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We have been Europe's sink, the jakes where she
Voids all her offal outcast progeny;
From our fifth Henry's time the strolling bands
Of banished fugitives from neighbouring lands
Have here a certain sanctuary found:
The eternal refuge of the vagabond,
Wherein but half a common age of time,
Borrowing new blood and manners from the clime,
Proudly they learn all mankind to contemn,
And all their race are true-born Englishmen."

As may be judged from this specimen, there is little delicacy in Defoe's
satire. The lines run on from beginning to end in the same strain of
bold, broad, hearty banter, as if the whole piece had been written off
at a heat. The mob did not lynch the audacious humourist. In the very
height of their fury against foreigners, they stopped short to laugh at
themselves. They were tickled by the hard blows as we may suppose a
rhinoceros to be tickled by the strokes of an oaken cudgel. Defoe
suddenly woke to find himself the hero of the hour, at least with the
London populace. The pamphlet was pirated, and eighty thousand copies,
according to his own calculation, were sold in the streets. Henceforth
he described himself in his title-pages as the author of the _True-Born
Englishman_, and frequently did himself the honour of quoting from the
work as from a well-established classic. It was also, he has told us,
the means of his becoming personally known to the King, whom he had
hitherto served from a distance.

Defoe was not the man to be abashed by his own popularity. He gloried in
it, and added to his reputation by taking a prominent part in the
proceedings connected with the famous Kentish Petition, which marked
the turn of the tide in favour of the King's foreign policy. Defoe was
said to be the author of "Legion's Memorial" to the House of Commons,
sternly warning the representatives of the freeholders that they had
exceeded their powers in imprisoning the men who had prayed them to
"turn their loyal addresses into Bills of Supply." When the Kentish
Petitioners were liberated from the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and
feasted by the citizens at Mercers' Hall, Defoe was seated next to them
as an honoured guest.

Unfortunately for Defoe, William did not live long after he had been
honoured with his Majesty's confidence. He declared afterwards that he
had often been privately consulted by the King. The pamphlets which he
wrote during the close of the reign are all such as might have been
directly inspired. That on the Succession is chiefly memorable as
containing a suggestion that the heirs of the Duke of Monmouth should be
heard as to King Charles's alleged marriage with Lucy Walters. It is
possible that this idea may have been sanctioned by the King, who had
had painful experience of the disadvantages attending a ruler of foreign
extraction, and besides had reason to doubt the attachment of the
Princess Sophia to the Protestant faith. When the passionate aversion to
war in the popular mind was suddenly changed by the recognition of the
Pretender into an equally passionate thirst for it, and the King seized
the opportunity to dissolve Parliament and get a new House in accord
with the altered temper of the people, Defoe justified the appeal to the
freeholders by an examination and assertion of "the Original Power of
the Collective Body of the People of England." His last service to the
King was a pamphlet bearing the paradoxical title, _Reasons against a
War with France_. As Defoe had for nearly a year been zealously working
the public mind to a warlike pitch, this title is at first surprising,
but the surprise disappears when we find that the pamphlet is an
ingenious plea for beginning with a declaration of war against Spain,
showing that not only was there just cause for such a war, but that it
would be extremely profitable, inasmuch as it would afford occasion for
plundering the Spaniards in the West Indies, and thereby making up for
whatever losses our trade might suffer from the French privateers. And
it was more than a mere plundering descent that Defoe had in view; his
object was that England should take actual possession of the Spanish
Indies, and so rob Spain of its chief source of wealth. There was a most
powerful buccaneering spirit concealed under the peaceful title of this
pamphlet. The trick of arresting attention by an unexpected thesis, such
as this promise of reasons for peace when everybody was dreaming of war,
is an art in which Defoe has never been surpassed. As we shall have
occasion to see, he practised it more than once too often for his
comfort.




CHAPTER III.

A MARTYR TO DISSENT?


