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CHAPTER III THE PLAN
“If in 1834 only a moderate reduction had been made in the extortionate rates of postage which were then in force, Rowland Hill might not have embarked upon his plan; and, even if he had done so, that plan might have failed to evoke from the public sufficient force to overcome opposition in high quarters. In proportion to the extent of the evil did men welcome the remedy.”—Joyce's “History of the Post Office,” p. 420.

The postal reform “perhaps represents the greatest social improvement brought about by legislation in modern times.”—Justin M'Carthy in “A History of Our Own Times,” chap. iv. p. 89.

For many years my father's attention had been turned towards the question of postal reform; although in that respect he was far from standing alone. The defects of the old system were so obvious that with many people they formed a common subject of conversation; and plans of improvement were repeatedly discussed. So far back as 1826 Rowland Hill's thoughts had outgrown the first stage on the road to “betterment”—that of mere fault-finding with the things that are. He had drawn up a scheme for a travelling post office. The fact that, whereas the mails from all parts as a rule reached London at 6 A.M., while the distribution of letters only began three hours later, struck him as a defect in need of [Pg 93] urgent remedy. If, he argued, the inside of the mail-coach, or “an additional body thereto, were to be fitted with shelves and other appliances, the guard might sort and [date] stamp the letters, etc., on the journey. By so doing, time would be saved: the mails would either leave the provincial towns three hours later, giving more time for correspondence, or the letters could be delivered in London three hours earlier.” In January 1830 he suggested the dispatch of mail matter by means of pneumatic tubes. But neither project went beyond the stage of written memoranda; nor, in face of the never-failing hostility manifested by the post officials towards all reforms, especially those emanating from outsiders, was likely to do more.

Early in the 'thirties reductions in certain departments of taxation had been made; and my father's mind being still turned towards the Post Office, he fell into the habit of discussing with his family and others the advisability of extending similar reductions to postal rates.

And this seems a fitting place to mention that while from every member of his family he received the heartiest sympathy and help throughout the long struggle to introduce his reform, it was his eldest brother, Matthew, who, more than any other, did him yeoman service; and, after Matthew, the second brother, Edwin.[66] Of the five Hill brothers who [Pg 94] reached old age, it has been claimed for the eldest that, intellectually, he was the greatest. He had not, perhaps, the special ability which enabled my father to plan the postal reform, a measure which probably none of his brothers, gifted as in various ways all were, could have thought out, and brought to concrete form; neither had the eldest the mathematical power which distinguished Rowland. But in all other respects Matthew stood first; and that he was one of the wittiest, wisest, most cultivated, and, at the same time, most tender-hearted of men in an age especially rich in the type there can be no doubt. He was the first Birmingham man to go to the Bar, and for twenty-eight years was his native city's first recorder.

The second brother, Edwin, was also an unusually clever man, and had a genius for mechanics which placed him head and shoulders above his brethren. His help in furthering the postal reform, as well as in other ways, was given “constantly and ably,” said my father. Out of a very busy brain Edwin could evolve any machine or other contrivance required to meet the exigencies of the hour, as when, to make life less hard to one who was lame and rheumatic, he devised certain easily-swinging doors; and when in 1840 he was appointed Supervisor of stamps at Somerset House he was quite in his element. Among other things, he invented an ingenious method, said [Pg 95] the First Report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, by which the unwieldy, blank newspaper sheets which, as we have seen, were obliged, before being printed, to go to Somerset House to receive the impress of the duty stamp, were separated, turned over, and stamped with a speed and accuracy which had previously been considered unattainable.[67] He was also the inventor of the envelope-folding machine known as De La Rue's, and shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The process of embossing the Queen's head on the postal envelopes was likewise his invention; and, further, he published two once well-known works—the one on “Principles of Currency,” the other on “Criminal Capitalists.” He applied the latter title to those proprietors of houses and shops who knowingly let them out as shelters for criminals or depots for the sale of stolen goods; and he proposed that, in order to check crime, these landlords should first be struck at.[68]

[Pg 96]

Matthew it was who, after many conversations with Rowland on the subject so frequently in the latter's thoughts, advised him to draw up his plan in pamphlet form. The advice was followed, and the detailed scheme laid before the adviser, who approved of it so highly that he suggested its publication by their mutual friend, Charles Knight. This was done, with what far-reaching effect we know. But my uncle's help did not end here. For him, who, self-aided, had won an influential position both at the Bar and in the brilliant, intellectual society of his day, it was easier than for his lesser known junior to have access to men likely to prove powerful advocates of the scheme and good friends to its author. Henceforth, as his biographers remind us, the eldest brother devoted to the proposed reform all the time and labour he could spare from his own work.[69] He introduced Rowland to men of influence in both Houses of Parliament, to several of the chief journalists, and other leaders of public opinion. Their sympathy was soon enlisted, as was also that of many of my father's [Pg 97] own friends, and, ere long, that of the great majority of the nation when once the merits of the plan came to be understood.
Facsimile of Manuscript Page (in Sir Rowland Hill's handwriting) of the Draft of his Pamphlet on Post Office Reform. See 3rd Edition (1837) page 49.

