An Offer of £100, 000 to my Readers

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An Offer of £100, 000 to my Readers

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. VIII, October, 1893, pp. 347-349

In the Christmas number of the REVIEW OF REVIEWS for 1893 (now in the press), I have sketched in somewhat fanciful and exaggerated outline the work which I believe could be done if a daily paper such as I have suggested were established in London at the close of the nineteenth century.

I have thought about this thing for nearly a quarter of a century. At first it was more or less a visionary aspiration. But as the years rolled on and I saw more clearly what was possible, it gradually crystallised into a firm conviction that in its leading features such a work as I have suggested could be done by the conductors and subscribers of a daily paper. No editor could do it, or a tithe of it, by himself. But to an editor who was in close touch with his readers, who possessed their confidence, and could evoke their co-operation, these things are not only possible, but are well within the range of practicality.

For years I hoped that I should be able to discover somewhere in the English-speaking world some editor who had the faith in him and the energy to attempt the foundation of a paper which would be in its essence much more of an attempt to help, to serve, to instruct, to amuse, and to guide its readers than a mere quilting together of more or less well-written accounts of yesterday’s happenings.

I have looked in vain.

Here and there may be found journalists of capacity who are without faith, and again there are some who have faith but who have not the capacity. But in all English-speaking lands I have hitherto failed to find any editor who believed enough in the English-speaking race and in journalism to make the attempt.

But there is no doubt as to the need for such a journal of opinion and of conduct to be established, not so much as a dividend-earning, salary-paying machine, as a nexus between a great body of men and women who are actuated by a common faith and a common resolve which they are prepared to demonstrate by united action. Even those who regard its creation as chimerical would readily admit that if such an organ could be established it would be extremely useful to all the causes which it advocated, and to the race as a whole. Therefore, in default of any one better qualified for the post I am willing to try my hand.

I am painfully aware of many of my own disqualifications for such a position, and my readers and friends are, no doubt, aware of others of which, fortunately for my own peace of mind, I am oblivious. I could easily define an ideal editor for such a new daily paper who would be in every way much better qualified for the task than I can pretend to be. But such a man does not exist. I do. That is the difference; and in journalism as in other things a sparrow in the hand is worth a bird of Paradise in the bush.

But I cannot honestly say that any of those disqualifications seem to me fatal to the success of the attempt. Many of them can be covered by the choice of competent assistants; and the knowledge of one’s own shortcomings is often the beginning of wisdom. That, however, is not a matter for me to decide, but for you.

If I proceed to speak of my qualifications for such a position, I hope I may not be accused of doing so from inordinate vanity or irrepressible egotism. I regard a man’s past training as in some respects the best guide as to his future course. From a segment of a circle you can define its circumference. Now, I frankly admit that it is quite possible I may not be the prepared man for the prepared work—to quote the quaint old phrase—but I do not think that even my most supercilious critics will deny that if such an organ ought to be started, I have many of the qualifications which its conductor should possess.

In the first case I am a journalist who believes in journalism, and I am an Englishman who believes in the English-speaking race. I have a conception which is, at least, very clear and well defined, of the way in which journalism may be made to minister to the development of the race, and I am prepared in the maturity of my manhood to dedicate the rest of my life to the realisation of that great ideal.

To enable anyone to work out this conception it is indispensable that he should be on more or less friendly and sympathetic terms of mutual understanding with the leaders of the great forces, representative of the dominant tendencies of our time. To be able to interpret each to all, a certain eclecticism of thought and a permitted liberty, not to say licence, of speech is indispensable. To conduct such a paper a man must be absolutely free to say the thing he will, free from control by a proprietor, free from pressure from advertisers, free from the restrictions of sect, and above all free from the prejudices and passions of party. But at the same time he must have a clearly defined standpoint of his own, from which he can approach men of all creeds and of none, without in the least fearing lest he should compromise his own faith by his sympathetic treatment of others’ heresies.

When I look back to my own upbringing, and remember how I was started in life as an errand boy in Newcastle, when I was only fourteen years of age, with the convictions natural to the son of a Radical Congregational minister on Tyneside— nay, when I recall even the passionate zeal of my partisanship when eight years later I began to edit a daily paper — I marvel much that I should have arrived at my present standpoint. I feel that I have indeed been led by a way I knew not of, and that as the result of my pilgrimage I have been better prepared to act as a common centre of communication between men of opposing churches and parties and nations, than most journalists of my time.

