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having been his place of refuge, and there is a story that he was known
there as the Sunday Gentleman, because he appeared on that day, and that
day only, in fashionable attire, being kept indoors during the rest of
the week by fear of the bailiffs. But he was of too buoyant a
temperament to sink under his misfortune from the sense of having
brought it on himself, and the cloud soon passed away. A man so fertile
in expedients, and ready, according to his own ideal of a thoroughbred
trader, to turn himself to anything, could not long remain unemployed.
He had various business offers, and among others an invitation from some
merchants to settle at Cadiz as a commission agent, "with offers of very
good commissions." But Providence, he tells us, and, we may add, a
shrewd confidence in his own powers, "placed a secret aversion in his
mind to quitting England upon any account, and made him refuse the best
offers of that kind." He stayed at home, "to be concerned with some
eminent persons in proposing ways and means to the Government for
raising money to supply the occasions of the war then newly begun." He
also wrote a vigorous and loyal pamphlet, entitled, _The Englishman's,
Choice and True Interest: in the vigorous prosecution of the war against
France, and serving K. William and Q. Mary, and acknowledging their
right_. As a reward for his literary or his financial services, or for
both, he was appointed, "without the least application" of his own,
Accountant to the Commissioners of the Glass Duty, and held this post
till the duty was abolished in 1699.

From 1694 to the end of William's reign was the most prosperous and
honourable period in Defoe's life. His services to the Government did
not absorb the whole of his restless energy; He still had time for
private enterprise, and started a manufactory of bricks and pantiles at
Tilbury, where, Mr. Lee says, judging from fragments recently dug up, he
made good sound sonorous bricks, although according to another authority
such a thing was impossible out of any material existing in the
neighbourhood. Anyhow, Defoe prospered, and set up a coach and a
pleasure-boat. Nor must we forget what is so much to his honour, that he
set himself to pay his creditors in full, voluntarily disregarding the
composition which they had accepted. In 1705 he was able, to boast that
he had reduced his debts in spite of many difficulties from 17,000£. to
5,000£., but these sums included liabilities resulting from the failure
of his pantile factory.

Defoe's first conspicuous literary service to King William, after he
obtained Government employment, was a pamphlet on the question of a
Standing Army raised after the Peace of Ryswick in 1697. This Pen and
Ink War, as he calls it, which followed close on the heels of the great
European struggle, had been raging for some time before Defoe took the
field. Hosts of writers had appeared to endanger the permanence of the
triumph of William's arms and diplomacy by demanding the disbandment of
his tried troops, as being a menace to domestic liberties. Their
arguments had been encountered by no less zealous champions of the
King's cause. The battle, in fact, had been won when Defoe issued his
_Argument showing that a Standing Army, with consent of Parliament, is
not inconsistent with a Free Government_. He was able to boast in his
preface that "if books and writings would not, God be thanked the
Parliament would confute" his adversaries. Nevertheless, though coming
late in the day, Defoe's pamphlet was widely read, and must have helped
to consolidate the victory.

Thus late in life did Defoe lay the first stone of his literary
reputation. He was now in the thirty-eighth year of his age, his
controversial genius in full vigour, and his mastery of language
complete. None of his subsequent tracts surpass this as a piece of
trenchant and persuasive reasoning. It shows at their very highest his
marvellous powers of combining constructive with destructive criticism.
He dashes into the lists with good-humoured confidence, bearing the
banner of clear common sense, and disclaiming sympathy with extreme
persons of either side. He puts his case with direct and plausible
force, addressing his readers vivaciously as plain people like himself,
among whom as reasonable men there cannot be two opinions. He cuts rival
arguments to pieces with dexterous strokes, representing them as the
confused reasoning of well-meaning but dull intellects, and dances with
lively mockery on the fragments. If the authors of such arguments knew
their own minds, they would be entirely on his side. He echoes the pet
prejudices of his readers as the props and mainstays of his thesis, and
boldly laughs away misgivings of which they are likely to be half
ashamed. He makes no parade of logic; he is only a plain freeholder like
the mass whom he addresses, though he knows twenty times as much as many
writers of more pretension. He never appeals to passion or imagination;
what he strives to enlist on his side is homely self-interest, and the
ordinary sense of what is right and reasonable. There is little
regularity of method in the development of his argument; that he leaves
to more anxious and elaborate masters of style. For himself he is
content to start from a bold and clear statement of his own opinion, and
proceeds buoyantly and discursively to engage and scatter his enemies as
they turn up, without the least fear of being able to fight his way back
to his original base. He wrote for a class to whom a prolonged
intellectual operation, however comprehensive and complete, was
distasteful. To persuade the mass of the freeholders was his object, and
for such an object there are no political tracts in the language at all
comparable to Defoe's. He bears some resemblance to Cobbett, but he had
none of Cobbett's brutality; his faculties were more adroit, and his
range of vision infinitely wider. Cobbett was a demagogue, Defoe a
popular statesman. The one was qualified to lead the people, the other
to guide them. Cobbett is contained in Defoe as the less is contained in
the greater.