When, in 1834, Rowland Hill joined the Association formed for the total abolition of the odious “taxes on knowledge” there was a duty of 1s. 6d. on every advertisement; a paper duty at 1-?d. the lb.; and the newspaper stamp duty was at its highest—4d. This last burden—undoubtedly a war-tax—was reduced once more to 1d. only in 1835, when we had been at peace for twenty years. So easy is it to lay a war-tax on the nation: so difficult to take it off again. Weighted after this fashion, how could journalistic enterprise prosper? The Association was of opinion that if the Press could be cheapened newspapers would increase, and advertisements multiply, while the fiscal produce of journalism would be as large as ever. In estimating this probable expansion Rowland Hill applied a principle on which he subsequently relied in reference to postal reform, namely, that the increased consumption of a cheapened article in general use makes up for the diminished price.

The Revenue for the financial year which ended with March 1836 had yielded a large surplus; and a reduction of taxation was confidently looked for. Thus the time seemed ripe for the publication of my father's views upon the postal question; and he set to work to write that slighter, briefer edition of his pamphlet which was intended for private circulation only.

It was in this year also that he made the acquaintance of one of the greatest of all those—many [Pg 98] in number—who helped to carry his proposed scheme into accomplished fact—Robert Wallace of Kelly, Greenock's first Member of Parliament and the pioneer postal reformer of the nineteenth century. From the time Mr Wallace entered Parliament, at the General Election which followed the passing of the great Reform Bill of 1832, he took the deepest interest in postal matters, and strove to reform the Department with a persistency which neither ridicule could weary nor opposition defeat. He was in the field two years before Rowland Hill; and while thus unconsciously preparing the way for another man, was able to accomplish several useful reforms on his own account.

In 1833 Mr Wallace proposed that postage should be charged by weight instead of by number of enclosures, thereby anticipating my father as regards that one suggestion. But nothing came of the proposal. He was more fortunate when moving for leave to throw open to public competition the contract for the construction of mail-coaches, which, when adopted, led to an annual saving of over £17,000. He also secured the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry into the management of the Post Office. The Commission was established in 1835, continued to work till 1838, issued ten Reports,[70] [Pg 99] and by its untiring efforts was, as my father always maintained, justly entitled to much of the credit of his own later success. Mr Wallace was, of course, to the fore in the Commission, and gave valuable evidence in favour of the establishment of day mails, which subsequently formed a feature of Rowland Hill's plan, and was eventually carried into effect with great advantage to the public and to the Revenue. To Mr Wallace we also owe the boon of registration of letters. He likewise pleaded for a reduction of postal rates, and of more frequent communication between different centres of population. In Parliament, during the session of 1836, and in the last speech he made there before the publication of Rowland Hill's pamphlet, he urged the abandonment of the manifestly unjust rule of charging postage not according to the geographical distance between one place and another, but according to the length of the course a letter was compelled to take.[71] As regards the question of reduced postal rates, he said: “It would be proper not to charge more than 3d. for any letter sent a distance of 50 miles; for 100 miles, 4d.; 200 miles, 6d.; and the highest rate of postage ought not to be more than 8d. or 9d. at most.”[72]

A detailed plan of wholesale reform (as was my father's) Mr Wallace never had, and he no more dreamed of postage stamps—though the suggestion of these has been sometimes attributed to him as [Pg 100] well as to other men—or of prepayment than he did of uniformity of rate. He was an older man than Rowland Hill, and of higher social standing; yet was he so incapable of jealousy or other petty meanness, that when the younger man, on completion of his scheme, laid it before the veteran Scotsman, the latter threw aside all other plans and suggestions, took up the only practicable reform, and worked for it as heartily as if it had been his own.

To Mr Wallace every would-be postal reformer turned with unerring instinct as to his best friend; and it was through the instrumentality of this public benefactor that Rowland Hill had been furnished with sundry Parliamentary Blue Books containing those statistics and other valuable facts, mastery of which was essential to the completion of his pamphlet, since it was necessary to understand the old system thoroughly before destroying it.