From the death of the King in March, 1702, we must date a change in
Defoe's relations with the ruling powers. Under William, his position as
a political writer had been distinct and honourable. He supported
William's policy warmly and straightforwardly, whether he divined it by
his own judgment, or learned it by direct or indirect instructions or
hints. When charged with writing for a place, he indignantly denied that
he held either place or pension at Court, but at another time he
admitted that he had been employed by the King and rewarded by him
beyond his deserts. Any reward that he received for his literary
services was well earned, and there was nothing dishonourable in
accepting it. For concealing the connexion while the King was alive, he
might plead the custom of the time. But in the confusion of parties and
the uncertainty of government that followed William's death, Defoe slid
into practices which cannot be justified by any standard of morality.

It was by accident that Defoe drifted into this equivocal position. His
first writings under the new reign were in staunch consistency with what
he had written before. He did not try to flatter the Queen as many
others did by slighting her predecessors; on the contrary, he wrote a
poem called _The Mock Mourners_, in which he extolled "the glorious
memory" - a phrase which he did much to bring into use - and charged those
who spoke disrespectfully of William with the vilest insolence and
ingratitude. He sang the praises of the Queen also, but as he based his
joy at her accession on an assurance that she would follow in William's
footsteps, the compliment might be construed as an exhortation. Shortly
afterwards, in another poem, _The Spanish Descent_, he took his revenge
upon the fleet for not carrying out his West Indian scheme by ridiculing
unmercifully their first fruitless cruise on the Spanish coast, taking
care at the same time to exult in the capture of the galleons at Vigo.
In yet another poem - the success of the _True Born Englishman_ seems to
have misguided him into the belief that he had a genius for verse - he
reverted to the Reformation of Manners, and angered the Dissenters by
belabouring certain magistrates of their denomination. A pamphlet
entitled _A New Test of the Church of England's Loyalty_ - in which he
twitted the High-Church party with being neither more nor less loyal
than the Dissenters, inasmuch as they consented to the deposition of
James and acquiesced in the accession of Anne - was better received by
his co-religionists.

But when the Bill to prevent occasional conformity was introduced by
some hot-headed partisans of the High Church, towards the close of 1702,
with the Queen's warm approval, Defoe took a course which made the
Dissenters threaten to cast him altogether out of the synagogue. We have
already seen how Defoe had taken the lead in attacking the practice of
occasional conformity. While his co-religionists were imprecating him as
the man who had brought this persecution upon them, Defoe added to
their ill-feeling by issuing a jaunty pamphlet in which he proved with
provoking unanswerableness that all honest Dissenters were noways
concerned in the Bill. Nobody, he said, with his usual bright audacity,
but himself "who was altogether born in sin," saw the true scope of the
measure. "All those people who designed the Act as a blow to the
Dissenting interests in England are mistaken. All those who take it as a
prelude or introduction to the further suppressing of the Dissenters,
and a step to repealing the Toleration, or intend it as such, are
mistaken.... All those phlegmatic Dissenters who fancy themselves
undone, and that persecution and desolation is at the door again, are
mistaken. All those Dissenters who are really at all disturbed at it,
either as an advantage gained by their enemies or as a real disaster
upon themselves, are mistaken. All those Dissenters who deprecate it as
a judgment, or would vote against it as such if it were in their power,
are mistaken." In short, though he did not suppose that the movers of
the Bill "did it in mere kindness to the Dissenters, in order to refine
and purge them from the scandals which some people had brought upon
them," nevertheless it was calculated to effect this object. The
Dissenter being a man that was "something desirous of going to Heaven,"
ventured the displeasure of the civil magistrate at the command of his
conscience, which warned him that there were things in the Established
form of worship not agreeable to the Will of God as revealed in
Scripture. There is nothing in the Act to the prejudice of this
Dissenter; it affects only the Politic Dissenter, or State Dissenter,
who if he can attend the Established worship without offending his
conscience, has no cause to be a Dissenter. An act against occasional
conformity would rid the Dissenting body of these lukewarm members, and
the riddance would be a good thing for all parties.