King William obtained a standing army from Parliament, but not so large
an army as he wished, and it was soon afterwards still further reduced.
Meantime, Defoe employed his pen in promoting objects which were dear to
the King's heart. His _Essay on Projects_ - which "relate to Civil Polity
as well as matters of negoce" - was calculated, in so far as it
advocated joint-stock enterprise, to advance one of the objects of the
statesmen of the Revolution, the committal of the moneyed classes to the
established Government, and against a dynasty which might plausibly be
mistrusted of respect for visible accumulations of private wealth.
Defoe's projects were of an extremely varied kind. The classification
was not strict. His spirited definition of the word "projects" included
Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel, as well as Captain Phipps's scheme
for raising the wreck of a Spanish ship laden with silver. He is
sometimes credited with remarkable shrewdness in having anticipated in
this Essay some of the greatest public improvements of modern times - the
protection of seamen, the higher education of women, the establishment
of banks and benefit societies, the construction of highways. But it is
not historically accurate to give him the whole credit of these
conceptions. Most of them were floating about at the time, so much so
that he had to defend himself against a charge of plagiarism, and few of
them have been carried out in accordance with the essential features of
his plans. One remarkable circumstance in Defoe's projects, which we may
attribute either to his own natural bent or to his compliance with the
King's humour, is the extent to which he advocated Government
interference. He proposed, for example, an income-tax, and the
appointment of a commission who should travel through the country and
ascertain by inquiry that the tax was not evaded. In making this
proposal he shows an acquaintance with private incomes in the City,
which raises some suspicion as to the capacity in which he was
"associated with certain eminent persons in proposing ways and means to
the Government." In his article on Banks, he expresses himself
dissatisfied that the Government did not fix a maximum rate of interest
for the loans made by chartered banks; they were otherwise, he
complained, of no assistance to the poor trader, who might as well go to
the goldsmiths as before. His Highways project was a scheme for making
national highways on a scale worthy of Baron Haussmann. There is more
fervid imagination and daring ingenuity than business talent in Defoe's
essay; if his trading speculations were conducted with equal rashness,
it is not difficult to understand their failure. The most notable of
them are the schemes of a dictator, rather than of the adviser of a free
Government. The essay is chiefly interesting as a monument of Defoe's
marvellous force of mind, and strange mixture of steady sense with
incontinent flightiness. There are ebullient sallies in it which we
generally find only in the productions of madmen and charlatans, and yet
it abounds in suggestions which statesmen might profitably have set
themselves with due adaptations to carry into effect. The _Essay on
Projects_ might alone be adduced in proof of Defoe's title to genius.