“As I had never yet been within the walls of any post office,” wrote my father of Mr Wallace's friendly act, “my only sources of information for the time consisted of those heavy Blue Books, in which invaluable matter too often lies hidden amidst heaps of rubbish. Into some of these [books] I had already dipped; but Mr Wallace, having supplied me by post with an additional half-hundred-weight of raw material,[73] I now commenced that systematic study, [Pg 101] analysis, and comparison which the difficulty of my self-imposed task rendered necessary.”

Basing his calculations on the information drawn from these and other volumes, Rowland Hill found that, after the reduction of taxation in 1823, the price of soap fell by an eighth, tea by a sixth, silk goods by a fifth, and coffee by a fourth. The reduction in price was followed by a great increase of consumption, the sale of soap rising by a third, and that of tea by almost half. Of silk goods the sale had more than doubled, and of coffee more than tripled. Cotton goods had declined in cost during the previous twenty years by nearly a half, and their sale was quadrupled.[74]

In his pamphlet Rowland Hill dwelt upon this fact of increased consumption following on decreased price. It was clear, then, that the taxes for remission should be those affording the greatest relief to the [Pg 102] public accompanied with the least loss to the Revenue; and that scrutiny should be made into the subject in order to discover which tax, or taxes, had failed to grow in productiveness with increase of population and prosperity. The test showed that, whereas between 1815 and 1835 the nation had added six millions to its numbers, and that trade had largely increased, the postal revenue was rather smaller in the later than in the earlier year. During the same period the revenue from the stage-coaches had grown by 128 per cent. In France, where the postal charges were more reasonable, the revenue of the Department had, in the same twenty years, increased by 80 per cent.

Reform in our own postal system was obviously a necessity.

But the fiscal loss to the country, as shown in the state of our postal revenue, serious as it was, seemed to Rowland Hill a lesser evil than the bar, artificial and harmful, raised by the high charges on correspondence, to the moral and intellectual progress of the people. If put upon a sound basis, the Post Office, instead of being an engine for the imposition of an unbearable tax, would become a powerful stimulus to civilisation.

Still delving among the Parliamentary Blue Books, he further gathered that the cost of the service rendered—that is, of the receipt, conveyance, and distribution of each ordinary missive sent from post town to post town within the United Kingdom—averaged 84/100ths of a penny only; 28/100ths going to conveyance, and 56/100ths to the receipt and delivery, [Pg 103] collection of postage, etc. Also that the cost of conveyance for a given distance being generally in direct proportion to the weight carried, and a newspaper or franked letter weighing about as much as several ordinary letters, the average expense of conveying a letter chargeable with postage must be still lower, probably some 9/100ths of a penny: a conclusion supported by the well-known fact, already alluded to,[75] that the chargeable letters weighed, on an average, one fourth only of the entire mail.

He also found that the whole cost of the mail-coach service for one journey between London and Edinburgh was only £5 a day.[76] The average load of the mail diurnally carried being some six hundred-weight, [Pg 104] the cost of each hundred-weight was therefore 16s. 8d. Taking the average weight of a letter at a quarter of an ounce, its cost of carriage for the 400 miles was but 1/36th part of a penny—in the light of Rowland Hill's amended estimate actually less. Yet the postage exacted for even the lightest “single” letter was 1s. 3-?d. The ninth part of a farthing—the approximate cost of conveyance—is a sum too small to be appreciable, and impossible to collect. Therefore, “if the charge for postage be made proportionate to the whole expense incurred in the receipt, transit, and delivery of the letter, and in the collection of its postage, it must be made uniformly the same from every post town to every other post town in the United Kingdom.”[1] In other words, “As it would take a ninefold weight to make the expense of transit amount to one farthing, it follows that, taxation apart, the charge ought to be precisely the same for every packet of moderate weight, without reference to the number of its enclosures.”[77]

The custom of charge by distance seemed self-condemned when a simpler mode was not only practicable but actually fairer. Now, with increase of the number of letters the cost of each was bound to diminish; and with reduction of postage, especially the great reduction which seemed easy of attainment, increase of number could not fail to follow.

The simple incident of the falling apple is said to have suggested to Newton the theory of gravitation. So also the discovery that the length of a letter's [Pg 105] journey makes no appreciable difference to the cost of that journey led Rowland Hill to think of uniformity of rate; and in that portion of his “Life” which is autobiographic he said that the “discovery” that such a rate would approach nearer to absolute justice than any other that could be fixed upon was “as startling to myself as it could be to any one else, and was the basis of the plan which has made so great a change in postal affairs” (i. 250).

