It makes some sense, I think, to have the first post here be about a newspaper-related beginning in the early history of Peterborough. On February 3rd, 1872, the roster of the town’s weekly newspapers was increased by one with the first issue of The Peterborough Times, founded by W.H. Robertson and Walter Walsh, two former employees of The Peterborough Review. The Review, for its part, was grudgingly accepting of the new arrival — although it praised the Times’ goal of “eschew[ing] personalities” and had glowing things to say about the paper’s typesetting and appearance, the Review’s editorial closed with a somewhat ungracious: “When we have said this, they can scarcely expect us to say more” (Peterborough Times, “What Our Contemporaries Think of Us,” February 10th, 1872).
The Review was also not above doling out a little paternal advice to its new competition. Among the features of the first issue of the Times was a piece of satire called “Our Club,” written by an unknown author under the pseudonym “Scapin” (he, or she, presumably adopted this name from the stock commedia dell’arte character). “Our Club” dealt with the machinations of a sort of generic social organization in a small English town called Muddleton, which despite its trans-Atlantic setting was fairly clearly intended to stand in for Peterborough. While the satire was a long way from vicious, it did have a bit of an edge to it, with one character — “Cheesey Milkandwater” — described as follows:
“Cheesey Milkandwater… is a gaunt specimen of humanity, with a heavy grey beard and an unimposing manner, and altogether presenting the appearance of a melancholy wolf. He is a man of few words, although he can be eloquent on occasions. He is liberal to a fault, and he shows this liberality more especially when he is canvassing for election for a member of the Club. Then his extravagance is alarming. He has been known to spend as much in one day as would purchase three glasses of hot whiskey and water. His benevolence and self-sacrificing spirit have been equally observable on those occasions, when, to prevent any injury to his fellow creatures from the evil effects of indulgence in ardent spirits, he has, in a self-denying spirit, always been known to drink them himself. All honour to Cheesey!” (The Peterborough Review, “Our Club,” February 3rd, 1872)
The February 3rd selection from “Our Club” ended with note that it was to be continued; however, it was absent from the February 10th issue of the Times. The Review, for its part, felt that it had a lead on the reason why. The older paper alleged that one of the local individuals being satirized had recognized himself, and that a subsequent visit had been paid to the Times offices on George St. by the brother of the aggrieved person in the company of a lawyer. While decrying the “thin-skinned” nature of the complainant, the Review also scolded the Times: “As for our [contemporaries], we would advise them not to be so easily ‘scared’ in the future” (The Peterborough Times, “Our Club,” February 17th, 1872).
The reaction of the Times to the assertion that they had backed down under pressure was one of indignation:
“…it seems odd that other people know more of our business than we do ourselves. We were not afraid, and if there had ever been anything further written, we should most certainly have published it, but unfortunately there has not. We are unaware of any “threats of vengeance” having been made, and are of the opinion that the Editor of the Review has been drawing considerably on his imagination.
Gas seems to be the forte of some people, it is a pity we had not a little more of it in the streets these dark nights.” (The Peterborough Times, “Our Club,” February 17th, 1872)
Sadly, we will likely not ever know the truth of what happened to “Our Club.” The adventures of Cheesey Milkandwater and his friends do not seem to appear again in the pages of the Review, or at least not in the first few months that the paper was in operation. Instead, for fictional content, the paper ran a serialization of an 1863 novel called Faith Gartney’s Girlhood, by the eminently traditionalist American author Adeline D.T. Whitney.
We will revisit the Times, and the other newspapers of the period, in later posts!