TOUCHSTONE: A FORGOTTEN THEATRICAL NEWSPAPER.
Chatterton was not an actor manager, like Charles Kean or Henry Irving, nor was he a playwright manager like the George Colmans, father and son: he was a manager pure and simple. He wanted to stage plays, not write or star in them. One of the characteristics of his managerial style was the extensive use of newspaper advertising to promote shows. All West End theatres inserted the details of that night's performance in the theatre listings of The Times and other papers, but The Times also ran classified advertisements above or beside the listings which managers could use to give additional details of their offerings. Chatterton realised that these classified advertisements could give his product the edge over that of his rivals and he used them to a greater extent than other managers.
Like other managers, Chatterton regarded dramatic criticism as essentially a free form of advertising. If newspapers published hostile reviews he would threaten to withdraw his advertising and try get the offending critic sacked. Although this would be regarded as completely inappropriate and counterproductive behaviour today, it was not unusual at the time.
As editors became less willing to succumb to this bullying behaviour, the fightback on behalf of free and fair criticism was led by Clement Scott, who worked as dramatic critic on a number of papers and would take over from E. L. Blanchard (the author of the Drury Lane pantomimes for twenty-seven years) as chief dramatic critic of The Daily Telegraph in 1879. Chatterton became so frustrated by his inability to control reviews that he resorted to the somewhat desperate tactic of starting his own newspaper. It was called Touchstone or The New Era. Realising that a good review in Touchstone would be worthless if he were known to be its proprietor, Chatterton kept uncharacteristically quiet about this venture and never openly admitted that he was the proprietor, pretending that Edgar Ray, the editor, was the proprietor. Touchstone was so unsuccessful that it has virtually disappeared from the historical record and the only reference to it that I have been able to find occurred in Clement Scott's autobiography The Drama of Yesterday and Today:
Disappointed at his want of success with his Shakespeare ventures, F. B. Chatterton started a twopenny satirical paper, called Touchstone, which was edited by George Augustus Sala. The publication died an early, and, I think, a deserved death. (Scott 1:190-91)
Scott was writing his memoirs more than twenty years after the demise of Touchstone and more than a decade after Chatterton's death. He loathed Chatterton, who had tried to get him sacked from two jobs for writing unfavourable reviews (Scott 1: 477-8, 543-4; 2: 471), and was consistently unfair to Chatterton throughout his book. In fact, Touchstone was not a satirical paper (at least not while Chatterton owned it) and Sala was never the editor (although he did write some articles for it). But Scott was right on the main point: Touchstone was a short-lived failure.
The first issue announced that "our great National Institution and Teacher--the Drama--is awakening to the dawn of a NEW ERA, under which its position will be properly recognized, its mission understood, and its claims admitted" (7 Apr. 1877, 12). The capitalisation of "NEW ERA" makes it clear that Chatterton saw his publication as a direct rival to Edward Ledger's Tlie Era which had been the recognised journal of the theatrical profession since 1838. It certainly covered the same ground, majoring on news and features about the theatre, reviews and listings of all London productions and many provincial ones, reports from Paris, New York and other foreign stages, plus theatrical advertising. It contained some political coverage and general news as well as sport (horse-racing and athletics but not football) and a section devoted to news about Freemasonry. Just to rub the point in, when the first issue appeared on 7 April 1877 it carried advertisements which had been copied, word-for-word, from The Era without contacting the advertisers ("'Touchstone' and the 'Era'", Touchstone 5 May 1877, 12 and supplement).
In spite of the overlap in content, Touchstone was produced to a higher standard than The Era. The page size was slightly smaller, but there were more pages--twenty-four compared with Vie Era's twenty. The typeface was larger and the page was set in two columns instead of four. It was advertised as being illustrated, which meant that each issue had a pictorial cover and contained a full-page cartoon, usually on some topic related to the arts. It was initially priced at sixpence, compared with five pence for The Era.
The first issue appeared on 7 April 1877 and included a mission statement addressed to those members of the public who were "heartily sick of that indiscriminate abuse of every play and every actor, not directly connected with the particular clique to which the writer may happen to belong". Nor would Touchstone indulge in indiscriminate praise, but would rather steer a middle course, covering all types of productions but showing a preference for "the poetic drama", inviting readers to weep with Cordelia from Shakespeare's King Lear and laugh with Beatrice from his Much Ado About Nothing. There would be no green-room gossip or lurid tales about actors' private lives. The paper took its name from Touchstone in Shakespeare's As You Like It and used his line "Thus men may grow wiser every day" as its motto on the masthead.
This manifesto resonates with the authentic voice of its author, especially in the reference to cliques who abused everyone outside their own circle. Chatterton was always inclined to attribute bad reviews of his shows to unworthy motives, and in spite of the assurance that indiscriminate praise would be avoided, it is hard to think of any other way of describing the reviews of productions at Drury Lane, the Adelphi and the Princess's (Chatterton's three theatres) that appeared in Touchstone. Not only were they unqualified in their praise, they were also longer than the reviews of other managers' productions. A review of the 1876-77 season at Drury Lane described it as "a more than usually successful season" in which the main autumn drama of Shakespeare's Richard III had achieved a run of over 60 performances, the longest run of the play at Drury Lane (14 Apr 1877, 4). In fact, Richard III had been a critical and commercial failure that inaugurated a series of costly autumn flops that would lead to Chatterton's bankruptcy two years later.