Mention has already been made of the time-wasting and costly mode in which, during or after delivery of the letters, the postage had to be collected, necessarily in coin of the realm. In rural districts the postman's journey, when twofold, doubled the cost of its delivery, its distance, and its time-duration. The accounts, as we have seen, were most complicated, and complication is only too apt to spell mismanagement, waste, and fraud. Simplicity of arrangement was imperative. But simplicity could only be attained by getting rid of the complications. The work must be changed. Time must be saved, and unprofitable labour be done away with. But how? By abolishing the tiresome operations of “candling” and of making the “calculations” (of postal charge) now inscribed on every letter; by expediting the deliveries, and by other devices. Above all, the public should learn to undertake its due share of work, the share non-performance of which necessitated the complications, and swelled the expenses. That is, the sender of the letter should pay for its transit before the Post Office incurred any cost in connection with it, only, as under the existing [Pg 106] system and in numberless cases, to meet with a refusal on the part of the should-be receiver to accept it.

In other words, prepayment must be made the rule. Prepayment would have the effect of “simplifying and accelerating the proceedings of the Post Office throughout the kingdom, and rendering them less liable to error and fraud. In the central Metropolitan Office there would be no letters to be taxed, no examination of those taxed by others; no accounts to be made out against the deputy postmasters for letters transmitted to them, nor against the letter-carriers. There would be no need of checks, no necessity to submit to frauds and numberless errors for want of means to prevent or correct them. In short, the whole of the financial proceedings would be reduced to a single, accurate, and satisfactory account, consisting of a single item per day, with each receiver and each deputy postmaster.”[78]

Distribution would thenceforth be the letter-carriers' only function; and thus the first step towards the acceleration of postal deliveries would be secured. And while considering this last point, there came into Rowland Hill's mind the idea of that now common adjunct to everybody's hall-door—the letter-box. If the postman could slip his letters through a slit in the woodwork, he need not wait while the bell or knocker summoned the dilatory man or maid; and his round being accomplished more expeditiously, the letters would be received earlier.[79] The shortening of the [Pg 107] time consumed on the round would unquestionably facilitate the introduction of those hourly deliveries in thickly populated and business districts which formed part of the plan of postal reform.

How best to collect the prepaid postage had next to be decided; and among other things, Rowland Hill bethought him of the stamped cover for newspapers proposed by his friend Charles Knight three years before, but never adopted; and, finally, of the loose adhesive stamp which was his own device. The description he gave of this now familiar object reads quaintly at the present day. “Perhaps this difficulty”—of making coin payments at a post office—“might be obviated by using a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash which, by applying a little moisture, might be attached to the letter.”[80]

The disuse of franks and the abandonment of illicit conveyance, the breaking up of one long letter into several shorter ones, and the certain future use to be made of the post for the distribution of those circulars and other documents which either went by different channels or were altogether withheld,[81] should [Pg 108] cause the number of missives to increase enormously. Although, were the public, in accordance with its practice in other cases, to expend no more in postage than before, the loss to the nett Revenue should be but small. Even were it to be large, the powerful stimulus given by easy communication and low-priced postage to the productive power of the country, and the consequent increase of revenue in other departments, would more than make up for the deficiency. On all these grounds, then, the adoption of the plan must be of incalculable benefit.

The uniform rate of a penny the half-ounce ought to defray the cost of letter-carriage, and produce some 200 per cent. profit. My father originally proposed a penny the ounce; and thirty-three years later, being then in retirement, he privately advised the Government of the day to revert to the ounce limit. His suggestion was adopted; but the limit has since been brought up to four ounces—a reduction which, had it been proposed in 1837, must inevitably have ensured the defeat of the postal reform.

As regards the speedy recovery of the nett Revenue appearances seem to indicate that he was over-sanguine; the gross Revenue not reaching [Pg 109] its former amount till 1851, the nett till 1862.[82] The reasons were several, but among them can hardly be counted faulty calculations on Rowland Hill's part. We shall read more about this matter in a later chapter. Meanwhile, one cause, and that a main one, shall be mentioned. As railways multiplied, and mail-coaches ceased to ply, the expenses of conveyance grew apace.[83]
No. 2, BURTON CRESCENT,
Where “Post Office Reform” was written. A group of people stand opposite the house.
From a Photograph by Messrs. Whiteley & Co.

