces by the bell that he is ready, receives a sentence, strikes the bell to indicate that he understands it, sets up the type with his machine, strikes the bell again for the reader to continue his dictation, and so on until the work is carried as far as time will allow. If there is any doubt or difficulty about the word a bell signal will cause them [sic] to be repeated, or explanations can be sought and received by direct vocal communication. In this power, indeed, resides one of the chief advantages of the method, and one which ought to lead to greater accuracy than has ever previously been attainable. The names of people, places, &c., can be spelt out letter by letter if there is any doubt about them. Telephonic reporting is as yet only in its infancy, and the present mechanical and personal arrangements will no doubt be modified in many respects. Enough has been done, however, to show the complete practicability of the method, which seems to hold out great possibilities of further development. There are certain impediments still in the way, arising from the difficulty of protecting the telephone wires against the disturbances caused by induced currents, and also from the effect of certain kinds of vibration in confusing or overpowering the transmitted sounds; but these are matters of detail, which either are, or, certainly soon shall be, in a fair way to be overcome. A difficulty of another kind arose from the action of the Post Office, which, in the interests of its real or supposed monopoly, at first placed every possible hindrance in the way of the application of the telephone to reporting purposes. This opposition, however, could not be sustained; and it will not be surprising if before long the direct communication between the reporter and the compositor, by which even now we are able materially to extend the time available for reporting in the House, should be rendered equally applicable to speeches delivered in every part of the kingdom."

[65] This paragraph is based on Standard, 28 January; 12 February 1881; Reynolds's Newspaper, 30 January; The Times, 28 January, 9, 12 February 1881. To its credit, The Times reported the case in detail.

[66] The case came before Sir Andrew Lusk, a Scot and City alderman. Although a Liberal MP (and for a London constituency, Finsbury), he was a successful banker who was unlikely to be sympathetic to assertive workmen. Usher claimed to have earned £4, 10 shillings a week, equal to £225 for a 50-week year. This may be compared with an 1879 report that compositors in "a leading house" earned £103 a year; in 1882, the trade unionist George Potter reckoned that printers and compositors averaged 30 to 35 shillings a week (£75 to £87.10 shillings for a 50-week year): The Times, 6 January 1879, 21 October 1882. Answering for The Times in court was Francis Goodlake, who held the official title of Printer and was named as formally responsible for the publication of each issue. His appointment in 1853 is briefly noted in History of The Times, ii, 492, but it is difficult to define his precise role. Ill health drove him to retire in 1882, at the relatively early age of 60, a further indication of insecure management at the time of the Harcourt interpolation, an episode that may have hastened his departure. The Times, 15 April 1890.

[67] Globe (Toronto), 30 January; Freeman's Journal (Dublin), 25 January; Derby Evening Telegraph, 28 January 1882.

[68] York Herald, 2 February 1882. P. Brown, "Who will the journalists blame now?", The Times, 29 September 1992 named the man dismissed as G. Price. I am unable to verify this, but Brown no doubt had access to The Times archives. However, it has proved impossible to identify a G. Price, compositor or printer, living in London at the time of the 1881 census.  

[69] History of the Times, ii, 348. No mention is made of fining printers. The system of fines for proof-readers was abandoned in 1906.

[70] One minor mystery concerning the interpolation is that the insertion the rogue 12-word statement must have required the removal of a similar tag (of exactly the same length in ems, the printer's measurement), since print was tightly packed in the columns of The Times. It would require close comparative scrutiny to establish whether this happened.

[71] Victoria (British Columbia) Daily Colonist, 18 April 1882. The notice in The Times of 21 February also appeared in the Morning Post the following day, but this may have been mere copying. Canada's transcontinental railway began operations in 1886. In 1882, overland communications within the Dominion were restricted, and Vancouver Island relied upon the UnSy# for contact with the outer world. I have not traced the report in any American newspaper. Perhaps to avoid any possible legal consequences, the Daily Colonist report stated that "[t]his time the proof reader must bear the blame". However, a search of contemporary census records has not discovered any Albert Edwards who might plausibly have rented 27 Park Lane (information kindly supplied by Gail Wood). Early in her married life, Lillie Langtry had briefly lived at 17 Norfolk Street (now Dunraven Street), off Park Lane: a blue plaque marks the house today, but in honour of a later resident, P.G. Wodehouse. I have not traced the tenant of 27 Park Lane in 1882, but Mrs Langtry had recently launched into a theatre career and may have needed a flamboyant address. T. Aronson, "Langtry, Lillie [née Emilie Charlotte Le Breton] (1853–1929)" and H.C.G. Matthew, "Edward VII (1841–1910)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, provide overviews of recent studies; P. Magnus, King Edward the Seventh (London, 1964), 153-4, 172-3 outlines the Prince's relationship with Mrs Langtry. Although they had ceased to be lovers, he ostentatiously attended her stage performances on 28 January and 13 February 1882, no doubt sparking speculation about their relationship. L. Langtry, The Days I Knew (London, 1925), 141-2 describes the Norfolk Street house as a "pied-à-terre": it has five storeys plus a basement. For General Macdonald and 27 Park Lane: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol40/pt2/pp264-289#h3-0007.

[72] It is difficult to imagine what any newspaper could do to safeguard itself against such spoof advertisements. The point of announcing births and deaths in the national press was to make the information known quickly, often within 24 hours of the event. In the circumstances, newspapers had little option but to rely upon the bona fides of the advertisers. For instance, it would have been impractical to demand a birth certificate, since formal registration was often delayed, while parents and families agreed upon the child's name. Announcements of births, marriages and deaths provided all newspapers with a substantial source of income.

[73] Vincent, ed., The Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby … between 1878 and 1893, 636-7 (17 February 1884).  Derby regarded the Daily News and the Standard as better written, but thought the Daily Telegraph was better informed. A thoughtful correspondent of the South Australian Register (1 April 1884) defended Chenery's editorship, but conceded that "the Times under his management did not always gauge public opinion, or exhibit that prescience which should distinguish a journal of the highest class".

[74] Globe (Toronto), 30 January 1882. The same report appeared in American papers (e.g., in Nevada, Eureka Daily Sentinel, 31 January 1882), and was presumably supplied by a news agency.

[75] R.E.N. Twopeny, Town Life in Australia (London, 1883), 222. Twopeny likened the Melbourne Argus to the Leeds Mercury or Manchester Guardian.

[76] e.g. Burrowa News, 14 April 1882.