On Saturday 28 April, three weeks after the appearance of the first issue, the editor of Touchstone found himself in court to hear an application for an injunction from Edward Ledger, proprietor of The Era, to prevent the use of the words 'Touchstone' and 'The New Era' as the title and subtitle of his publication. Ledger maintained that there was a deliberate attempt to persuade people to buy Touchstone under the impression that they were buying The Era. "Touchstone" was the name of the racing correspondent for The Era, and not used in any other paper. "The New Era" might be taken to mean that it was a revised version of the "old" Era. Ledger also complained about the way in which advertisements had been copied from The Era to Touchstone. Opposing the injunction, Edgar Ray described himself as the "absolute proprietor" and editor of Touchstone. He had spent some time in Australia and had returned to Britain two years previously. He admitted that he had never been the proprietor of a paper in Britain before. He said that Touchstone was named after the character in As You Like It and that no one could own the word "era" which was in common usage.
The court found in favour of Ledger and granted the injunction. The ruling was appealed and the injunction was overturned on the following Thursday. When Touchstone appeared on Saturday 5 May it carried a triumphalist account of the proceedings, saying that the last thing the editor wanted was for anyone to confuse Touchstone with The Era as Touchstone was "better written, better printed, and better illustrated" than its older rival ("'Touchstone' and the 'Era'", Touchstone 5 May 1877, 12 and supplement). There was no reference to the case in The Era which pursued a policy of never referring to Touchstone at all.
The skilful way in which the injunction was overturned in days was a trademark technique of Chatterton's, a lifelong litigant who prided himself on his expert navigation of the court system. He had paid for his younger brother Horace to be trained as a lawyer so he always had free legal advice within the family (Coleman 2: 336). Only two months before, Chatterton had fought off an injunction to stop him from staging Henry Spicer's melodrama Haska at Drury Lane on the grounds that another manager already held the rights. The application for an injunction was made on a Thursday, granted on Friday morning, appealed on Friday afternoon and overturned on Saturday morning, in time for the play to open as announced that night (The Era 11 March 1877, 7; Touchstone 14 April 1877, 4).
Given his combative nature, it was inevitable that Chatterton would use Touchstone to promote those he wanted to promote, such as his daughter Mary making her first appearances as a harpist, and to undermine those who challenged him, such as Henry Irving, whose "authentic" Richard III using Shakespeare's text was supposedly far superior to Chatterton's production of the previous year which had used Colley Cibber's adapted text (23 June 1877, 8; 30 June 1877, 11; 19 May 1877, 3-4; 2 June 1877, 7). Chatterton was also able to use Touchstone to wage an increasingly bitter campaign to save the Royal Dramatic College.
This theatrical charity had been set up in 1858 by Charles Kean, not as an educational institution (as its name might suggest) but as a set of almshouses for old and destitute actors. Prince Albert became the patron and in 1860 laid the foundation stone for twelve almshouses to accommodate twenty-four pensioners in Maybury, outside Woking. Kean had expected the theatrical profession to support the College by giving benefit performances and making donations but this didn't happen to the extent that he hoped (2 June 1877, 3-4). There were already several well established theatrical charities, notably the Royal General Theatrical Fund, but whereas that was a friendly society, to which members contributed and from which they were entitled to draw benefits, the Royal Dramatic College catered for those who had never been able to contribute to any fund. It depended entirely on charitable donations and fundraising activities, which were insufficient to support the scale of its operations. There was also a feeling that it was in the wrong place. It was described by John Hollingshead as
"that charitable abortion" for which actors were expected to work for nothing so that "a few needy actors--the most town-loving creatures on earth--should be transported to a Tudoresque prison near a Surrey cemetery" (Hollingshead 1:119).
Chatterton was asked to join the Royal Dramatic College's management committee in 1871, probably by Benjamin Webster who took over as Master after the death of Kean in 1868 (Touchstone "To the Public" 11 Aug. 1877, 2). Chatterton became Deputy Master and accepted the challenge of turning the situation around. In spite of the fact that he was in serious financial difficulties himself by the late 1870s, he put money into the College to keep it afloat. However, in February 1877 the council were told that there were no funds to pay the pensions for the next month. In May, Chatterton chaired a meeting of the council at which it was decided to close the College formally at a meeting of subscribers to be held at the Adelphi Theatre (where Chatterton was the manager) on 5 June. Determined to keep the College open, Chatterton published a leading article in Touchstone on 2 June (3-4) attacking those who were undermining the College's position and insisting that it was not too late to carry out the original plan if only members of the profession would be more generous and would stop their backbiting. Those attending the meeting in June were urged to vote against the proposal to close the College.
Chatterton got his way by effectively hijacking the meeting. Edgar Ray, the editor and supposed proprietor of Touchstone, proposed an amendment that the College should be kept open. The amendment was passed, but in its report of the meeting The Era revealed that Ray had become subscriber to the College only twenty-four hours before the meeting (10 June 1877, 6). (2)
The clear implication was that Ray had been Chatterton's stooge to subvert the decision of the council. The situation deteriorated even further when it was discovered that a sub-group on the council, led by Chatterton and Webster, had paid some of the College's running costs from a trust fund established under the terms of the will of the actor T. R Cooke to provide prize-money for a playwriting competition. Several members of the Council, including Edward Ledger, editor of The Era, resigned in protest (The Era, 1 July 1877, 5).