I am the only English journalist who has been on terms of personal and more or less confidential communication with the Cardinal Secretary of State at the Vatican, with the Procurator-General of the Holy Synod, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and with the leading Nonconformists. I gave the right hand of fellowship to Annie Besant over the grave of a Freethinker who had been killed in Trafalgar Square, and yet I have never ceased to rejoice in the strength and the consolation of the simple faith which I learned at my mother’s knee. With many men growing tolerance is the result of decaying faith. With me it is the reverse. I am more sympathetic, not because I believe less, but because I believe more. Life has only deepened my faith in the central principle of the providential government of the world and of the individual.

After Religion no factor is so potent as Race. And here I have won an uncontested right to speak. I am the only English journalist who edits an organ of opinion whose area of circulation is co-extensive with the English-speaking race. There are American magazines containing interesting stories and admirable illustrations which have a circulation as wide, but they are not organs of opinion. The Strand has a greater circulation still, but it is of the same class, and it is practically confined to Great Britain. I am in the unique position of conducting a monthly organ of opinion, both religious, social, political, and literary, which has 200,000 subscribers, almost equally divided between the English-speaking world at home and the English-speaking world over sea. And from first to last the REVIEW has never ceased to proclaim its faith in the unity of the race and to promote by every means in its power the healing of the great disruption of last century.

After Religion and Race, the most potent factor in the world is Sex, if indeed it does not come first. The advent of Woman to the full status of a human being, entitled to all the rights and privileges of a human being, is the hope of the future, as the dawn of that advent has been the most notable factor of recent social progress. In all that relates to the Woman question, whether it be her protection from the cruellest wrong in her early youth, or her deliverance from the unjust restrictions and disabilities which limit her usefulness and retard her development in maturer years, I do not think that any woman will be disposed to question that I have ever fought in the van.

The faculty of conciliating opposites, of combining the friendship and confidence of the most thorough-going opponents, has of course its disadvantages. No one is ever absolutely sure of the line which I will take on any given question of details or of persons at any given time; and this leads naturally to a certain lack of that hearty confidence which party men give to party leaders. But looking over my journalistic career, from the time when I entered the editorial office of the Northern Echo down to this very day, I am surprised at nothing so much as the identity and consistency of the convictions that have been expressed throughout. I have broadened here and there. I have developed naturally; but in all fundamentals I have preserved a consistency which, whether admirable or otherwise, is surprising even to myself.

To make a long story short, I feel that if the paper which I have dreamed of so long, and which I have described at length in the Christmas Number now going through the press, is really wanted by any considerable number of my fellow countrymen, I shall not be justified in refusing to start it. At the same time, unless I have a clear and unmistakable call, I do not wish to risk my health in an enterprise which it might be presumption for me to undertake.

I do not wish to bring out the paper unless it is wanted, and unless I can induce those who want it to co-operate with me in making it a success from the very outset. But while inviting co-operation, it must be on terms which do subject me to any control. If I ever did edit a daily paper again I must be as free as air to say the thing I will without having to consult any other authority but my own conscience.

How can these apparently contradictory requirements be allowed? If any capitalists supply me with funds, the men who pay the piper will naturally wish to call the tune. If I find the capital myself I lose the advantage which comes from enlisting the pecuniary interest of a large number of shareholders. What then can be done?

It has occurred to me that the solution of this problem might be found by a very simple expedient. And that is, I might raise my capital and secure my co-operators by giving it away.

This sounds paradoxical, but it is sober sense. I have worked it out after consultation with the ablest financiers, lawyers, journalists and accountants in London.

As a beginning I form and register, merely in order to facilitate the issue of debentures, a Company to be called “The Daily Paper Company, Limited”; the Articles of Association will set forth that it is formed for the purpose of printing and publishing a Daily Paper which I am to be free to edit and control as I please. Having brought this Company into existence, I offer to the readers of THE REVIEW OF REVIEWS the opportunity of co-operating with me in producing the new paper on the following terms:—

With this copy of the REVIEW is enclosed a form of order for the Daily Paper for the first twelve months after is is started.

