W.T. Stead Journal Entry (September 25, 1888)

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W.T. Stead Journal Entry (September 25, 1888)

Quoted in J. W. Robertson Scott, The Life and Death of a Newspaper (1952) pp. 146-147

Before I learn my destiny, let me briefly set down how it all happened. When I went to Russia in the early summer of this year I went to do certain things. I did them all except see Herbert Bismarck. Never since I was in gaol had I two months of such exalted enjoyment, such constant consciousness of being led. For years I had been abused and misunderstood and ridiculed for my firm faith in the Russians. It was the one point on which I stood most alone. The result was that I was afforded opportunities no one else had, first, of pertaining the truth about Russian policy and, secondly, in obtaining a vantage ground in the confidence of the Tsar from which I could speak in favour of peace, liberty, justice and reform. I went with a consciousness that my visit had more to do with the internal affairs of Russia than her external. I saw the Emperor and most of his Ministers. I stayed with Tolstoy. I lived among the cleverest people in P’burg, and got, I think, a firm grip. I wrote my articles as I had never written anything since “The Maiden Tribute” I achieved a greater personal success in higher spheres than ever before. It was to me a great signpost. When I left P’burg I felt more confirmed in my ideas that I had been led and helped and was to be used of God. My great ideal of journalism seemed to come nearer realisation. I was proud and happy and full of pleasant thoughts.

I arrived at Queenborough not having heard from the office for a fortnight and expecting that the last of my articles would be appearing in that day’s Pall Mall. I had had a rough passage. I opened the paper on the platform and discovered to my horror and confusion that the letters were being printed feuilleton-wise across the bottom of the page in small type and in small snippets. The series was not half through. I felt a sinking of soul indescribable. Instantly I said to myself “Your work on the Pall Mall is done. You must now (i) go and edit the War Cry, (2) go to Russia to edit the Tsar’s paper or (3) edit a morning paper.[“] The calm ignoring of my express orders, the publication of my letters in a way which utterly spoilt them, and at the same time the structural alteration of the paper in such a way as to destroy the front page, which is to me the most important page, all showed that at the office they no longer cared for me or for my ideas, and that if they had their way they would leave them out altogether. I was awfully upset. I had been travelling continuously from P’burg, and was very weary and worn. Next day Hill and Stout both came and both were full of indignation at the way in which things were going. I resolved that I would put my foot down. If I had to go, well and good. If I had to stop I would be master in my own ship. So I decided on reprinting the letters, re-setting them, and making a splash to recoup the damaging effect of their first publication. That night I could not sleep, and got up at one o’clock and wrote the leader which appeared in the Pall Mall on Monday.

Then I got to the office. I found them quite unconscious of the mess they had made. When I told them what I was doing, it fell like a thunderbolt. Cook said nothing about the reprinting, but agreed in his usual curious, nonchalant way. When the proof of the leader came down he made no remarks. Mr. Thompson was then in Paris. He returned the next day. He was very indignant, said that I had insulted him, that I had destroyed his confidence in me, that he had more confidence in Cook than in me, and then harked back to the condition of the paper. Our stand regardingTrafalgar Square hit us in advertisements and also in circulation. The Star starting soon after also hit us. The result is that we are now down to the figure that we were before, with fewer advertisements. This is failure, I admit. From my proprietor’s point of view I have failed to make his paper a property. He has a right to send me away. He gave me notice from Oct. 1 and yesterday I got the letter saying that he wanted some serious conversation with me about it today.

In June my head exalted almost unto the stars, now abased to the depths. “God keep me humble”, my last words in leaving Russia, have been answered indeed. I have been humiliated. My whole future is overclouded. From the very pinnacle of success I have been hurled into the abyss of failure. And now I am utterly without resource. I am at Thompson’s mercy. I had hoped that God was about to open a door to my great morning paper. So far he has given no sign of any such intention. All doors seem closed. All that I see is that by Oct. 1 I have to finish my book, The Truth about Russia, and finish my term as editor. All my efforts to find new or even supplementary modes of support have failed. Outside the Pall Mall I do not seem able to earn a penny. Next year I shall be 40. If I am not a failure, if I am not useless as a journalist, O God, help me and keep me and give me might and courage and knowledge of Thy will.

The house fixes the scale of living. If I cannot earn £1200 I cannot live there. But I have bought the house and so far as I can see I am meant to live there. Then, if so, God will find the cash and provide me with the work necessary. Again, O God, unto Thee do I cry. Hear my voice. Keep my feet. Show me Thy will and help me to fear not. “Only be strong and of a good courage”.