One of the first projects to which the Government of the Revolution
addressed itself was the reformation of manners - a purpose at once
commendable in itself and politically useful as distinguishing the new
Government from the old. Even while the King was absent in Ireland at
the beginning of his reign, the Queen issued a letter calling upon all
justices of the peace and other servants of the Crown to exert
themselves in suppressing the luxuriant growth of vice, which had been
fostered by the example of the Court of Charles. On the conclusion of
the war in 1697, William issued a most elaborate proclamation to the
same effect, and an address was voted by Parliament, asking his Majesty
to see that wickedness was discouraged in high places. The lively
pamphlet in which Defoe lent his assistance to the good work entitled
_The Poor Man's Plea_, was written in the spirit of the parliamentary
address. It was of no use to pass laws and make declarations and
proclamations for the reform of the common _plebeii_, the poor man
pleaded, so long as the mentors of the laws were themselves corrupt. His
argument was spiced with amusing anecdotes to show the prevalence of
swearing and drunkenness among members of the judicial bench. Defoe
appeared several times afterwards in the character of a reformer of
manners, sometimes in verse, sometimes in prose. When the retort was
made that his own manners were not perfect, he denied that this
invalidated the worth of his appeal, but at the same time challenged his
accusers to prove him guilty of any of the vices that he had satirised.

It is impossible now to ascertain what induced Defoe to break with the
Dissenters, among whom he had been brought up, but break with them he
did in his pamphlet against the practice of _Occasional Conformity_.
This practice of occasionally taking communion with the Established
Church, as a qualification for public office, had grown up after the
Revolution, and had attracted very little notice till a Dissenting lord
mayor, after attending church one Sunday forenoon, went in the afternoon
with all the insignia of his office to a Conventicle. Defoe's objection
to this is indicated in his quotation, "If the Lord be God, follow Him,
but if Baal, then follow him." A man, he contended, who could reconcile
it with his conscience to attend the worship of the Church, had no
business to be a Dissenter. Occasional conformity was "either a sinful
act in itself, or else his dissenting before was sinful." The Dissenters
naturally did not like this intolerant logical dilemma, and resented its
being forced upon them by one of their own number against a practical
compromise to which the good sense of the majority of them assented. No
reply was made to the pamphlet when first issued in 1698; and two or
three years afterwards Defoe, exulting in the unanswerable logic of his
position, reprinted it with a prefatory challenge to Mr. Howe, an
eminent Dissenting minister. During the next reign, however, when a bill
was introduced to prohibit the practice of occasional conformity, Defoe
strenuously wrote against it as a breach of the Toleration Act and a
measure of persecution. In strict logic it is possible to make out a
case for his consistency, but the reasoning must be fine, and he cannot
be acquitted of having in the first instance practically justified a
persecution which he afterwards condemned. In neither case does he point
at the repeal of the Test Act as his object, and it is impossible to
explain his attitude in both cases on the ground of principle. However
much he objected to see the sacrament, taken as a matter of form, it was
hardly his province, in the circumstances in which Dissenters then
stood, to lead an outcry against the practice; and if he considered it
scandalous and sinful, he could not with much consistency protest
against the prohibition of it as an act of persecution. Of this no
person was better aware than Defoe himself, and it is a curious
circumstance that, in his first pamphlet on the bill for putting down
occasional conformity, he ridiculed the idea of its being persecution to
suppress politic or state Dissenters, and maintained that the bill did
not concern true Dissenters at all. To this, however, we must refer
again in connexion with his celebrated tract, _The Shortest Way with

The troubles into which the European system was plunged by the death of
the childless King of Spain, and that most dramatic of historical
surprises, the bequest of his throne by a deathbed will to the Duke of
Anjou, the second grandson of Louis XIV., furnished Defoe with a great
opportunity for his controversial genius. In Charles II's will, if the
legacy was accepted, William saw the ruin of a life-long policy. Louis,
though he was doubly pledged against acknowledging the will, having
renounced all pretensions to the throne of Spain for himself and his
heirs in the Treaty of the Pyrenees, and consented in two successive
treaties of partition to a different plan of succession, did not long
hesitate; the news that he had saluted his grandson as King of Spain
followed close upon the news of Charles's death. The balance of the
great Catholic Powers which William had established by years of anxious
diplomacy and costly war, was toppled over by a stroke of the pen. With
Spain and Italy virtually added to his dominions, the French King would
now be supreme upon the Continent. Louis soon showed that this was his
view of what had happened, by saying that the Pyrenees had ceased to
exist. He gave a practical illustration of the same view by seizing,
with the authority of his grandson, the frontier towns of the Spanish
Netherlands, which were garrisoned under a special treaty by Dutch
troops. Though deeply enraged at the bad faith of the most Christian
King, William was not dismayed. The stone which he had rolled up the
hill with such effort had suddenly rolled down again, but he was eager
to renew his labours. Before, however, he could act, he found himself,
to his utter astonishment and mortification, paralysed by the attitude
of the English Parliament. His alarm at the accession of a Bourbon to
the Spanish throne was not shared by the ruling classes in England. They
declared that they liked the Spanish King's will better than William's
partition. France, they argued, would gain much less by a dynastic
alliance with Spain, which would exist no longer than their common
interests dictated, than by the complete acquisition of the Spanish
provinces in Italy.