Chatterton was furious. On 17 July an extraordinary open meeting was held on the stage of Drury Lane to discuss the affairs of the College, but when Chatterton spotted the representative of The Era in the audience he roundly abused him and expelled him from the meeting. The unfortunate journalist then received a letter from Chatterton's solicitor (his younger brother Horace) threatening him with prosecution for intrusion, while Edward Ledger also received a letter asking him for the address at which papers could be served on him in respect of "various statements made ... reflecting upon my client Mr F. B. Chatterton" (The Era 22 Jul 77, 5). Chatterton cancelled all advertising in The Era for theatres under his control and kept this ban in place until the end of the year. (3)
On 5 August The Era published a letter signed by members of the profession opposing the use of "discreditable means" to raise funds (meaning the raiding of the Cooke trust fund) and saying that it was time to close the Royal Dramatic College. A note to the letter, which carried 111 signatures, explained that these had been gathered in a few days from members of the profession in London: those in the provinces were asked to send in their names if they supported the views expressed. On 12 August the letter was reprinted with 214 signatures and again on 9 September with 432. These signatories included many 'star' names and leading managers. The impression was created that Chatterton had set himself up in defiance of virtually the entire profession "with the exception of those owing allegiance to Mr Chatterton" (The World 8 Aug. 1877, 10) by adopting a stubborn and violently confrontational position on a failed charity. (4)
The impression that the College had become a personal obsession, only supported by "those owing allegiance" to Chatterton, was confirmed by the new list of council members published in Touchstone on 4 August (3). Most of its members were on Chatterton's payroll: several members of his acting company, Edward Stirling, his stage manager and Edgar Ray, the editor of Touchstone.
Reports concerning the Royal Dramatic College came thick and fast from May to August 1877, including a full-page letter to the public signed by Chatterton abusing Vie Era (Touchstone 11 Aug. 1877, 2). Nevertheless, the issue of 17 November 1877 (12) carried the announcement that the College was to be closed. Chatterton had failed in his objective and he had made Touchstone look ridiculous as the mouthpiece of an increasingly paranoid campaign. When the Lord Mayor held a meeting at the Mansion House to support the College on 16 July, the actor Sam Emery (working for Chatterton at the Adelphi) announced that: "I, for one, shall not, at the proper time, fear to state who are our friends and who are our enemies" (Touchstone 21 July 1877, 6). More importantly, Chatterton had been devoting time and energy to this charitable lost cause when he should have been thinking about the forthcoming season at Drury Lane. He had been planning to open the new season with a "grand realistic drama of London life", but on 21 July 1877 there was a full-page advertisement in Touchstone (2) announcing another in his series of stage versions of Sir Walter Scott's novels: Peveril of the Peak, adapted by W. G. Wills as England in the Days of Charles the Second. (5) There were so many complaints about the length of the title it was contracted to England. It would prove to be the biggest disaster of Chatterton's career so far, and part of the explanation must be that he had allowed himself to become distracted by a feud conducted though the columns of Touchstone.
The full-page announcement for England in the 21 July 1877 issue invited actors seeking employment to write to Chatterton care of the Touchstone office address, rather than using the stage door at Drury Lane, so by this time Chatterton had given up the pretence that he did not own Touchstone. On 29 September (3-4) there was a review of England that, to no one's surprise, was full of unqualified praise, describing it as "produced with perfect success". Given that other reviews varied from lukewarm to damning, this was of limited value when it was generally known by this time that Chatterton owned the paper.
The standard of the journalism in Touchstone was not high and the paper gave the impression of being written by people who were not professional journalists. In common with the accepted practice of the time, articles were unsigned, but we can hazard a guess as to some of the contributors. Chatterton rarely wrote anything for publication. He was keenly aware of his lack of formal education and preferred to use ghost-writers, mainly his younger brother Horace and Charles Lamb Kenney (Coleman 2:336-7). Kenney, the son of playwright James Kenney, was a toiler in the vineyard of literature in various capacities, none of them very successful. He was Chatterton's 'literary adviser' ('publicist' would be a better word) throughout Chatterton's Drury Lane management and wrote the various prospectuses and mission statements that Chatterton was so fond of issuing. Kenney's long tenure--unusual at Drury Lane given Chatterton's famously volcanic temper--was probably owing to the fact that he perfected the knack of reproducing in literate prose Chatterton's belligerent tone, garlanded with a few classical allusions and arch circumlocutions. Several of the Touchstone articles, particularly those surrounding the Royal Dramatic College controversy, bear his stamp. Other articles, particularly the weekly leaders called "The Stage", consist of such airy generalisations as to suggest they were written by someone--probably Edgar Ray--with no background in the theatre.
It seemed a step in the right direction, therefore, when Touchstone announced in November 1877 the publication of a series of articles by George Augustus Sala on "The Stage, Past, Present and Coming". It must have been these articles that led Clement Scott to assume that Sala was the editor of Touchstone, although he had nothing else to do with it. Sala was one of the most successful journalists of the day, able to charge top rates of 10 [pounds sterling], 15 [pounds sterling] or 20 [pounds sterling] depending on the length of the article (equivalent to 1000 [pounds sterling] to 2000 [pounds sterling] today) (Edwards 139). He had a reputation for being able to produce articles at short notice on a wide variety of subjects, and he was credited with playing a major part in the success of The Daily Telegraph. However Sala was notoriously improvident. He earned large sums but spent them before he had them. He was always asking for advances on articles and found himself committed to delivering more than he could reasonably manage. He would then fill up his allocated space with what his journalistic colleague Percy Fitzgerald described as "disquisitions, recollections, anecdotes, sarcasms ... rambling speculations about nothing" (Fitzgerald, 255-6). His articles for Touchstone come under that heading, mainly consisting of disconnected anecdotes about actors and singers long dead. His only original anecdotes were of William Charles Macready whom Sala had been able to observe when he spent eighteen months working backstage at the Princess's Theatre in 1847-48. He regarded Macready as the greatest Shakespearean actor he had ever seen and admitted that he was irreproachable in his private life. However, Macready was a cold, frightening bully towards those he worked with. He was the most blasphemous and foul-mouthed man Sala had ever met and used to pinch and punch anyone acting opposite him in order to get them to "rise" to him. "We may reverence a man's talent, but we do not want him to bruise us black and blue" (Touchstone 15 Dec. and 22 Dec. 1877, 3-4).
