Author: Victor Klarwill
Book: The Fugger News-Letters, 1568-1605
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York & London, The Knickerbocker Press
Fig. 1: The Fugger News-Letters
The Fugger family was an extremely wealthy and influential family in Germany during the fifteenth and sixteenth century, accumulating enormous wealth from their banking practices by the sixteenth century. During their time of affluence, the family recorded and collected thousands of newsletters that were written by their network of merchants and diplomats.
The Fugger News-letters (see fig. 1) were discovered later, when their library was sold to another family in lieu of their company’s demise. While the newsletters are not considered an extremely credible history source, they did contain an enormous wealth of information on a variety of topics. More importantly, however, is their role in the development of modern journalism. The Fugger News-Letters set the stage for modern newspapers and tabloids, providing detailed accounts of economics, politics, and gossip during the time period.
A significant aspect of the Newsletters was their use of scene to explain the events. The writers would not just supply the facts at the onset of each article, but would instead take the reader through a chronological narrative of the event. When offering details, the writers would add detailed descriptions of the actions, setting, and people in the story. This use of description, and focus on scene, was a precursor for the literary journalism that would develop later on.
After reading a few of the letters, we immediately noticed varying sentence structures in each piece. Most evident was the contrast between letter 6: The Razing of the Cuilembourg House in Brussels and letter 8: Malversation of the Civic Treasurer in Antwerp.
In letter 6, the structure is set in the scene of Brussels where formerly there stood the mansion of the Count de Cuilembourg but now there is a large pillar of grey stones. This very short letter is only one long sentence and includes the engraved inscription that is on the large pillar. It is straight forward, to the point of merely broadcasting this news and there is no element of dialogue, characterization, or setup of a conflict such as in letter 7 and letter 1.
In contrast, letter 8 embodies a short sentence structure. This structure adheres to the letter’s important scene setup. Christoph Braun’s escape embodies many short, detailed descriptions in order to set the scene such as where the guards were at the time, how Braun got past them by getting water, his locations throughout the process, and his ultimate escape. It is interesting to see how different sentence structures adhere to different types of news reports and letters.
A significant attribute of the Fugger News-Letters is their use of dialogue because it gives each piece a more human and descriptive reading then a sole recounting of the facts. In the “Execution of Count Egmont and Count Horn in Brussels”, the use of dialogue adds to the stylistic nature of the piece by providing details about the Counts before their execution. It gives the reader a better understanding of the emotion they were going through. One example of this is when the Count says that “There is naught that troubles my heart or lies heavy on my conscience” just before his death.
This dialogue contributes to the overall style of the piece but because we do not know who is recording what exactly someone is saying or whether the quotes are correct or not, it is hard to judge the authenticity. For example, it seems forced when Count Egmont is lead to the King’s Bread-House and then says, “Now I have lost all hope!” especially with the use of punctuation.
Another aspect of dialogue in the Newsletters is that each story’s dialogue is very cut and dry where every line of dialogue is in a “he said” format. An example of this is all the quotes that Count Egmont or the Bishop says. They all begin either as “said to him” or “the Bishop of Ypres addressed him”. Although this aspect makes the piece less fluid, the use of dialogue makes this piece more a piece of literary journalism than a simple news story.