William lost no time in summoning a new Parliament. An overwhelming
majority opposed the idea of vindicating the Partition Treaty by arms.
They pressed him to send a message of recognition to Philip V. Even the
occupation of the Flemish fortresses did not change their temper. That,
they said, was the affair of the Dutch; it did not concern England. In
vain William tried to convince them that the interests of the two
Protestant States were identical. In the numerous pamphlets that wore
hatched by the ferment, it was broadly insinuated that the English
people might pay too much for the privilege of having a Dutch King, who
had done nothing for them that they could not have done for themselves,
and who was perpetually sacrificing the interests of his adopted country
to the necessities of his beloved Holland. What had England gained by
the Peace of Ryswick? Was England to be dragged into another exhausting
war, merely to secure a strong frontier for the Dutch? The appeal found
ready listeners among a people in whose minds the recollections of the
last war were still fresh, and who still felt the burdens it had left
behind. William did not venture to take any steps to form an alliance
against France, till a new incident emerged to shake the country from
its mood of surly calculation. When James II. died and Louis recognised
the Pretender as King of England, all thoughts of isolation from a
Continental confederacy were thrown to the winds. William dissolved his
Long Parliament, and found the new House as warlike as the former had
been peaceful. "Of all the nations in the world," cried Defoe, in
commenting on this sudden change of mood, "there is none that I know of
so entirely governed by their humour as the English."

For ten months Defoe had been vehemently but vainly striving to
accomplish by argument what had been wrought in an instant by the French
King's insufferable insult. It is one of the most brilliant periods of
his political activity. Comparatively undistinguished before, he now, at
the age of forty, stepped into the foremost rank of publicists. He lost
not a moment in throwing himself into the fray as the champion of the
king's policy. Charles of Spain died on the 22nd of October, 1701; by
the middle of November, a few days after the news had reached England,
and before the French King's resolve to acknowledge the legacy was
known, Defoe was ready with a pamphlet to the clear and stirring title
of - _The Two Great questions considered_. I. _What the French King will
do with respect to the Spanish Monarchy._ II. _What measures the English
ought to take._ If the French King were wise, he argued, he would reject
the dangerous gift for his grandson. But if he accepted it, England had
no choice but to combine with her late allies the Emperor and the
States, and compel the Duke of Anjou to withdraw his claims. This
pamphlet being virulently attacked, and its author accused of bidding
for a place at Court, Defoe made a spirited rejoinder, and seized the
occasion to place his arguments in still clearer light. Between them the
two pamphlets are a masterly exposition, from the point of view of
English interests, of the danger of permitting the Will to be fulfilled.
He tears the arguments of his opponents to pieces with supreme scorn.
What matters it to us who is King of Spain? asks one adversary. As well
ask, retorts Defoe, what it matters to us who is King of Ireland. All
this talk about the Balance of Power, says another, is only "a
shoeing-horn to draw on a standing army." We do not want an army; only
let us make our fleet strong enough and we may defy the world; our
militia is perfectly able to defend us against invasion. If our militia
is so strong, is Defoe's reply, why should a standing-army make us fear
for our domestic liberties? But if you object to a standing-army in
England, avert the danger by subsidising allies and raising and paying
troops in Germany and the Low Countries. Even if we are capable of
beating off invasion, it is always wise policy to keep the war out of
our own country, and not trust to such miracles as the dispersion of the
Armada. In war, Defoe says, repeating a favourite axiom of his, "it is
not the longest sword but the longest purse that conquers," and if the
French get the Spanish crown, they get the richest trade in the world
into their hands. The French would prove better husbands of the wealth
of Mexico and Peru than the Spaniards. They would build fleets with it,
which would place our American plantations at their mercy. Our own trade
with Spain, one of the most profitable fields of our enterprise, would
at once be ruined. Our Mediterranean trade would be burdened with the
impost of a toll at Gibraltar. In short Defoe contended, if the French
acquired the upper hand in Spain, nothing but a miracle could save
England from becoming practically a French province.