Sala began his ninth article (out of ten) by saying that people had been reminding him that his articles were meant to be about the stage past, present and to come, but he had so far only told stories about people who died long ago (Touchstone 5 Jan. 1878, 3-4). He would therefore now address himself to comparing the stage of 1852, which he gave as the date when he ceased to have any involvement with it, with that of the present day. He looked at the Times listings for a day in 1852, counted the number of theatres and noted that there were now more of them. Did this increased number of theatres indicate dramatic prosperity? "I must leave it to those who are better qualified than I am to answer the question". Sala had managed to fill up his page-and-a-half without expressing an opinion or telling readers anything they didn't already know.
In the last article in the series, published on 12 January 1878, Sala looked into the future and predicted that in twenty-five years' time (1903) Henry Irving would be running Covent Garden and the Bancrofts (Squire and Marie) would be in the Lyceum. After making predictions--some of a facetious nature --for other theatres, he turned his attention to Drury Lane. In 1903 this would be "a National Theatre worthy of the nation, supported and endowed by the State to an extent which shall secure the Lessee against pecuniary loss ... to produce in the course of every year a certain number of what are termed legitimate dramas, old and new". Struggling to stay afloat after two unsuccessful seasons, Chatterton must have wanted that prophecy to come true sooner rather than later.
By the end of 1877, and after only nine months of publication, Touchstone had been through some significant changes. The cover price had come down from sixpence to fourpence to twopence in an attempt to boost circulation. To cut costs, the pictorial cover and the full-page cartoons had been dropped; the number of pages cut from twenty-four to twenty to sixteen; and the text reduced in size and set in three columns instead of two. It had lost the original de luxe look which was supposed to set it apart from The Era.
However for the 1877 Christmas Number (22 Dec.) there was an attempt to regain some of the lost glamour. The number of pages went up to twenty and there was a three-page, gateleg-fold cartoon by Charles Lascelles illustrating Sala's series of articles on the past, present and future stage. The past was represented by David Garrick and Sarah Siddons gazing in horror on the present, represented by light comedies such as H. J. Byron's Our Boys which was enjoying a four-year run at the Vaudeville, the operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and pantomimes. The stage of the future is represented by figures of supposedly high culture including actors Henry Irving and Samuel Phelps, the playwright Dion Boucicault, the tenor Sims Reeves, the conductor Julius Benedict and Chatterton's partner in the management of the Adelphi and the Princess's, Benjamin Webster. They are standing on the steps of the Temple of the English Drama and National English Opera. Chatterton is not included, perhaps because it would have been too obviously vain, given that his ownership of Touchstone was now an open secret. Shakespeare indicates the trash these heroes are trampling underfoot: travesty, opera bouffe and extravaganza.
In April 1878 the price of Touchstone went up by one penny to threepence and the paper introduced a new and attractive feature: The Touchstone Portrait Gallery of Living Art Celebrities. Each issue would contain a high-quality black-and-white lithographic portrait of a famous theatrical personage, printed on thick cream paper and suitable for framing, accompanied by several hundred words of adulatory text. Detachable works of art were popular features of late Victorian publications, pioneered by the hugely successful Illustrated London News. However, to cover the cost of such an attractive bonus feature at the low cover price of threepence, Chatterton would have needed a very large circulation, which he lacked. The Era, Touchstone's long established rival, never ventured into the field of detachable artworks.
The first of the Living Art Celebrities was Adelaide Neilson and the second was Henry Irving. The flattering images and even more flattering text would have been welcomed by the subjects of these profiles. They were--initially at least--uncontroversial, like modern fanzine profiles. However, Chatterton soon succumbed to the temptation to use this feature of Touchstone to promote his own productions and--equally gratifying to a man of his argumentative disposition--to settle scores. The Art Celebrity profiled on 27 July 1878 (3-4) was Samuel Phelps, for whom the praise was extreme, even by the standards of the feature. "Whoever may take upon himself at any time to write a history of the English stage will have some difficulty (if, indeed, he do not find it utterly impossible) to mention the name of any theatrical manager whose reign has endured longer, been more prosperous, and proved of greater service to the true interests of the drama" (3). Phelps was hailed as the successor to Macready and the writer prayed that he would live for many more years to enjoy the honour and respect that was his due. Chatterton certainly hoped so, as his autumn drama at Drury Lane was to be Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale with Phelps as Leontes. In fact, ill health would prevent this and Phelps died in November. The writer of the profile (almost certainly Charles Lamb Kenney) also took the opportunity to mention that Phelps had presented Shakespeare's original text of Richard III during his management of Sadler's Wells "so that claims to this honour that have been made subsequently will have to be modified" and then went on to say that Phelps's Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and his King in Dion Boucicault's adaptation of Casimir Delavigne's Louis XI were "superior to any who have risen into fame of late years". This was an obvious insult to Henry Irving who was popular in both parts and shows the extent to which Chatterton was still smarting from the way in which his previous year's Richard III had been ridiculed for using Colley Cibber's version of the text while Irving had enjoyed a commercial and critical triumph with his original-text production shortly afterwards.
