Tag Archives: pamphlet

And now, the news



We talked about pamphleteers and pamphlets. The mechanized printing press made it feasible (you wouldn’t go broke doing it) to write up an essay or an article and get copies of it printed, distributed and sold. There were enough literate (they could read) customers to support a pamphlet business. Some of those pamphleteers got rich and famous. It must have become clear after awhile that news could be reported, printed and published in a larger format and on a regular schedule—weekly or even daily—at an affordable cost. A newspaper! A newspaper could tell you what was going on and also offer opinions about current events. If you can make money from a pamphlet, why not make money from a newspaper?

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Maybe having one guy in charge who has absolute power wasn’t our brightest idea


As their colony grew, the principles of the Mayflower Compact could be enlarged upon: all people are created equal; God-given rights are something we’re born with; top-down governance is something to be wary of. Although they promised to remain subjects of England, the Pilgrims set up a representative government in Plymouth. They elected their governor. They chose him by voting for him—that was a big deal.

The printing press was useful for explaining these new ideas through pamphlets and soon newspapers. The Plymouth Colony government became a model for the way the United States would be run one day.


The Signing of the Compact painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris in 1899—the painting I lampooned in my sketch above. I thought it would be funny if everybody signing the Compact had to deal with the Mayflower’s cramped conditions.

https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/mayflower-compact
https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-in-colonial-america/colonial-print-culture
http://newenglandtravels.blogspot.com/2009/12/pilgrims-and-printing-press.html
https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/the-pilgrim-press-from-illegal-printing-to-thanksgiving
https://www.history.com/news/mayflower-compact-colonial-america-plymouth
How about this—a Bible translated into the Wampanoags’ language was the first one printed in the New World: https://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/2006/04/03/the-first-bible-printed-in-the-western-hemisphere/

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Pilgrims and printing

More fuel-efficient, better mileage

I paid special attention to the Pilgrims and Plymouth colony for a reason. Even though I can’t be certain that William Brewster’s press ever made it to North America, it’s still true that the first North American printing operation (1638) was in Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth.

The Pilgrims saw their adventure as providential. They believed God landed them in Plymouth and not Jamestown, Virginia on purpose.

In Jamestown, there was an English colony already established. Things like a colonial government and culture (very different from the stern impassioned Pilgrim culture) were up and humming along nicely. In Plymouth, the Pilgrims had to start from scratch. They needed a system of government. The compact they made with each other (and God) aboard the Mayflower was how they governed themselves on land. Their congregation was a ‘covenant’ congregation—a covenant is a contract with God. They answered to God first, before a king or anybody else. If you’re accountable to God, you understand that your rights come from Him. As a contrast, King James said that his subjects’ rights came from King James himself (because of his divine right to rule). The Pilgrims didn’t like that idea so much.

Stern impassioned Pilgrims, or at least their feet, show up in verse 317 or 318 of America The Beautiful:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful
Ray Charles nails it (though he doesn’t get to that particular verse):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRUjr8EVgBg

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William Brewster

And then…I don’t find evidence of the Pilgrims setting up their printing press in Plymouth. Not surprising, really, when you think about it. They’d landed by accident in a place where everything had to be built from scratch. No houses, no barricades or fort for protection, very little food. Setting up a printing operation wasn’t at the top of their to-do list.

Besides, when they packed the press, the Pilgrims expected to land in Virginia where there might’ve been a market for pamphlets and books—a large audience who spoke and read English.



I assume the press was William Brewster’s. In Holland he’d been an underground printer, printing pamphlets and books that were critical of the Church of England and King James I. This made Brewster an internationally wanted man, in hiding from King James’ men for a year before the Pilgrims set sail.



As far as that goes, all the Pilgrims/Puritans were underground. To be English and not worship with the Church of England was to question the divine right of kings (King James was the head of the C of E, just as Henry was). The Pilgrims worshiped privately at somebody’s house—usually in the country, so they wouldn’t be caught at it. They all faced the possibility of arrest and punishment. There was no religious freedom in the Pilgrims’ home country.


Anyhoo, it would be a few years before a press began running in North America.

https://www.prphbooks.com/blog/pilgrim
https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-in-colonial-america/colonial-print-culture
http://newenglandtravels.blogspot.com/2009/12/pilgrims-and-printing-press.html
https://plymrock.org/william-brewster-and-the-pilgrim-press/
https://americanminute.com/blogs/todays-american-minute/william-brewster-and-how-pilgrim-covenant-twisted-into-social-contract-then-socialism-american-minute-with-bill-federer
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pilgrims-progress-135067108/

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

We were just talking about pamphlets—click here for a picture from a 1617 pamphlet of Guy Fawkes’ head on a pike.:
https://www.alamy.com/gunpowder-plot-the-head-of-guy-fawkes-from-a-1617-pamphlet-image221751638.html

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Satire

Jonathan Swift. One of the perks of being a pamphleteer was you got to wear big wigs.

Satire : a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

Many pamphleteers commented on social conditions or criticized the government. Jonathan Swift used satire to make his points—‘Swiftian’ is still an adjective for a particularly dark sense of humor. In 1729 Swift published  A Modest Proposal to transform poor Irish children from a burden to society instead to being a benefit. His pamphlet caused a howling, righteous uproar (click on the link to read it)—just as it would today on Instagram or Twitter. Daniel Defoe’s satirical The Shortest Way with the Dissenters got him arrested for sedition.

Then, as now, the ruling class had no sense of humor and wouldn’t tolerate criticism. The British government censored and arrested pamphleteers for expressing politically incorrect opinions. The idea that writers should have the liberty to write about whatever they choose and have their work printed and distributed is called freedom of the press. This was a new concept. John Milton defended freedom of the press in a pamphlet that he had to publish anonymously. He was revealed as its true author only a couple of years ago.

https://www.britannica.com/art/pamphlet
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pamphleteer
https://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/lilly/exhibitions_legacy/defoe/pamphlets.html
https://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Swift-As-Tory-Pamphleteer/dp/0295978708
https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/milton-9781608193783/
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/satire

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The pamphleteers

Daniel Defoe

If you were a young writer just starting out during Brit lit’s Augustan Age (late 1600s – early 1700s), pamphlets were the way to build an audience. Pamphlets can be as short as 4 pages. Lots of them don’t even have covers. They’re cheap and easy to produce—and plenty of people could read by then—so you could sell bunches of ‘em. They were the social media of those days. If you had something on your mind, a topic to rant about, you wrote an essay and printed it up as a pamphlet. You became a pamphleteer.

You may recognize the names of some pamphleteers—Daniel Defoe (he wrote Robinson Crusoe), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Tom Paine (his pamphlets were made into a collection titled Common Sense), John Milton (Paradise Lost).

https://www.britannica.com/art/pamphlet
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pamphleteer
https://poemanalysis.com/movement/augustan-age/

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