Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive

The Daily Mail (London, UK)

2 December 1904

Captioned 'A Penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny' and 'The Busy Man's Journal', The Daily Mail was launched on 4 May 1896 by Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, who exterted a strong influence on its content through editors S.J. Pryor (1896-1899) and Thomas Marlowe (1899-1926). Thanks to investment in technology and advertising, and radically new methods of gathering and reporting the news, The Daily Mail's circulation rose to 545,000 by 1899, more than one million in 1902 (then the world's largest), and 1,390,000 by 1914. George Warrington Steevens, Hamilton Fyfe, Lady Sarah Wilson, Phillip Gibbs, and H.W. Wilson were among its many distinguished members of staff. The Overseas Daily Mail was launched in 1904, The Continental Daily Mail in 1905, and a Braille edition in 1906.

Alfred and his brother Harold Harmsworth, later Lord Rothermere, are widely credited with having led a revolution in British newspaper publishing. Modelled typographically on The Times but sold at one-sixth of the price, The Daily Mail's jingoism and cultural populism proved an enduringly successful formula. Spending lavishly on sensational scoops, prize competitions, publicity stunts, and special campaigns, it pulled far ahead of established rivals such as The Daily Telegraph, The Daily News, and The Daily Chronicle as well as newcomers such as The Daily Express. Technological innovations, royalty, the armed services, and empire all featured regularly, as did humorous fait divers, interviews, and articles promoting the new middle-class pastimes of golf and pedestrianism as well as 'Daily Mail' branded varieties of hat, bread, and sweet pea.

Of particular importance was the paper's accessible and 'graphic' prose style, which eschewed the irony, Latin tags, and ornate phrasing of its predecessors in favour of plain-spoken, often militant assertions. Women readers were targeted by an array of features, including the first magazine page in a daily newspaper. Partly as a strategy for ensuring steady sales, The Daily Mail gave a prominent place in its pages to serial fiction and literary matters. In addition to serializing bestsellers such as Marie and Robert Leighton's Convict 99 (1898) and Edgar Wallace's The Four Just Men (1905), it commissioned Rudyard Kipling's poem 'The Absent Minded Beggar' (1899), engaged Max Beerbohm as a columnist, and even published Filippo Marinetti's Futurist manifesto 'The Variety Theatre' (21 November 1913).

Editorially The Daily Mail reflected the personality and prejudices of its mercurial owner, vigorously promoting aviation and conscription, and waging a long propaganda campaign against 'the Hun' -- a term popularized by Mail columnist Lovat Fraser in his serial 'The March of the Hun' -- in the years preceeding the First World War. The paper was frequently embroiled in controversy. Nicknamed 'The Daily Liar' for misreporting a massacre of European diplomats during the Boxer Rebellion, it was forced to pay massive libel damages to soap manufacturer William Lever in 1906, and suffered a ruinous drop in sales after exposing a shortage of artillery shells in 1915. Harmsworth's critics often depicted his influence as a threat to democracy.

Conrad read The Daily Mail regularly and knew several of its staff well, including leader-writer Richard Curle, war correspondent Jane Anderson, and Harmsworth himself, who acted as Conrad's patron from 1916. His twenty-year involvement with the paper, which was punctuated by violent disagreements with its literary editors Archibald Marshall and Lindsay Bashford, fell into three phases: part serialization of The Mirror of the Sea (1904); book reviews and journalistic commentaries (1907-1912); and essays reflecting his status as Britain's leading maritime writer (1918-1924). With Ford Madox Ford, Conrad had satirized Harmsworth in The Inheritors (1901), and in his private letters he slighted The Daily Mail as 'that abominable rag' (CL 5:529) and dismissed as 'utter bosh' (CL 4:346) his own book reviews (in which he had been assisted by the poet Edward Thomas). Yet he shared Harmsworth's enthusiasm for motoring and animus towards Germans and Bolsheviks, and was evidently susceptible to his flattery and largesse. After the baron's death in 1922, he reflected upon the oddity of their friendship to Edward Garnett: 'Strange fellows these Harmsworths! It is as if they had found Aladdin's lamp' (CL 7:513). Ultimately, Conrad placed almost thirty items with Harmsworth's Amalgamated Press, whose media empire also included The Times, The Evening News, Hutchinson's Magazine, London Magazine, Countries of the World, and The Argosy.

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Startt. James D. 'Northcliffe the Imperialist: The Lesser-Known Years, 1902-1914.' The Historian 51/1 (November 1988): 19-41.
Taylor, S.J. The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere, and the Daily Mail. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996.
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