The Art Celebrity for 28 September was Charles Dillon, opening that night at Drury Lane as Leontes in The Winter's Tale following Samuel Phelps's withdrawal. The lithographic portrait was wildly flattering, showing Dillon as a handsome, youngish, man, instead of the broken-down debauchee he had become. The adulatory and optimistic text concluded that: "we have no hesitation in assuming that it will be our duty next week, as it will be an undoubted pleasure, to note for him a further, and it may be a marked, success in a character he has never before essayed" (3).
True to its word, Touchstone did indeed publish a review of The Winter's Tale in the following week's issue in which Dillon was acclaimed for his fine performance (5 Oct. 1878, 4), but it was out of step with every other review. Henry Labouchere's paper Truth said that Dillon was "termed 'an actor of the old school', which seems to be a school of emphasis, exaggeration, and laboured mediocrity" (10 Oct. 1878, 409). Chatterton tried to shore up the production by making Ellen Wallis, who was playing Hermione, the subject of that week's flattering Art Celebrity profile, but she came in for a worse drubbing from the critics than Dillon, described as "most unsatisfactory ... stagey without being artistic ... as ignorant of the meaning of what she is saying as a poll-parrot ... a worse Hermione it is difficult to conceive' (The World 2 Oct. 1878, 9; The Illustrated London News 5 Oct. 1878, 330; Truth 10 Oct. 1878, 409). The best part of her performance was said to be her impersonation of the statue--no need to speak (Truth 10 Oct. 1878, 409). The production was withdrawn after only thirty-three performances.
The issue of Touchstone for 5 October 1878 was the last to appear under Chatterton's ownership. His financial position was deteriorating rapidly and he needed to realise some assets, or at least stem his losses, so he disposed of Touchstone to Frederick de Burriatte. The edition of 12 October retained Touchstone as the title but dropped the sub-title of The New Era. It was now Touchstone: Artistic, Literary and Social Review. The inclusion of a reference to the Era in the original title had been intended, whatever Edgar Ray had told the court when Edward Ledger was seeking an injunction, to associate Touchstone with the theatre. Dropping The Neio Era now indicated that the paper might not be so exclusively interested in the world of the theatre from now on.
For the first few weeks after the change of ownership, things continued much as before. Although he was no longer the proprietor, Chatterton continued to receive praise for his final, disastrous Shakespeare season at Drury Lane. "Altogether, this, our now really national theatre, never put on a more alluring guise, and never presented anything more hopeful for the stage" (Touchstone 2 Nov. 1878, 3-4). However, the same issue carried an innocuous-sounding announcement that would usher in a change of direction: from now on, the Touchstone Portrait Gallery would include "those who act on the stage of the world".
Most readers would have assumed that this was nothing more than the inclusion of celebrities from other walks of life in the same format. The next subject turned out to be Henry Labouchere, Liberal MP and proprietor and editor of the weekly paper Truth, whose profile was illustrated by the expected full-page, high-quality lithographic portrait. That was the only point of resemblance to previous profiles, as the text ran to two full pages of astonishingly vitriolic abuse. The writer began by saying that a journal like Touchstone which profiled well-known people could not confine its attentions to the most admirable actors on the world's stage: it was necessary to expose the fraudulent and the shameless in order to warn society against their depredations. "To nail a rabbit-sucking weasel, or a pigeon-slaying hawk, against a barn door, is no proof of Famer Giles's cruelty; but of his tenderness for the innocents in his charge". Labouchere is described as the co-founder of The World with Edmund Yates which: "established itself as a thriving organ for spicy scandal, and racy revelations, affecting a profound acquaintance with the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and supplying its weak-minded readers with 'tips' as to the most secret doings of the so-called fashionable world". According to this account, Labouchere and Yates fell out over their share of the spoils so Labouchere set up his own publication in rivalry called Truth. Labouchere specialised in exposing financial frauds, the piece claimed, so it would be simply incredible if such a person were found to be engaged in the very behaviour he was excoriating--but that was the case. It was reported that Labouchere had been on the board of three companies that lost enormous sums of shareholders' funds whilst enriching himself. The only explanation for this outrageous behaviour was the recipe given by Georges Danton for wordly success: "De I'audace! de I'audace! et encore de I'audace! Danton ended up on the guillotine; let's hope Labouchere meets the same end" (9 Nov. 1878, 3-4).
Just in case readers might have missed the point, the whole of page nine in the same issue was given over to an article headed "Truth Jobbing" that alleged corruption in the Fourth Estate, some members of which were suffering from foot and mouth disease and displaying "the dangerous, loathsome symptoms from which they suffer by depending for their entire nourishment on the daily scraps of meagre gossip and title-tattle" gathered from private dinner tables, private clubs and low taverns. Truth gave the impression of "an orgy at Earlswood Asylum--a chorus of tales told by a legion of idiots, signifying--less than nothing!" At the top of the page was an announcement that the subject of the next week's Portrait Gallery would be Edmund Yates, editor and proprietor of The World.