Defoe's appeal to the sense of self-interest fell, however, upon deaf
ears. No eloquence or ingenuity of argument could have availed to stem
the strong current of growling prepossession. He was equally
unsuccessful in his attempt to touch deeper feelings by exhibiting in a
pamphlet, which is perhaps the ablest of the series, _The danger of the
Protestant Religion, from the present prospect of a Religious War in
Europe_. "Surely you cannot object to a standing army for the defence of
your religion?" he argued; "for if you do, then you stand convicted of
valuing your liberties more than your religion, which ought to be your
first and highest concern." Such scraps of rhetorical logic were but as
straws in the storm of anti-warlike passion that was then raging. Nor
did Defoe succeed in turning the elections by addressing "to the good
people of England" his _Six Distinguishing Characters of a Parliament
Man_, or by protesting as a freeholder against the levity of making the
strife between the new and the old East India Companies a testing
question, when the very existence of the kingdom was at stake. His
pamphlets were widely distributed, but he might as soon have tried to
check a tempest by throwing handfuls of leaves into it. One great
success, however, he had, and that, strangely enough, in a direction in
which it was least to be anticipated. No better proof could be given
that the good-humoured magnanimity and sense of fair-play on which
English people pride themselves is more than an empty boast than the
reception accorded to Defoe's _True-Born Englishman_. King William's
unpopularity was at its height. A party writer of the time had sought to
inflame the general dislike to his Dutch favourites by "a vile pamphlet
in abhorred verse," entitled _The Foreigners_, in which they are loaded
with scurrilous insinuations. It required no ordinary courage in the
state of the national temper at that moment to venture upon the line of
retort that Defoe adopted. What were the English, he demanded, that they
should make a mock of foreigners? They were the most mongrel race that
ever lived upon the face of the earth; there was no such thing as a
true-born Englishman; they were all the offspring of foreigners; what
was more, of the scum of foreigners.

"For Englishmen to boast of generation
Cancels their knowledge, and lampoons the nation.
A true-born Englishman's a contradiction,
In speech an irony, in fact a fiction."

* * * * *

And here begins the ancient pedigree
That so exalts our poor nobility.
'Tis that from some French trooper they derive,
Who with the Norman bastard did arrive;
The trophies of the families appear,
Some show the sword, the bow, and some the spear
Which their great ancestor, forsooth, did wear.
These in the herald's register remain,
Their noble mean extraction to explain,
Yet who the hero was no man can tell,
Whether a drummer or colonel;
The silent record blushes to reveal
Their undescended dark original.

* * * * *

"These are the heroes that despise the Dutch
And rail at new-come foreigners so much;
Forgetting that themselves are all derived
From the most scoundrel race that ever lived;
A horrid crowd of rambling thieves and drones,
Who ransacked kingdoms and dispeopled towns;
The Pict and painted Briton, treacherous Scot,
By hunger, theft, and rapine hither brought;
Norwegian pirates, buccaneering Danes,
Whose red-haired offspring everywhere remains;
Who joined with Norman French compound the breed
From whence your true-born Englishmen proceed."

"And lest, by length of time, it be pretended,
The climate may this modern breed have mended,
Wise Providence, to keep us where we are,
Mixes us daily with exceeding care;

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Online LibraryWilliam MintoDaniel Defoe → online text (page 2 of 13)