It may have been that this cheerful argument, the legitimate development
of Defoe's former writings on the subject, was intended to comfort his
co-religionists at a moment when the passing of the Act seemed certain.
They did not view it in that light; they resented it bitterly, as an
insult in the hour of their misfortune from the man who had shown their
enemies where to strike. When, however, the Bill, after passing the
Commons, was opposed and modified by the Lords, Defoe suddenly appeared
on a new tack, publishing the most famous of his political pamphlets,
_The Shortest Way with the Dissenters_, which has, by a strange freak of
circumstances, gained him the honour of being enshrined as one of the
martyrs of Dissent. In the "brief explanation" of the pamphlet which he
gave afterwards, he declared that it had no bearing whatever upon the
Occasional Conformity Bill, pointing to his former writings on the
subject, in which he had denounced the practice, and welcomed the Bill
as a useful instrument for purging the Dissenting bodies of
half-and-half professors. It was intended, he said, as a banter
upon the High-flying Tory Churchmen, putting into plain English the
drift of their furious invectives against the Dissenters, and so, "by an
irony not unusual," answering them out of their own mouths.

The _Shortest Way_ is sometimes spoken of as a piece of exquisite irony,
and on the other hand Mr. Saintsbury[1] has raised the question whether
the representation of an extreme case, in which the veil is never lifted
from the writer's own opinions, can properly be called irony at all.

[Footnote 1: In an admirable article on Defoe in the _Encyclopaedia
Britannica_.]

This last is, perhaps, a question belonging to the strict definition of
the figures of speech; but, however that might be settled, it is a
mistake to describe Defoe's art in this pamphlet as delicate. There are
no subtle strokes of wit in it such as we find in some of Swift's
ironical pieces. Incomparably more effective as an engine of
controversy, it is not entitled to the same rank as a literary exercise.
Its whole merit and its rousing political force lay in the dramatic
genius with which Defoe personated the temper of a thorough-going
High-flier, putting into plain and spirited English such sentiments as a
violent partisan would not dare to utter except in the unguarded heat of
familiar discourse, or the half-humorous ferocity of intoxication. Have
done, he said, addressing the Dissenters, with this cackle about Peace
and Union, and the Christian duties of moderation, which you raise now
that you find "your day is over, your power gone, and the throne of this
nation possessed by a Royal, English, true, and ever - constant member of
and friend to the Church of England.... We have heard none of this
lesson for fourteen years past. We have been huffed and bullied with
your Act of Toleration; you have told us that you are the Church
established by law as well as others; have set up your canting
synagogues at our Church doors, and the Church and members have been
loaded with reproaches, with oaths, associations, abjurations, and what
not. Where has been the mercy, the forbearance, the charity, you have
shown to tender consciences of the Church of England, that could not
take oaths as fast as you made them; that having sworn allegiance to
their lawful and rightful King, could not dispense with that oath, their
King being still alive, and swear to your new hodge-podge of a Dutch
constitution?... Now that the tables are turned upon you, you must not
be persecuted; 'tis not a Christian spirit." You talk of persecution;
what persecution have you to complain of? "The first execution of the
laws against Dissenters in England was in the days of King James I. And
what did it amount to? Truly the worst they suffered was at their own
request to let them go to New England and erect a new colony, and give
them great privileges, grants, and suitable powers, keep them under
protection, and defend them against all invaders, and receive no taxes
or revenue from them. This was the cruelty of the Church of
England - fatal lenity! 'Twas the ruin of that excellent prince, King
Charles I. Had King James sent all the Puritans in England away to the
West Indies, we had been a national, unmixed Church; the Church of
England had been kept undivided and entire. To requite the lenity of the
father, they take up arms against the son; conquer, pursue, take,
imprison, and at last put to death the Anointed of God, and destroy the
very being and nature of government, setting up a sordid impostor, who
had neither title to govern, nor understanding to manage, but supplied
that want with power, bloody and desperate councils, and craft, without
conscience." How leniently had King Charles treated these barbarous
regicides, coming in all mercy and love, cherishing them, preferring
them, giving them employment in his service. As for King James, "as if
mercy was the inherent quality of the family, he began his reign with
unusual favour to them, nor could their joining with the Duke of
Monmouth against him move him to do himself justice upon them, but that
mistaken prince thought to win them by gentleness and love, proclaimed a
universal liberty to them, and rather discountenanced the Church of
England than them. How they requited him all the world knows." Under
King William, "a king of their own," they "crope into all places of
trust and profit," engrossed the ministry, and insulted the Church. But
they must not expect this kind of thing to continue. "No, gentlemen, the
time of mercy is past; your day of grace is over; you should have
practised peace, and moderation, and charity, if you expected any
yourselves."