Under the increased burden the old system, had it endured much longer, must have collapsed. The railway charges for carrying the mails, unlike the charges for carrying passengers and goods, have been higher, weight for weight, than the charges by the mail-coaches, and the tendency in later years has by no means made towards decrease.

The pamphlet was entitled “Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability.”[84] Use of the words “Penny Postage” was carefully avoided, because a reformer, when seeking to convert to his own way of thinking a too-often slow-witted public, is forced to employ the wisdom of the serpent in conjunction, [Pg 110] not only with the gentleness of the dove, but also with something of the cunning of the fox or weasel. Thus canny George Stephenson, when pleading for railways, forbore to talk of locomotives running at the tremendous rate of 12 miles an hour lest his hearers should think he was qualifying for admission to a lunatic asylum. He therefore modestly hinted at a lower speed, the quicker being supposed to be exceptional. So also Rowland Hill, by stating the arguments for his case clearly, yet cautiously, sought to lead his readers on, step by step, till the seeming midsummer madness of a uniform postal rate irrespective of distance should cease to startle, and, instead, be accepted as absolutely sane.

In this way he engaged the attention, among others, of the once famous Francis Place, tailor and politician, to whom he sent a copy of “Post Office Reform.” Mr Place began its perusal with an audible running accompaniment of “Pish!” and “Pshaw!” varied by an occasional remark that the “hitch” which must inevitably destroy the case would presently appear. But as he read, the audible monosyllabic marginal notes ceased, and when he turned the last page, he exclaimed in the needlessly strong language of the day: “I'll be damned if there is a hitch after all!” and forthwith became a convert. Leigh Hunt expressed his own sentiments in happier form when he declared that the pamphlet's reasoning “carries us all along with it as smoothly as wheel on railroad.”

Through the kindness of Mr Villiers, the long-time senior Member for Wolverhampton, the pamphlet, [Pg 111] while still in manuscript, was confidentially submitted to the Government. The author, through his friend, expressed his willingness to let them have the entire credit of introducing the plan if they would accept it. Otherwise he reserved the right to lay it before the public. Many years after, Mr Villiers wrote of the satisfaction he felt that the measure was left to the unbiassed judgment of the people, for, after all, the Government had not the courage to accept the offer, and the only outcome of a rather pleasant interview, in January 1837, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Spring Rice, was the suggestion made by him and adopted by Rowland Hill, that the penny rate should be charged not on an ounce, but on half an ounce—to the cautious keeper of the national purse seemingly a less startling innovation.

That the plan should be treated, not as a party question, but strictly on its merits, was its author's earnest, oft-repeated desire. Nor could it be properly regarded from a political aspect, since it counted among its advocates in the two Houses, and outside them, members of both parties. Yet, notwithstanding this support, and the fact that the friends of the proposed reform daily grew more numerous, the best part of three years was consumed in converting to recognition of its merits not only a fairly large portion of the official world, but the Prime Minister himself. However, the same Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, it was who declared that it was madness to contemplate as possible the abolition of the Corn Laws.

“Post Office Reform” made no small sensation. It was widely read and discussed, as indeed was but [Pg 112] natural, seeing how thoroughly dissatisfied with the old system nearly every one outside the official circle was. The proposed reform was, as a rule, heartily approved, although by some would-be clever people it was mercilessly ridiculed; and a writer in the Quarterly Review assailed it, declaring, among other things, that “prepayment by means of a stamp or stamped cover is universally admitted to be quite the reverse of convenient, foreign to the habits of the people,” etc.—yet another illustration of the folly of indulging in prophecy unaccompanied by knowledge. He further professed to see in the proposal “only a means of making sedition easy.”![85]

To this attack Matthew Hill made a scathing reply in the Edinburgh Review, using, to flagelate the foe, the ready wit and unanswerable logic of which he was a master. Then passing to the financial side of the question, he pointed out that the temporary diminution of income ought to be regarded as an outlay. The loss, he argued, would be slight in comparison with the object in view. Even if the annual deficit were one million during ten years, that would be but half what the country had paid for the abolition of slavery; and that payment was made with no prospect of money return. [Pg 113] Should hope of ultimate profit fail, a substituted tax might be imposed; and were it asked, what tax? the answer should be, any—certain that none could operate so fatally on all other sources of revenue as the present postal tax.