The publication day for Touchstone was Saturday but copies were available in London on Friday. Late in the afternoon of Friday 8 November, Edmund Yates burst into the Touchstone office (which was only a few doors from the office of The World in York Street) demanding to see the proprietor. Burriatte came out of his office and Yates told him to inform the editor that if he published such lies about him in "the thing" (he refused to regard Touchstone as a paper) as he had published about Labouchere, he (Yates) would come in with a big stick and break his back. Yates would not allow the sort of filthy things to be said about his family as Edgar Ray had written about Labouchere's parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Burriatte claimed that he had been brandishing his big stick when he came into the office making threats, but Yates denied it:
For the information of the curious in such matters, I may state that the defendant did not take "a big stick" with him to the office of "the thing". He had in his hand nothing more offensive than a copy of the "thing" in which the attack was published. (The World 28 Nov. 1878, 10)
Edgar Ray made a complaint of threatening behaviour against Yates and applied to have him bound over to keep the peace. The case was brought before a magistrate on Monday 18 November, with George Lewis appearing for Yates. Yates claimed that he had been acting in the heat of the moment and had no intention of carrying out his threat. He had not been defending himself but his parents and family of whom Ray, as an Australian, could know nothing. After reading a copy of the article handed to him by George Lewis, the magistrate said that the sooner this sort of thing ceased to be published, the better. Yates was bound over to keep the peace on his own recognisance of 10 [pounds sterling] plus a surety of 5 [pounds sterling] provided by another person, who turned out to be Labouchere (The Times 19 Nov 1878, 12; Reynold's Newspaper 24 Nov. 1878; Touchstone 23 Nov. 1878, 14).
Labouchere's response to the attack on him was one of amused disdain. In the next edition of Truth, he wrote of how, when waiting on a railway station platform, he had noticed a paper carrying a lithograph of a good-looking person who turned out, on closer inspection, to be himself. He felt that his looking glass must have been lying to him until he read the accompanying text, which bore so little resemblance to the facts of his life and his journal that he realised the illustration must be similarly unreliable. Heaven forbid that he should "hinder some poor wretch from earning a dishonest livelihood by romancing about me, my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather ... This is the price that, now-a-days, one has to pay for journalistic success". He couldn't help noticing that when the editors of other publications were facing ruin, they tried to attract attention by attacking Truth. This was usually the death-rattle of the attacking editor's publication:
This latest death-rattler was originally brought out by some persons connected with the theatre, to crash the Era, a journal which has been for long the recognized gazette of the dramatic profession. The endeavour failed, for no-one bought the "new organ", and only a few months ago a friend of mine told me that an attempt was being made to levy a contribution in order to give it one last chance. As the accounts showed that the circulation was comparatively nil, and the weekly loss considerable, I strongly dissuaded an investment in so forlorn a hope. (Truth 14 Nov. 1878, 545)
Labouchere's dismissal of Touchstone indicates that Chatterton has been trying to dispose of, or at least refinance, Touchstone over the summer months. A paragraph in The Examiner of 6 July 1878 indicates how he eventually managed to find a buyer for his loss-making publication:
It is rumoured that a vigilance committee has been formed among the members of several clubs for the purpose of repressing by energetic measures any slander concerning them or their relatives which may appear in any of the so-called society papers. They consider that one trans-Atlantic importation calls for the other, and that our personalities are not perfect without Judge Lynch to temper them.
It has not been possible to discover anything about Frederick de Burriatte beyond the action against Yates for breach of the peace. However, the most probable explanation for his advent as proprietor of Touchstone is that he was acting for this lynch mob of London clubmen who wanted to put a stop to "society journalism", of which Edmund Yates and Henry Labouchere were the principal exponents.
Edmund Yates was a successful journalist who pioneered what became known as "personal journalism", a way of writing articles in which the journalist figures as a personality in the narrative, even when the article is unsigned and even when a column might contain contributions from more than one person. The diary column is its modern manifestation. Yates's first column in this style was "The Lounger at the Clubs" which appeared in The Illustrated Times in 1855-1863 and which soon spawned "The Literary Lounger" and "The Theatrical Lounger" in the same paper. Yates was comfortably off but he realised that the way to become seriously rich was to start his own publication so that he would profit from the popularity of his columns. In 1874 he launched The World, which he edited himself, as a weekly journal specialising in society gossip, arts coverage and the exposure of City frauds. The most prominent feature of The World was Yates's column "What the World Says", written under the pseudonym of Atlas. It soon came to dominate the paper, running to five or six pages out of a total of eighteen available pages, excluding advertising.
One of the early members of Yates's team at The World was Henry Labouchere, who wrote the financial coverage. (He was not the co-founder and even Touchstone had to acknowledge that claim as a mistake.) His sensational exposes of fraudsters helped to push the circulation of The World to 20,000 (Edwards 143). He soon began to feel that, if there was so much interest in his articles, he should be the one to profit by them, so he left The World and launched Truth in 1877. Truth was dominated by his column "Entre Nous", based on "What the World Says", which came at the front of the paper and ran to eight or nine pages out of a total of 32 pages, including advertising. Truth soon achieved a circulation estimated at 30,000 copies (Hind 3). However, the influence of both "What the World Says" and "Entre Nous" went beyond their own readerships as newspapers around the country would reprint the juiciest paragraphs.
Compared with modern gossip columns, "What the World Says" and "Entre Nous" seem mild, often taking a flattering or at least a good-humoured attitude towards their subjects. Nevertheless, there was considerable concern about the way in which details of the private lives of people in public life were being published. According to the art-critic Harry Quilter, who endured years of ridicule as Whistler's "'Arry'" in the columns of The World, these columns resulted in "a general lowering of social feeling" and tended towards the destruction of "much of the pleasantness and trust of social intercourse". They encouraged people to breach confidences and spy on their acquaintances. Quilter was able to give an example from his own experience. When he applied for the vacant position of Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, a copy of his application found its way to Whistler who published extracts from it with derogatory comments in "What the World Says". "A more dishonourable breach of privilege was never effected than to take a confidential application, in which the writer gave specific information about himself, and use it for the purpose of ridiculing him in a public journal". Quilter could think of no remedy "unless one waits for the editor with a thick stick". He was clearly thinking of Yates's response to Touchstone (Quilter 406-10).
