John Wheeler (1807-54) was editor and nominally proprietor of the Hampshire Independent between 1835 and 1840. It was established as a pro-Reform paper. Wheeler learnt his craft on the Manchester Chronicle and the Morning Chronicle, where he was a parliamentary reporter. He was here a colleague of Charles Dickens. Wheeler was a campaigning editor of the Hampshire Independent and was a frequent defendant in cases of libel brought against the paper. The paper was mired in debt during most of the time that Wheeler was editor, and he himself became bankrupt in February 1840. The extract printed below is an example of the bitterness of the political struggle between Liberal and Tory in the 1830s. The Independent was at the time going through one of its many financial crises. Wheeler was then living in Blechynden Terrace.

Lamentations of a Third-rate Printer

The night was gloomy, the storm was high,
And Demons flitted across the sky,
The rain in torrents descended fast,
And deep and sullenly howled the blast;
When mid the autumnal tempest’s roar,
A figure stood on the Millbrook shore,
Which in accents shrill, and in piteous wail,
Poured forth its sorrows to the gale.

Who at this dreary and dismal hour,
Thus braves the blast and pelting shower?
Who utters those sounds of deep distress?
‘Tis the man of the Independent press!
He who of late in bouncing pride,
Hurled his thunderbolts far and wide;
But now deserted, forlorn, and lone,
Thus to the elements made his moan.

“Why,” exclaimed he, “in this stormy night,
Have I turned out in such wretched plight?
Why have I left my peaceful home,
Along the sea wash’d beach to roam?
‘Tis because the hour of my triumph’s past;
‘Tis because down-hill I am going fast;
And in spite of my tact and acknowledged gumption,
My paper is now in a deep consumption.

My arrows of slander in poison dipp’d,
Alas! From my quiver are all unship’d,
I cannot launch them as I was wont,
They are harmless, alas! And their point is blunt,
Soon I’ll be laid upon the shelf,
For those arrows recoil upon myself;
And those who urged me to the attack,
On me have cruelly turned their back
And made a cat’s-paw of Printer Jack!

The Whigs and Radicals long may tell
How I worked for the Morning Chronicle,
And who can forget my letters three,
Which I penned at the crib of Bellamy;
‘Tis true from the influence of grog
My brain was enveloped in a fog;
But still (for my merits I must discuss)
They eclips’d the epistles of Junius”

Then Jack o’er his sorrows dropp’d a tear
And said, “what’s the use of stopping here?
Henceforth, I’ll record with an iron pen
The wicked ingratitude of men. –
To cheer my heat and repel the chill,
I’ll haste to the Nation tap at Hill.
And there to allay this inward storm
I’ll call for a glass of brandy warm,
And if peace to my mind that don’t restore,
I’ll try the effect of three or four”

(Hampshire Advertiser, 30 September 1837)

Further information can be found in ‘John Wheeler and the Hampshire Independent, 1835-40’ (Southampton Occasional Papers No. 12)


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