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The political contests of this period engaged a liost of iniscellaneous writers. The most powerful and effective belonged to the Tory or Jacobite party ; but the Whiys possessed one unflinching and prolific champion- DANIEL FOE, or De FoE, as he chose afterwards to write his name the father or founder of the English novel and author, it is said, of 254 separate publications! This excellent writer was a native of London, the son of a St. Giles butcher, and dissenter. Daniel was born in 1661, and was intended to be a Presbyterian minister, having with this view studied five years at a dissenters' academy at Newington. He acquired a competent knowledge of the Latin and Greek classics, and afterwards added to these an acquaintance with the Spanisli, Italian, and French languages. When the Monmouth insurrection broke out, Defue followed the Duke's standard. On the failure of the enterprise, he escaped punishment, and entered on business as a wholesale trader in hosiery in Freeman's Court, Cornhill. He next became a merchant-adventurer, and visited Spain and Portugal. He failed in business, and compounded with his creditors, who accepted a composition on his single bond.
He forced bis way,' he says, “through a sea of misfortunes, and reduced his debts, exclusive of composition, from £17,000 to less than £5000.' He then became secretary to, and ultimately owner of works at Tilbury for the manufacture of bricks and pantiles. This also was an unsuccessful undertaking, and Defoe lost by its failure a sum of £3000. Before this he had become known to the government of William III. as an able writer, and was appointed accountant to the Commissioners of the Glass Duty, which office he held from 1695 till the duty was suppressed in 1699. As an author, the first undoubted work by Defoe, though published anonymously, was a · Letter on His Majesty's Declaration for Liberty of Conscience' (1687). Defoe justly considered that the dictation of James II. suspending laws without the consent of parliament, was a subversion of the whole government or constitution of the country. The Revolution coming suon after, Defoe was one of the steadiest supporters of its principles. In March 1698, he published a remarkable volume, 'An Essay upon Projects,' in which various schemes and improvements are recommended, the work evincing great sagacity, knowledge and ingenuity. One of his projects was a savings-bank for the poor. In 1701, le made a great success. His “True-born Englishman,' a poetical satire on the foreigners, and a defence of King William and the Dutch, had an almost unexampled sale. Eighty thousand pirated copies of the poems were sold on the streets. Defoe was in reality no poet, but he could reason in verse, and had an unlimited command of homely and forcible language. The opening lines of this satire have often been quoted :
Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The latter has the largest congregation. Various political tracts followed from the active pen of our author. In 1702, he wrote an ironical treatise against the High-Church party, entitled. The shortest Way with the Dissen ters,' which was voted a libel by the House of Commons; and the author being apprehended, was fined, pilloried, and imprisoned. He wrote a hymn to the pillory (1704), which he wittily styled
A hieroglypic state-machine,
Condemned to punish fancy in ; and Pope alluded to the circumstance, exaggerating the punishment, with the spirit of a political partisan, not that of a friend to literature or liberty, in his ‘Dunciad'
Earless on high stood unabashed Defoe. The political victim lay nearly two years in Newgate, during whicb he carried on his periodical work, The Review,' published thrice a week. The character of Defoe, notwithstanding his political persecution, must have stood high ; for he was employed in 1706 by the cabinet of Queen Anne on a mission to Scotland to advance the great measure of the Union, of which he afterwards wrote a history. He again tried his hand at political irony, and issued three significant pamphlets— Reasons against the Succession of the House of Hanover; and “What if the Pretender should Come?' and 'An Answer to a Question that Nobody thinks of-viz: But what if the Queen should Die ?' These were all published in 1713, and ran through sev. eral editions. But neither Whig nor Tory could understand Defve's ironical writings. He was taken into custody, and had to find bail, himself in £800, and two friends in £100 each, to answer for the alleged libels.
