Public sphere found in attic

Visitors to the journalism office here are currently breathing in nothing less than the aroma of the bourgeois public sphere itself.

It’s a mix of three hundred year old coffee, pipe smoke, gossip, rumour, wit, dust and news in the form of an early 18th century compilation of the Spectator newsletter.

A colleague’s father in law found it in his attic, wondered if it was something special, and sent it in.

It doesn’t look much, but we believe it is the newsletter than media theorist Habermas identified as pivotal in the structural transformation of the public sphere.

Handling the Spectator’s pages, it’s not hard to picture the public sphere at work back in that alleged golden age.

Volume Eight. Monday July 26, 1714. “I am the more pleased with these my Papers, since I find they have encouraged several Men of Learning and Wit to become my Correspondents: I Yesterday received the following Essay against Quacks, which I shall here communicate to my Readers for the Good of the Publick…[I will skip the essay, good as it is]……I lately dropped into a Coffee-house at Westminster where I found the Room hung round with …Elixirs, Tinctures…in short more Remedies than I believe there are diseases.” And so on.

If the tone sounds familiar that’s because I believe it is in fact a blog, but with a somewhat longer shelf life.

I’m not sure it the lender wants to sell it, but a website shows prices of £150 for one in fine condition. This one is a bit rough around the edges, so perhaps we’d make more money keeping it here and charging Habermas fetishists a few pounds to come in and touch it.

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