In this heroic strain the pamphlet proceeds, reaching at length the
suggestion that "if one severe law were made, and punctually executed,
that whoever was found at a conventicle should be banished the nation,
and the preacher be hanged, we should soon see an end of the tale - they
would all come to church, and one age would make us all one again." That
was the mock churchman's shortest way for the suppression of Dissent. He
supported his argument by referring to the success with which Louis XIV
had put down the Huguenots. There was no good in half-measures, fines of
five shillings a month for not coming to the Sacrament, and one shilling
a week for not coming to church. It was vain to expect compliance from
such trifling. "The light, foolish handling of them by mulcts, fines,
etc., 'tis their glory and their advantage. If the gallows instead of
the counter, and the galleys instead of the fines, were the reward of
going to a conventicle, to preach or hear, there would not be so many
sufferers - the spirit of martyrdom is over. They that will go to church
to be chosen sheriffs and mayors, would go to forty churches rather than
be hanged." "Now let us crucify the thieves," said the author of this
truculent advice in conclusion, "And may God Almighty put it into the
hearts of all friends of truth to lift up a standard against pride and
Antichrist, that the posterity of the sons of error may be rooted out
from the face of this land for ever."

Defoe's disguise was so complete, his caricature of the ferocious
High-flier so near to life, that at first, people doubted whether the
_Shortest Way_ was the work of a satirist or a fanatic. When the truth
leaked out, as it soon did, the Dissenters were hardly better pleased
than while they feared that the proposal was serious. With the natural
timidity of precariously situated minorities, they could not enter into
the humour of it. The very title was enough to make them shrink and
tremble. The only people who were really in a position to enjoy the jest
were the Whigs. The High-Churchmen, some of whom, it is said, were at
first so far taken in as to express their warm approval, were furious
when they discovered the trick that had been played upon them. The Tory
ministers of the Queen felt themselves bound to take proceedings against
the author, whose identity seems to have soon become an open secret.
Learning this, Defoe went into concealment. A proclamation offering a
reward for his discovery was advertised in the _Gazette_. The
description of the fugitive is interesting; it is the only extant record
of Defoe's personal appearance, except the portrait prefixed to his
collected works, in which the mole is faithfully reproduced: -

"He is a middle-aged, spare man, about forty years old, of a brown
complexion, and dark-brown coloured hair, but wears a wig; a hooked
nose, a sharp chin, grey eyes, and a large mole near his mouth: was
born in London, and for many years was a hose-factor in Freeman's
Yard in Cornhill, and now is the owner of the brick and pantile
works near Tilbury Fort in Essex."

This advertisement was issued on the 10th of January, 1703. Meantime the
printer and the publisher were seized. From his safe hiding, Defoe put
forth an explanation, protesting, as we have seen, that his pamphlet had
not the least retrospect to or concern in the public bills in Parliament
now depending, or any other proceeding of either House or of the
Government relating to the Dissenters, whose occasional conformity the
author has constantly opposed. It was merely, he pleaded, the cant of
the Non-juring party exposed; and he mentioned several printed books in
which the same objects were expressed, though not in words so plain, and
at length. But the Government would not take this view; he had
represented virulent partisans as being supreme in the Queen's counsels,
and his design was manifest "to blacken the Church party as men of a
persecuting spirit, and to prepare the mob for what further service he
had for them to do." Finding that they would not listen to him, Defoe
surrendered himself, in order that others might not suffer for his
offence. He was indicted on the 24th of February. On the 25th, the
_Shortest Way_ was brought under the notice of the House of Commons, and
ordered to be burnt by the common hangman. His trial came on in July. He
was found guilty of a seditious libel, and sentenced to pay a fine of
200 marks to the Queen, stand three times in the pillory, be imprisoned
during the Queen's pleasure, and find sureties for his good behaviour
for seven years.