Through the influence of Harley, Lord Oxford, however, Defoe obtained a pardon under the Great Seal, confuting the charges brought against him, and exempting him from any consequences thereafter on account of those publications. These disasters were supposed to have made Defoe withdraw altogether from politics; but in 1864 certain letters were discovered in the State Paper Office in Defoe's handwriting, shewing that he was engaged on several political journals in 1718. 'In considering,' he says, which way I might be ren, dered most useful to the government, it was proposed by my Lord Townshend (Secretary of State) that I should still appear as if I were as before, under the displeasure of the government, and separated from the Whigs, and that I might be now serviceable in a kind of disguise, than if I appeared openly. In this way he undertoek to take the sting out of three or four opposition papers, wlich by liis management would be so disabled and enervated as to do no mischief, or give any offence to the government.' For this degrading secret service, Defoe was no doubt well rewarded, but there is reason to believe that it proved unfortunate in the end. His greatest literary triumphi was yet to come. In 1719, appeared his Robinson Crusoe.' The extraordinary success of this work prompted him to write ad variety of other fictitious narratives and miscellaneous works-18 'Captain Singleton,' 1720; 'Duncan Campbell,' 1720; ‘Mo:1 Flanders,' 1721; Colonel Jack,' 1722 ; Religious Courtship,' 1722; * Journal of the Plague Year, 1722 ; 'Memoirs of a Cavalier,' 1724; “Tour through Great Britain,' 1724-27; 'Roxana,'1724;' Political Ilistory of the Devil,' 1726 ; ‘System of Magic,' 1727; · History of Apparitions,' 1727; The Complete English Tradesman,' 1727; Memoirs of Captain Carleton,' 1728; &c. The life of this active and voluminous writer was closed in April 1731.
It seems to have been one of continued struggle with wart, dulness, persecution, misfortune, and disease. But, lie adds in his last letter, ‘Be it that the passage is rough and the day stormy, by what way soever He please to bring me to the end of it, I desire to finish life with this temper of soul in all cases : Te Deum Laudamus.' Posterity has separated the wbeat from the chaff of Defoe's writings: his political tracts have sunk into oblivion; but his works of fiction still charm by their air of truth, and the simple natural beauty of their style. As a novelist, lie was the father of Richardson, and partly of Fielding; as an essayist, he suggested the ‘Tatler' and 'Spectator;' and in grave irony he may have given to Swist his first lessons. The intensity of feeling characteristic of the dean-his merciless scorn and invective, and fierce misanthropy-were unknown to Defoe, who must have been of a cheerful and sanguine temperament; but in identifying himself with bis personages, wbether on sea or land, and depicting their adventures, he was not inferior to Swist. His imagination had no visions of surpassing loveliness, nor any richi combinations of humour and eccentricity; yet he is equally at home in the plain scenes of English life, in the wars of the cavaliers, in the haunts of dissipation and infimy, in the roving adventures of the bucaneers, and in the appalling visitations of the Great Plague. The account of the plague has often been taken for a genuine and authentic history, and even Lord Chatham believed the . Memoirs of a Cavallier' to be a true narrative. In scenes of diablerie and witchcraft, he preserves the same unmoved and truth-like demeanour. The apparition of Mrs. Veal, at Canterbury, 'the eighth of September 1705, seems as true and indubitable a fact as any that ever passed before our eyes.
Unfortunately, the taste or circumstances of Defoe led him mostly into low life, and his characters are generally such as we cannot sympathise with. The whole arcana of roguery and villainy seem to
have been open to him. His experiences of Newgate were not without their use to the novelist. It might be thought that the good taste which led Defoe to write in a style of such pure and unpretending English, instead of the inflated manner of vulgar writers, would have dictated a more careful selection of his subjects, and kept him from wanderiny so frequently into the low and disgusting purlieus of vice. But this moral and tasteful discrimination seems to have been wholly wanting. He was too good and religious a man to break down the distinctions between virtue and crime. He selected the adventures of pirates, pickpockets, and other characters of the same worthless stamp, because they were likely to sell best, and made the most attractive narrative; but he nowhere holds them up for imitation. He evidently felt most at home where he had to descend, not to rise, to his subject. The circumstances of Robinson Crusoe, his shipwreck and residence in the solitary island, invest that incomparable tale with more romance than any of his other works. 'Pathios,' says Sir Walter Scott, “is not Defoe's general characteristic; he had too little delicacy of mind. When it comes, it comes uncalled, and is created by the circumstances, not sought for by the author. The excess, for instance, of the natural longing for human society which Crusoe manifests while on board of the stranded Spanish vessel, by falling into a sort of agony, as he repeated the words : "Oh, that but one man had been saved !-oh, that there had been but one !" is in the highest degree pathetic. The agonising reflections of the solitary, when he is in danger of being driven to sea, in his rash attempt to circumnavigate his island, are also affecting.
