Front Page Titles (by Subject) 56.: IGNORANCE OF FRENCH AFFAIRS BY THE ENGLISH PRESS EXAMINER, 14 NOV., 1830, PP. 723-4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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56.: IGNORANCE OF FRENCH AFFAIRS BY THE ENGLISH PRESS EXAMINER, 14 NOV., 1830, PP. 723-4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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IGNORANCE OF FRENCH AFFAIRS BY THE ENGLISH PRESS
This article is in response to what Mill considered the ignorant and misleading reporting of French affairs and of English attitudes, particularly by The Times. A leading article in the “Political Examiner,” headed as title, it is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article in the Examiner of 14th Nov. 1830 headed Ignorance of French affairs by the English press” (MacMinn, p. 13). Two errata are listed in the Examiner of 21 Nov., p. 740: “mere” should read “more” and “set of people to find acts that” should read “sort of people to find out what”
(these corrections are made at 183.22 and 183.24-5).
the crazy outcries of our newspapers against the changes in the French ministry, are not calculated to do much honour to England in foreign countries. They will not, however, make so unfavourable an impression upon the French, with regard to our national mind, as might be imagined, since that people, with their usual misapprehension of every thing English, will probably conclude that our daily press is in the pay of the Duke of Wellington. They are by no means aware of the true state of the case, namely, that there is a fund of stupidity and vulgar prejudice in our principal journalists, which needs no extraneous inducements to call it forth; and that our journals, speaking of them generally, are faithful representatives of the ignorance of the country, but do not represent, in any degree, its knowledge or its good sense. One would imagine that, among journalists, a moderately accurate acquaintance with France for the last fifteen years, ought not to be a very rare endowment: if a writer in the newspapers does not know the history of his own times, what, in the name of heaven, does he know? Yet, during the recent struggle in France between the men who made the revolution and the men who were seeking to profit by it, the small number among our journalists who dreaded giving a false and mischievous opinion, dared not to give one at all; while the larger number, who were utterly reckless of the consequences of what they wrote, have made a display of ignorance such as all who knew them would naturally expect. At the head of these was the blundering newspaper which recently asserted that Charles de Lameth, a man who was with difficulty saved from the September massacres, was a conventionalist:1 we need scarcely say that we allude to the Times, a paper which seldom lets a week pass without affording satisfactory evidence that for it to have any opinion at all on French affairs, is a piece of presumption which nothing can excuse. This paper announces, that the popular party in France, among various other bad qualities, breathes nothing but war against other states, and hatred of England;2 which assertion it makes with as little diffidence or hesitation as if it really knew any thing about the matter, and enforces the accusation with as much truth and discernment as were displayed in its eulogies on Polignac, in August, 1829,3 and with a refinement and delicacy of expression which reminds us of its abuse of the same person in August, 1830, when “vagabonds” was the most correct and appropriate term which it could invent to characterize his delinquency and that of his master.4
At a time when hundreds of the most influential of our countrymen knew, by personal observation, that there is a kind of furor among the French youth for rejecting territorial aggrandizement, and respecting the rights of other nations, and that it is almost enough to be an Englishman in order to be received every where by them with open arms, we shall not dwell upon the peculiar propriety and good sense of the above denunciations. We have no doubt that, so soon as public opinion shall have declared itself in opposition to them, the Times will, according to its customary practice, back out of them. In the mean time, it is consoling to recollect, that what is now affirmed of the more popular section of the libéraux, is no more than what was laid to the charge of the whole body until a very recent period. It is incredible how long it takes a certain sort of people to find out what they cannot see with their eyes. The Times, in its knowledge of history, is just twenty years behind the facts. It is living, not in 1830, but in 1810.
Periodical writers, however, entitled to far greater respect, have adopted, though in an inferior degree, the same tone of alarm; particularly a writer in the Scotsman, and one in the Foreign Quarterly Review.5 We do not so much blame these writers, as lament these habits of mind in the English public, of which the raw speculations of those two publications on the state of France, are a remarkable exemplification. There is no creature in Europe so timid, politically speaking, as your Englishman of the higher or middle ranks, because he is more sensitive than any other specimen of humanity yet known, on the score of insecurity to property. But it appears to us, that his fears are hardly ever in the right place. Formerly, an Englishman used to pride himself on being a friend of liberty, but now his first impulse always is, to take part with power. It never needs any evidence to satisfy him that men are disaffected without cause. If there arise a dispute between a people and an established government, and he (as is usually the case) does not happen to know what it is about, it would be amusing, if an exhibition of imbecility in the most momentous of earthly concerns could excite any but feelings of the deepest seriousness, to see how instantly and undoubtingly it is taken for granted that the people are in the wrong. Of this, the tone of public feeling respecting Belgium is a pregnant example. Most fortunate it is that Charles X was so imprudent as openly to abrogate the constitution of his kingdom, instead of continuing to evade it, and fritter away its provisions in detail. We have been convinced, from the outset, that if that monarch had not taken as much pains as he did to reduce the question to its simplest terms, despotism or not, in such sort that it did not require any knowledge of France to see that he meditated a different kind of bad government from that which we have been accustomed to;—the English, good easy people, would have continued to believe, that none but enemies of England, and zealots for war and conquest, none, moreover but a faction, contemptible in numbers and abilities, doubted the excellence of the Bourbon government, or were dissatisfied with the share of constitutional freedom which that family was willing that France should enjoy.
The purposes of the popular party have been very fully stated at different times in our own pages. The character of those who have held power for the last three months, but who have now been happily ejected from it, we shall take an early opportunity of delineating. Want of space compels us to defer this work for the present.
[1 ]Article on French affairs, The Times, 10 Nov., 1830, p. 3. Comte Charles Malo François de Lameth (1757-1832), had been President of the Constituent Assembly in 1791. A constitutional royalist, he had fled France in 1792 when the National Convention assumed power. More recently he had been one of the 221 and a supporter of Louis Philippe.
[2 ]See, e.g., The Times, 4 Nov., 1830, p. 2.
[3 ]See leading articles on p. 2 of The Times for 11, 13, and 19 Aug., 1829.
[4 ]Leading article, The Times, 4 Aug., 1830, p. 2.
[5 ]“French Ministry,” Scotsman, 10 Nov., 1830, p. 715; “French Revolution of 1830,” Foreign Quarterly Review, VI (Oct. 1830), 473-91. The latter was by George Cornewall Lewis (1806-63), a fellow student with Mill of John Austin’s.