Defoe complained that three Dissenting ministers, whose poor he had fed
in the days of his prosperity, had refused to visit him during his
confinement in Newgate. There was, doubtless, a want of charity in their
action, but there was also a want of honesty in his complaint. If he
applied for their spiritual ministrations, they had considerable reason
for treating his application as a piece of provoking effrontery. Though
Defoe was in prison for this banter upon the High-fliers, it is a
mistake to regard him as a martyr, except by accident, to the cause of
Toleration as we understand it now, and as the Dissenters bore the brunt
of the battle for it then. Before his trial and conviction, while he lay
in prison, he issued an exposition of his views of a fair Toleration in
a tract entitled _The Shortest Way to Peace and Union_. The toleration
which he advised, and which commended itself to the moderate Whigs with
whom he had acted under King William and was probably acting now, was a
purely spiritual Toleration. His proposal, in fact, was identical with
that of Charles Leslie's in the _New Association_, one of the pamphlets
which he professed to take off in his famous squib. Leslie had proposed
that the Dissenters should be excluded from all civil employments, and
should be forced to remain content with liberty of worship. Addressing
the Dissenters, Defoe, in effect, urged them to anticipate forcible
exclusion by voluntary withdrawal. Extremes on both sides should be
industriously crushed and discouraged, and the extremes on the
Dissenting side were those who, not being content to worship after their
own fashion, had also a hankering after the public service. It is the
true interest of the Dissenters in England, Defoe argued, to be governed
by a Church of England magistracy; and with his usual paradoxical
hardihood, he told his co-religionists bluntly that "the first reason of
his proposition was that they were not qualified to be trusted with the
government of themselves." When we consider the active part Defoe
himself took in public affairs, we shall not be surprised that offence
was given by his countenancing the civil disabilities of Dissenters, and
that the Dissenting preachers declined to recognise him as properly
belonging to their body. It was not, indeed, as a Dissenter that Defoe
was prosecuted by the violent Tories then in power, but as the suspected
literary instrument of the great Whig leaders.

This, of course, in no way diminishes the harsh and spiteful impolicy of
the sentence passed on Defoe. Its terms were duly put in execution. The
offending satirist stood in the pillory on the three last days of July,
1703, before the Royal Exchange in Cornhill, near the Conduit in
Cheapside, and at Temple Bar. It is incorrect, however, to say with Pope
that

"Earless on high stood unabashed Defoe."

His ears were not cropped, as the barbarous phrase went, and he had no
reason to be abashed. His reception by the mob was very different from
that accorded to the anti-Jacobite Fuller, a scurrilous rogue who had
tried to make a few pounds by a Plain Proof that the Chevalier was a
supposititious child. The author of the _True-Born Englishman_ was a
popular favourite, and his exhibition in the pillory was an occasion of
triumph and not of ignominy to him. A ring of admirers was formed round
the place of punishment, and bunches of flowers instead of handfuls of
garbage were thrown at the criminal. Tankards of ale and stoups of wine
were drunk in his honour by the multitude whom he had delighted with his
racy verse and charmed by his bold defiance of the authorities.

The enthusiasm was increased by the timely publication of a _Hymn to the
Pillory_, in which Defoe boldly declared the iniquity of his sentence,
and pointed out to the Government more proper objects of their severity.
Atheists ought to stand there, he said, profligate beaux, swindling
stock-jobbers, fanatic Jacobites, and the commanders who had brought
the English fleet into disgrace. As for him, his only fault lay in his
not being understood; but he was perhaps justly punished for being such
a fool as to trust his meaning to irony. It would seem that though the
Government had committed Defoe to Newgate, they did not dare, even
before the manifestation of popular feeling in his favour, to treat him
as a common prisoner. He not only had liberty to write, but he found
means to convey his manuscripts to the printer. Of these privileges he
had availed himself with that indomitable energy and fertility of
resource which we find reason to admire at every stage in his career,
and most of all now that he was in straits. In the short interval


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Online LibraryWilliam MintoDaniel Defoe → online text (page 3 of 13)