(1) If 100,000 of these forms are sent to the National Provincial Bank of England, Limited, at the Head Office, or any of its branches, accompanied by 26s. for one years subscription, I will undertake to bring out the paper, and each subscriber will receive the Daily Paper every day for one year through his Newsagent, if he is in a town receiving daily parcels of papers from London. Where they only can be delivered by post, 13s. must be added for postage.

(2) To the first 100,000 subscribers I will give by way of bonus a Debenture Bond for £1 in The Daily Paper Company, Limited, redeemable at par at my option. These Debenture Bonds will have coupons attached entitling the holder to receive interest annually at the rate of five per cent., so long as the circulation of the paper is between 100,000 and 150,000—seven and a-half per cent. between 150,000 and 200,000; and ten per cent. when the circulation exceeds 200,000.

By this means any subscriber of twenty-six shillings for the first year will receive, not only three hundred and twelve penny papers, but a Debenture Bond of the value of £1, bearing interest from five to ten per cent., for which he will receive £1 when I redeem it.

The way in which this would operate may best be seen by supposing that if any Helpers or sympathisers in any one town, or the members of any political or social or religious organisation, were to subscribe for 1000 copies of the paper, and place the 1000 Debenture Bonds to the credit of the Civic Centre, or to their own religious, political, or social organisation, the result would be that, by the simple process of paying twenty-six shillings in advance, instead of in 312 daily instalments of one penny, they would endow their society with a capital sum of £1000, yielding from £50 to £100 per annum interest, according to the prosperity of the paper. Suppose, for instance, that each of our 100,000 subscribers were to fill in the order form and make his bond payable to the Liberator Belief Fund, that fund would receive from me 100,000 debenture bonds, bearing from 5 to 10 per cent. interest. The working of this arrangement is best illustrated by the supposition that ten or a hundred subscribers club their bonds. Five per cent. on a twenty-shilling bond is only a shilling per annum; but 5 per cent. on a hundred or a thousand bonds amounts to a very respectable sum.

My object in thus giving away the capital on which the paper will be started is not philanthropic or generous. It is good business. I want to establish a tie between my readers and the paper which I propose to publish, so I make them debenture-holders, and undertake to pay them a minimum of five thousand pounds per annum as long-as the circulation is 100,000 per day. I want to interest them pecuniarily in the success of the paper, to make it a co-operative enterprize, so I promise to raise the interest, to £10,000 a year if the circulation rises to 200,000.

I think the paper could be produced by July 1st. If 100,000 persons subscribe for it, I will undertake to produce it, if possible, by that time. If fewer than 100,000 subscribe, I will return the money without deduction. I make the first offer to the readers of the REVIEW. They know my ideals, and need no explanation as to my aims and objects. I intend, so far as I can, to make the Daily Paper a faithful exponent of what I conceive to be the truth. It will be in no sense a party paper, as the REVIEW is in no sense a party REVIEW. Therefore, all readers of the REVIEW have the offer absolute till the 1st November. Such mortgage bonds as have been applied for by my readers will be allotted definitely, and the balance only will be left open for allotment to the readers of the Christmas Number.

As will be seen by the annexed correspondence, the subscriptions will in the meantime be held by the National Provincial Bank of England, Limited, to the order of Messrs. Schultz and Comins, Chartered Accountants, 46, Cannon Street, London, E.G., who will act as trustees to see the money is returned if the subscription is inadequate, and if otherwise, that the debentures are issued before handing the money in to The Daily Paper Company, Limited.

It is seldom that a man who reaches the prime of life when, if ever, he is to realise the aspirations of his youth, contemplates the result of an appeal which is to decide his future with such supreme content as that with which I launch this proposal. I shall be glad, very glad, if my fellow-countrymen and countrywomen desire me to do this thing, and their support will encourage me to attempt an enterprise from which, now I look at it closely, I might otherwise have recoiled.

But I shall also be glad, very glad, if by the absence of any response to this appeal I have a definite and decisive intimation that I am not wanted for this work. The one thing that is intolerable is indecision and suspense, so I boldly put my fortune to the touch, to win or lose it all, watching with pleasant curiosity the issue of the test, and feeling sure that the good Caliph Ali was wise when he wrote those golden words, “Thy Place in life is seeking after thee, therefore be thou at rest from seeking after it.”