Edward Lloyd’s politics

Early in his life, Lloyd conceived a good idea — to publish material that the poor could afford and would like to read, so encouraging the habit and enabling them to use literacy as a means of moving out of poverty. It was also a good business plan since there was a huge unmet demand. Lloyd had the skills needed to make it a success.

Too little is known of his personal views to make a definitive statement about his political beliefs. The record suggests that he started life as a radical and ended it as a supporter of the Liberal establishment, but this may be deceptive. Some of the evidence suggests that he remained a radical throughout his life. Conclusions can only be drawn from the content of his papers. This would call for a major analysis that is beyond this website’s capacity to carry out.

Two periods of his life have been associated with active political involvement: his early years rubbing shoulders with the radicals and his final decades as publisher of two newspapers that broadly supported the Liberal Party. The two have little in common.

As a young man, Lloyd would have identified with the working classes. He was not only the son of a poor family in trade who had to earn a living to survive, but he also shared the squalid London housing where working people had to live. For him to have wanted to improve their lives would have been natural.

The second period was quite different. From the mid-1850s, Lloyd’s prosperity and social standing went into near-vertical ascent. At home, he moved into a grander way of life. Professionally, he was publisher of a Sunday paper that was influential by weight of numbers alone: the circulation of Lloyd’s Weekly went from 90,000 in 1853 to 500,000 in 1872, outstripping all others.

Newspapers are habitually given a party label and his titles in this period were treated as Liberal. Given his background, it is hardly surprising that Lloyd rejected the Tory ticket, but Lloyd's Weekly did not conform to Liberal Party policy either. In its turn, the Daily Chronicle had quite a few outright clashes with the party.

Lloyd the radical — fiction and ephemera

Lloyd was undoubtedly subversive. His enthusiasm for the penny press and abolition of Stamp Duties was shared by all those with radical views. His first newspaper provides much stronger evidence of his own commitment to radical views than his fiction and practical periodicals do.

Initially, the study of printing had suggested a business that he could afford if he used the barely legal periphery of the publishing world. From 1834, his need intensified as he took on responsibility for a wife and soon for a child.

As an irregular publisher, he used the irregular channels offered by the dens of Wych Street and Holywell Street. These were used by the committed radicals who spent their lives under threat of prosecution for sedition.

Some of the ephemera that he published in the 1830s may indicate radicalism, but the evidence is ambivalent. For example, the C.J. Grant cartoons that he published in 1836 took aim at the establishment and all its politicians. But they were high quality and Lloyd would probably have welcomed the opportunity to publish them in any event.

Commentator Troy Boone has made an attempt to identify the Chartist advocacy of moral suasion, as opposed to violence, in the plot of Varney the Vampire (1847).1 Although another explanation of why Varney was converted to more gentlemanly ways after some physical scenes at the start might have been Rymer’s need to draw out the plot as the serialisation grew longer and longer to meet demand.

Ian Hayward puts forward the more subtle theory that publishing respectable works for the poor at a price they could afford was itself a radical activity justifying Lloyd’s inclusion in the Chartist category.2

Lloyd broke the publishing mould by commercialising print, but not at the cost of “rational enlightenment or the advocacy of the moral and social codes of respectability.” Until then, enlightened literature had been priced out of reach of the poor, leaving them with morally degrading populist trash (or, no doubt, unreadable sermonising).

By publishing popular but morally sound material cheaply, Lloyd was a leader of the popular revolution in publishing. It is possible to interpret this as politically motivated or as a successful publishing venture, or both.

Lloyd’s reworking of Dickens in The Penny Pickwick reversed the social order of the original, giving the servants and other lowly characters the leading parts and telling the stories from their perspective. Altough Louis James notes that this replaced the subtlety of the originals with crude slapstick, it did allow some subversive ideas to appear, such as Sam Weller’s declaration of a trade union for flunkeys (Chapter 4).

Objections to Stamp Duty were widespread and naturally shared by all radicals. Like Lloyd, G.W.M. Reynolds and some of the Chartists used fiction and old news to avoid paying it (see a possible example). This useful tactic enabled strong words against the death penalty to pass muster if contained in an old crime story, for instance.

Before 1836, duty was charged at 4d on “public news, intelligence of occurrences, or any remarks or observations thereon, or upon any matter in Church or State”. Those who supported it, along with the Treasury, were the established landed and middle classes who feared the spread of independent thought among their labourers.

Another group in favour were the publishers of existing newspapers. When it was reduced to 1d in 1836, the government’s motive was not to encourage the penny press but to deny these an entrenched monopoly. With duty at 4d and the cost of setting up a new newspaper, it would have been impossible for any competing publisher to bring out a new title and ever make it pay.

The two other “taxes on knowledge”—advertising and paper—were costlier, if less oppressive politically, than the duty on news. The advertising duty (1s 6d per ad) delayed the use of newspapers as an advertising medium. It was abolished in 1853 but it took time before the habit caught on. Lloyd understood the value of a commercial source of income so that the cover price of newspapers could be kept low. Paper duty at 1½d/lb had a subtler yet just as invidious an effect: it needlessly delayed the introduction of the most efficient production method—printing from continuous reels of paper—as it was necessary to cut the paper into sheets to be weighed and taxed.

In conclusion, it is not known whether Lloyd was an active member of a radical group but on balance it seems improbable. His publishing served radical ends, but he started as a poor man who needed money to live on. He saw an opportunity to do this at the same time as helping others gain the educational advantages that he had enjoyed.