In September 1877 The Contemporary Review published a long and savage attack by Robert Buchanan on "The Newest Thing in Journalism" in which The World was held up as an example of everything that was vicious about the new publications. Buchanan described them as appealing to snobbery, envy and malice, convincing lower-class readers that their social superiors were really no better than they were. Yates was accused of celebrity-worship, mixing up popes and prime ministers with people from the world of light entertainment and trivialising everything by telling readers which chair they liked to sit in and whether they took sugar with their tea. Yates responded with an article in The World entitled "A Scrofulous Scotch Poet" (26 Sept. 77) of which the title gives a sufficiently accurate idea of its tone to make quotation superfluous. Both Buchanan's article and Yates's reply would have confirmed the fears of those who regretted the coarsening of public debate, but Yates felt confident in his success. He admitted that he was accused of publishing "garbage, American journalism [and] flunkydom" but he stated in July 1878 that his circulation figures allowed him to "laugh at the cuckoo-cry ... which comes from the hoarse throats of unsuccessful rivals or rejected contributors" (24 July 1878, 10). He wasn't laughing when his turn came, four months later.
The issue of Touchstone that carried the report of the proceedings against Yates for breach of the peace also carried the profile of him that had been held over from the issue of the week before. Yates and Labouchere were described as being in a class of their own as editors and proprietors. The higher a man rose in society, the more determined they became to spatter him with their filth. The World was "a disgrace to honourable journalism" (Touchstone 23 Nov. 1878, 4). However, there were none of the derogatory references to Yates's parents which he had feared, perhaps because his parents were both actors and his mother had many admirers.
Through five issues of Touchstone there was a plethora of articles abusing Yates and Labouchere (pilloried as "Truthful Tommy") that were both repetitive and intemperate. They gave the impression that Touchstone was the newsletter of a clique rather than a journal aimed at a general readership. After 7 December 1878 the new owners of Touchstone seemed to run out of steam: readers heard no more about the evils of society journalism and things reverted to normal. The celebrity profiles were once again paeans of praise, the only change being that some celebrities were drawn from "the world's stage" as well as the theatre: the Lord Chief Justice, the President of the Royal Academy, the First Lord of the Admiralty. One of the last theatrical celebrities to be profiled was Chatterton himself, on 1 March 1879, following the collapse of his management. In spite of the fact that he no longer owned Touchstone, the paper was always kind to him, praising his productions and then doing everything possible to promote the benefit and subscription organised for him after he had closed Drury Lane on 4 February and filed for bankruptcy on 13 February (The Times 14 Feb. 1879, 4). The profile praised Chatterton for his energy and his honesty. He had made a greater success of Drury Lane than any of his predecessors, hiring the best available talent to present the best plays. His failure was blamed on foreign wars and a domestic depression. There was no mention of problems in the Drury Lane productions of Chatterton's final seasons; the only cause of his downfall that was mentioned as being his own fault was the decision in 1870 to go into partnership with Benjamin Webster in running the Adelphi and the Princess's. "Indeed, we might almost go to the length of saying that but for his connection with these theatres, the catastrophe that has just overtaken him might have been averted" (Touchstone 1 Mar. 1879, 3).
The abuse of The Era in Touchstone (never mentioned by name but easily identifiable) became more extreme and focused on the fact that The Era covered music halls as well as theatres. Touchstone adopted the position that music halls were disreputable places and that members of the acting profession should therefore refrain from associating themselves with The Era, described as: "the chronicler of the flattest, smallest beer; the trumpet-blower of mendacious and meretricious rubbish, and the hocus-pocus exponent of everything that drags a noble profession down into the sticky, nasty mud of the meanest catchpenny showman's trade" (7 Dec. 1878, 4).
There were some more attempts at campaigning in Touchstone's final months, including a series of articles in February-April 1879 calling for a state-subsidised national theatre and drama school. Like most of the journalism in Touchstone, the tone of these articles was vague, dogmatic, repetitive and abusive--in this case of the upper classes who were uninterested in the drama and, on their rare visits to the theatre, brought "the odours of the billiardroom and the manners of the stable" into the stalls (Touchstone 8 Mar. 1879, 4). Even articles with titles such as "The Plan of a National Theatre!" (15 Mar. 1879, 10-11) and "The National Theatre Will Pay!" (12 Apr. 1879, 10) contained no concrete proposals or anything like an estimate of costs. Readers were assured, on the basis of no evidence, that houses would always be full, so only a "ridiculously small" subsidy would be required.
There was one last campaign, this time against the co-operative movement. Touchstone tried to form an Anti-Co-operative League to oppose co-operative stores that were offering "unfair" competition to local small traders (19 Apr. 1879, 9). There were particular objections to stores run by Crown servants such as the Civil Service Stores and the Army and Navy Stores. It was argued that people in the public sector should not be competing with private-sector entrepreneurs (10 May 1879, 9). This campaign was still running in the issue of 31 May 1879, which was the last to be published. The subject of the following week's Touchstone Picture Gallery was announced as A. MacDonald MP, but Mr MacDonald never had the pleasure of seeing himself immortalised in the pages of Touchstone, which closed without explanation after two years and 113 issues.