To these striking passages may be added the description of Crusoe's sensations on finding the footprint on the sand-an incident conceived in the spirit of poetry. The character of Friday, though his appearance on the scene breaks the solitary seal of the romance, is a highly interesting and pleasing delineation, that gives a charin 10 savage life. The great success of this novel induced the author to write a continuation to it, in which Crusoe is again brought among the busy haunts of men ; the attempt was hazardous, and it proved a failure. The once solitury island; peopled by mariners and traders, is disenchanted, and becomes tame, vulgar, and commonplace. The relation of adventures, not the delineation of character and passion, was the forte of Defoe. His invention of common incidents and situations seems to have been unbounded ; and those minute references and descriptions immediately lead us,' as has been remarked by Dunlop in his • History of Fiction,' to give credit to the whole narratives since we think they would hardly have been mentioned unless they had been true. The same circumstantial detail of facts is remarkable in Gulliver's Travels,” and we are led on by them to a partial belief in the most improbable narrations. The power of Defoe in feigning reality, or forging the handwriting of nature, as it has beeu forcibly termed, may be seen iu the narrative of Mrs. Veal's
apparition. It was prefixed to a religious book, 'Drelincourt on Death,' and had the effect of drawing attention to an otherwise un. saleable and neglected work. The imposition was a bold one-perhaps the liat defensible of all his inventions.
Defoe is more natural even than Swift; and his style, though in. ferior in directness and energy, is niore copious. He was strictly an original writer, with strong clear conceptions ever rising up in his mind, which he was able to embody in language equally perspicuous and forcible. He had both read and seen much, and treasured up an amount of knowledge and observation certainly not equalled by the store of any writer of that day. When we consider the misforiunes and sufferings of Defoe; that his spirit had been broken, and his means wasted, by persecution; that his health was struck down by apoplexy, and upwards of fifty-seven years had passed over him-his compositiou of Robinson Crusoe,' and the long train of fictions which succeeded it, must appear a remarkable instance of native genius, self-reliance, and energy of character.
We subjoin a short specimen of Defoe's irony. It was often too subtle and obscure for popular apprehension, but the following is at once obvious and ingenious.
What if the Pretender should Come? Give us leave, O people of Great Britain, to lay before you a little sketch of your future felicity, under the auspicious reign of such a glorious prince as we all hope and believe the Pretender 10 be. First, you are to a low, that by such a just and righteous shutting up of the Exchequer in about seven years' time, he may be sup. posed to have received about forty millions sterling from his people, which not being o be found in specie in the kingdom, will, for the benefit of circulation, enable him to treasure up infinite funds of wealth in foreign banks, a prodigious mass of for eign bullion. gold, jewels, and plate, to be ready in the Tower or elsewhere, to be issued upon future emergency, as occasion may allow. This prodigious wealth will necessarily have these happy events, to the infinite satisfaction and advantage of the whole nation, and the benefit of which I hope pone will be so unjust or ungrateful to deny. 1. It will for ever after deliver this nation froin the burden, the expense, the forinality, and the tyranny of parliaments. No one can perhaps at the first view be rightly sensible of the many advantages of this article, and froin how many mischiefs it will deliver this nation. How the country gentlemen will be no longer harassed to come, at the commaud of every court occasion, and upon every summons by the prince's proclamation froin their families and other occasions, whether they can be spared from their wives, &c. or no, or whether they can trust their wives behind them or no; nay, whether they can spare money or no for the journey, or whether they must come carriage paid or no; then they will no more be unnecessa:ily expozd to long and hazardous journeys in the depth of winter, from the remotest corners of the island, to come to London, just to g.ve away the country's money. and go home again ; all this will be dispensed with by the kind and graci us mana agement of the Pretender, whưa he, God bless us ! shall be our most gracious sovereign. 2. In the happy cons:quence of the demise of parliaments, the country will be eased of that intolerable burden of travelling to elections, sometimes in the mid, dle of their harvest, whenever the writs of elections arbitrarily summon them. 3. And with them the poor gentlemen will be eased of that abominable grievance of the pation, viz. the expense of elections, by which so many gentlemen of estates have been ruined, so many innocent people, of honest principles before, have been debauched and made mercenary, partial, perjured, and been blinded with bribes to sell their country and liberties to who bids most. It is well known how often, avd yet how in vain, this distemper has been the constant conceru of parliament for many ages