Time was on the side of the reformer, and before long the public, having digested both the pamphlet and the debates thereon, took up the question with enthusiasm. In the largest city in the kingdom as in the smallest hamlet, meetings were convened in support and furtherance of the proposed reform. Within twelve months two thousand petitions were presented to Parliament, causing, on one occasion, a curious scene. Mr Scholefield, having laid on the table a petition from Birmingham, praying for adoption of the penny postage plan, the Speaker called on all members who had charge of similar petitions to bring them up. At once a “crowd” rose to present them amid cheering on all sides.

The number of signatures reached a quarter of a million; and as many of the petitions proceeded from Town Councils, Chambers of Commerce, and other such Corporations, a single signature in many instances represented a considerable number of persons.

Grote, the historian of Greece, and an earnest worker for the reform, presented a petition. One from the city contained over 12,500 signatures, bore the names of the Lord Mayor and many London merchants, and was filled in twelve hours. In the Upper House, the Lord Radnor of the time, an earnest friend to reforms of many sorts, presented [Pg 114] no fewer than forty petitions. The signatures were of many classes, all sects, and both political parties.

In the City, on the proposal of Mr Moffatt, afterwards Member for Southampton, the “Mercantile Committee” was formed. Its founder, whom Rowland Hill has described as “one of my most zealous, steady, and efficient supporters,” threw himself with great earnestness into the formation of this Committee, raising funds, and gathering together the able men, London merchants and others, who became its members. Its principal aim was to collect evidence in favour of the plan; and to its ceaseless energy much of the success of the movement was due. Mr Ashurst, father to a late Solicitor to the Post Office, was requested to become Solicitor to the Committee. He accepted the invitation, declined to receive remuneration for his services, and worked with unflagging industry.[86] Mr Bates, of the house of Baring Brothers, acted as Chairman; Mr Cole as Secretary. In addition to the above, and to Mr Moffatt, may be [Pg 115] mentioned the names of Messrs William Ellis, James Pattison, L. P. Wilson, John Dillon,[87] John Travers, J. H. Gladstanes, and W. A. Wilkinson—all warm supporters of the plan from the beginning.

Mr Cole excelled in the invention of pictorial devices of the sort which are far more likely to convert the average citizen to faith in a newly propounded reform than all the arguments, however able, that were ever spoken or written; and are therefore most valuable. He drew, for instance, a mail-coach with a large amount of postal matter piled, by artistic licence, on the roof instead of inside “the boot.” Six huge sacks contained between them 2,296 newspapers weighing 273 lbs.; a seventh sack, as large as any of its fellows, held 484 franked letters, and weighed 47 lbs.; while a moderate-sized parcel was filled with Stamp Office documents. They were all labelled “go free.” A bag of insignificant dimensions leant up against one of the sacks. It held 1,565 ordinary letters, weighed 34 lbs., and was marked “pay £93.” This tiny packet paid for all the rest! Cole was too sensible a man to make use [Pg 116] of an illustration which, if untrue, could only have inspired ridicule. His figures were absolutely correct, and represented the actual proportions of the mail matter carried from London to Edinburgh on 2nd March 1838. His Brobdingnagian “single” and Lilliputian “double” letters, whose names are indicative of their relative size, were one evening handed round the House of Commons with telling effect. They were, of course, designed to satirise the old system practice of “taxing” letters according to number of enclosures. Both had passed through the post that day, the giant having been charged just half what was paid on the dwarf.

In all the large centres of population the great mercantile houses were foremost among those who took up the good cause, and the Press also threw itself into the struggle with much heartiness except in those cases where the cue given was—attack! Happily these dissentients were soon outnumbered and outvoiced. A few journals, indeed, achieved marvellously sudden conversions—behaviour which even in the present more enlightened days is not absolutely unknown. Twenty-five London and eighty-seven provincial papers—there were far fewer papers then than there are now—supported the proposed reform, and their championship found an echo in some of the foreign Press. In London the Times (after a while), the now defunct Morning Chronicle, and the Spectator were pre-eminent. Mr Rintoul, founder and first editor of the Spectator, not only championed the reform long before its establishment, but continued to give the reformer constant support through trials [Pg 117] and triumphs till 1858, when, to the great loss of journalism and of all good causes, death severed Mr Rintoul's connection with that paper.[88]

Outside London, the Scotsman—then renowned for its advanced views—the Manchester Guardian, the Liverpool Mercury, and the Leeds Mercury—then in [Pg 118] the hands of the well-known Baines family—were, perhaps, especially active. Their support and that of other ably conducted provincial papers never varied, and to the end of his life Rowland Hill spoke gratefully of the enlightened and powerful aid thus given.
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