The short and unsuccessful life of Touchstone sheds light on two areas of concern in the 1870s. The first of these was the unwillingness of theatregoers to accept the manager's estimate of his own productions. Touchstone claimed to be fair, honest and impartial, but it was none of these things. Chatterton founded it because he was infuriated by bad reviews, particularly in 77ie Times when in 1875 Mowbray Morris took over as dramatic critic from John Oxenford (Whelan). Touchstone gave long and flattering reviews to all shows produced by Chatterton and was used by him to wage campaigns on his pet projects.
In its post-Chatterton phase, Touchstone highlights the anxieties that were being felt concerning society journalism, especially after the launch of The World (1874) and Truth (1877). These publications were said to be poisoning the wells of public debate and dissolving the glue of social cohesion. Edmund Yates had experienced early notoriety when in 1858, at the age of twenty-seven, he was expelled from the Garrick Club for writing a critical profile of William Makepeace Thackeray which Thackeray claimed could only have been based on observations made at the Club (Edwards 59-60). As editor of The World, Yates was encouraging readers to make anonymous reports of things said and done at private events. This was why the well-connected group of London clubmen were prepared to purchase Chatterton's loss-making publication to exact revenge.
The link between these two things is the dramatic criticism published in The World and Truth that was not only independent of managerial influence but brutally frank, very much in the style that was being pioneered by Mowbray Morris at The Times. Edmund Yates, who was the son of two famous actors and grew up in the manager's flat over the entrance to the Adelphi, had strong views about the theatre. He wrote the first dramatic criticisms to appear in The World himself (Edwards 143) and he announced in the very first issue that: "Managers of theatres are particularly requested to refuse gratuitous admission to their establishments to any persons professing to be representatives of this journal. When admittance is required it will be paid for" (The World 8 July 1874,16). This sort of fierce independence was alarming to managers of Chatterton's generation who had difficulty in adjusting to the loss of the control they had once been able to exercise over criticism. Chatterton was probably happy to sell Touchstone to Frederick de Burriatte and his confederates, knowing that it would be used to lash those who had made his life more difficult. Edmund Yates, in particular, was consistently hostile to Chatterton's management and The World was one of the very few papers not to sympathise with him in his downfall. The success of the society journals, and in particular of The World which made Yates a rich man, was a bellweather of a sea-change in dramatic criticism that would result in reviews that were less gratifying for managers but more informative for readers.
Robert Whelan is the author of The Other National Theatre: 350 Years of Shows in Drury Lane that was shortlisted for the 2013 Theatre Book Prize. His biography Shakespeare Spelt Ruin: The Life of Frederick Balsir Chatterton, Drury Lane's Last Bankrupt, will shortly be published.
(1) On 22 September 1865 Falconer applied to the Court of Chancery for an injunction to stop Chatterton from opening Drury Lane for the season and to nullify their partnership. Chatterton entered his defence and defeated Falconer's action. Chatterton then printed both Falconer's complaint and his answer in pamphlet form (Falconer v. Chatterton, Complaint and Answer). This contains the details of their arrangements at Drury Lane and Falconer's descent into alcoholism.
(2) According to Touchstone (9 June 1877, 8) the amendment was proposed by a Mr French and seconded by Ray; according to The Era it was the other way around. Both men had become subscribers the day before and had clearly planned their intervention together. Edgar Ray gave the opening address at a meeting held in the Mansion House to rally support for the College on 16 July, even though he admitted that he was new to the cause and knew very little about it. He spoke as "the originator of the amendment" ("Royal Dramatic College", Touchstone, 21 July 1877, 6).
(3) When Walter Gooch took over the lease of the Princess's Theatre from Chatterton in September 1877, advertisements for that theatre appeared in The Era again. However, there were no advertisements for Drury Lane or the Adelphi in The Era until 6 January 1878.
(4) The unedifying sequence of events was reported as follows (all dates 1877). The Era 25 February, 12; 10 June, 6; 1 July, 5; 22 July, 5; 29 July, 10; 5 August, 5 & 9; 12 August, 5; 9 September, 12. Touchstone 12 May, 8; 2 June 3-4; 9 June, 7; 28 July, 9; 4 August, 3; 11 August, 2 & 8.
(5) There were announcements in Touchstone on 7 and 14 July 1877 of the realistic drama to open on 15 September. The full-page announcement of England in the Days of Charles the Second to open on 22 September appeared in the issue for 21 July, although the same issue still included an announcement of the realistic drama opening on 15 September, so the decision must have been taken suddenly.
Buchanan, Robert Williams. "The Newest Thing in Journalism." The Contemporary Review, 30 (September 1877): 678-703.
Coleman, John. Players and Playwrights I Have Known. London: Chatto & Windus, 1888. 2 vols.
Edwards, P. D. Dickens's 'Young Men': George Augustus Sala, Edmund Yates and the World of Victorian Journalism. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997.
Falconer v. Chatterton, Complaint and Answer. London: Murray (printers), 1866. (The only known copy is in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Thr 465.20.140)
Fitzgerald, Percy. Memories of Charles Dickens. Bristol: Arrowsmith & London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co, 1913.
Hind, R. J. Henry Labouchere and the Empire, 1880--1905. London: Athlone Press, 1972.
Hollingshead, John. My Lifetime. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Company, 1895. 2 vols.
Quilter, Harry. Opinions on Men, Women & Tilings. London: Swann Sonneschein, 1909.
Scott, Clement. The Drama of Yesterday and Today. London: Macmillan, 1899. 2 vols.
Whelan, Robert. "Frederick Balsir Chatterton and the Critics." Theatre Notebook 71:2 (2017): 111-126.
Yates, Edmund. Edmund Yates: His Recollections and Experiences. London: Bentley, 1884. 2 vols.
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