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Definition: Pamphlet from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

A small written work of comparatively few sheets, often controversial and of only temporary interest. The word comes from the name of a 12th-century amatory Latin poem, Pamphilus seu de Amore (‘Pamphilus (‘All-Loving’), or On Love’).

Summary Article: pamphlet from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Small unbound booklet or leaflet, used to spread information and opinion. In 16th century in Europe, the pamphlet became the principal means of stimulating public debate on a wide range of political, religious, and cultural issues. It remained an effective method of widespread communication until the advent of mass media.

The first great age of pamphleteering began with the Protestant Reformation, when the new invention of the printing press helped such religious reformers as Martin Luther disseminate their ideas in leaflets that were written in a plain, vernacular language for wide appeal. Such tracts were often couched in polemical terms. Pamphleteering had its heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries, being employed in the English Civil War and in the American and French Revolutions as a tool of political agitation, and, more peacefully, to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment.

In modern times, pamphlets are used to advertise products and services, or to dispense advice; for example on matters of health and safety.

History of the pamphlet in Britain As in continental Europe, the first pamphlets in Britain concerned religious and constitutional matters; among these is the Scots Presbyterian John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women 1558. Pamphleteering was given an immense impetus by the Marprelate controversy of 1589, when a series of satirical tracts defending Presbyterian beliefs were issued by anonymous authors under the collective name of ‘Martin Marprelate’. Around the same time, the dramatist Robert Greene's social pamphlets exposed the underworld of Elizabethan London, and various witchcraft controversies, especially the Lancashire trials of 1612, further stimulated the growth of the medium. Political pamphlets and news-sheets (the germ of the modern newspaper) also made their first appearance in England in the 17th century, multiplying rapidly during the Civil War, when leading Puritans such as John Milton used them to expound their views.

In the early 18th century, a period that the lexicographer Samuel Johnson dubbed ‘the age of pamphlets’, writers such as Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Jonathan Swift produced numerous pamphlets. Later in the century, the French Revolution was fiercely debated among intellectuals in England; Edmund Burke'sReflections on the Revolution in France 1790, a vehement denunciation of the revolt, was answered by Thomas Paine'sRights of Man 1791–92, addressed to working people, which became the most widely read work of its time.

Political pamphleteering continued throughout the 19th century in Britain, on such issues as the Corn Laws, home rule for Ireland, and the Boer War. However, the rise of national newspapers signalled the demise of the political pamphlet.

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