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country's peace clears me of. If paid, gentlemen, for writing, if hired,
if employed, why still harassed with merciless and malicious men, why
pursued to all extremities by law for old accounts, which you clear
other men of every day? Why oppressed, distressed, and driven from his
family and from all his prospects of delivering them or himself? Is this
the fate of men employed and hired? Is this the figure the agents of
Courts and Princes make? Certainly had I been hired or employed, those
people who own the service would by this time have set their servant
free from the little and implacable malice of litigious persecutions,
murthering warrants, and men whose mouths are to be stopt by trifles.
Let this suffice to clear me of all the little and scandalous charges of
being hired and employed."

But then, people ask, if he was not officially employed, what had he to
do with these affairs? Why should he meddle with them? To this he
answers: -

"Truly, gentlemen, this is just the case. I saw a parcel of people
caballing together to ruin property, corrupt the laws, invade the
Government, debauch the people, and in short, enslave and embroil the
nation, and I cried 'Fire!' or rather I cried 'Water!' for the fire was
begun already. I see all the nation running into confusions and directly
flying in the face of one another, and cried out 'Peace!' I called upon
all sorts of people that had any senses to collect them together and
judge for themselves what they were going to do, and excited them to lay
hold of the madmen and take from them the wicked weapon, the knife with
which they were going to destroy their mother, rip up the bowels of
their country, and at last effectually ruin themselves.

"And what had I to do with this? Why, yes, gentlemen, I had the same
right as every man that has a footing in his country, or that has a
posterity to possess liberty and claim right, must have, to preserve the
laws, liberty, and government of that country to which he belongs, and
he that charges me with meddling in what does not concern me, meddles
himself with what 'tis plain he does not understand."

* * * * *

"I am not the first," Defoe said in another place, "that has been stoned
for saying the truth. I cannot but think that as time and the conviction
of their senses will restore men to love the peace now established in
this nation, so they will gradually see I have acted no part but that of
a lover of my country, and an honest man."

Time has undeniably shown that in these efforts to promote party peace
and national union Defoe acted like a lover of his country, and that his
aims were the aims of a statesmanlike as well as an honest man. And yet
his protestations of independence and spontaneity of action, with all
their ring of truth and all their solemnity of asseveration, were merely
diplomatic blinds. He was all the time, as he afterwards admitted, when
the admission could do no harm except to his own passing veracity,
acting as the agent of Harley, and in enjoyment of an "appointment" from
the Queen. What exactly the nature of his secret services in Scotland
and elsewhere were, he very properly refused to reveal. His business
probably was to ascertain and report the opinions of influential
persons, and keep the Government informed as far as he could of the
general state of feeling. At any rate it was not as he alleged, mere
curiosity, or the fear of his creditors, or private enterprise, or pure
and simple patriotic zeal that took Defoe to Scotland. The use he made
of his debts as diplomatic instruments is curious. He not merely
practised his faculties in the management of his creditors, which one of
Lord Beaconsfield's characters commends as an incomparable means to a
sound knowledge of human nature; but he made his debts actual pieces in
his political game. His poverty, apparent, if not real, served as a
screen for his employment under Government. When he was despatched on
secret missions, he could depart wiping his eyes at the hardship of
having to flee from his creditors.



Some of Defoe's biographers have claimed for him that he anticipated the
doctrines of Free Trade. This is an error. It is true that Defoe was
never tired of insisting, in pamphlets, books, and number after number
of the _Review_, on the all-importance of trade to the nation. Trade was
the foundation of England's greatness; success in trade was the most
honourable patent of nobility; next to the maintenance of the Protestant
religion, the encouragement of trade should be the chief care of English
statesmen. On these heads Defoe's enthusiasm was boundless, and his
eloquence inexhaustible. It is true also that he supported with all his
might the commercial clauses of the Treaty of Utrecht, which sought to
abolish the prohibitory duties on our trade with France. It is this last
circumstance which has earned for him the repute of being a pioneer of
Free Trade. But his title to that repute does not bear examination. He
was not so far in advance of his age as to detect the fallacy of the
mercantile system. On the contrary, he avowed his adherence to it
against those of his contemporaries who were inclined to call it in
question. How Defoe came to support the new commercial treaty with
France, and the grounds on which he supported it, can only be understood
by looking at his relations with the Government.

While Defoe was living in Scotland in 1707, and filling the _Review_ so
exclusively with Scotch affairs that his readers, according to his own
account, began to say that the fellow could talk of nothing but the
Union, and had grown mighty dull of late, Harley's position in the
Ministry was gradually becoming very insecure. He was suspected of
cooling in his zeal for the war, and of keeping up clandestine relations
with the Tories; and when Marlborough returned from his campaign at the
close of the year he insisted upon the Secretary's dismissal. The Queen,
who secretly resented the Marlborough yoke, at first refused her
consent. Presently an incident occurred which gave them an excuse for
more urgent pressure. One Gregg, a clerk in Harley's office, was
discovered to be in secret correspondence with the French Court,
furnishing Louis with the contents of important State papers. Harley was
charged with complicity. This charge was groundless, but he could not
acquit himself of gross negligence in the custody of his papers.
Godolphin and Marlborough threatened to resign unless he was dismissed.
Then the Queen yielded.

When Harley fell, Defoe, according to his own account, in the _Appeal to
Honour and Justice_, looked upon himself as lost, taking it for granted
that "when a great officer fell, all who came in by his interest fall
with him." But when his benefactor heard of this, and of Defoe's
"resolution never to abandon the fortunes of the man to whom he owed so
much," he kindly urged the devoted follower to think rather of his own
interest than of any romantic obligation. "My lord Treasurer," he said,
"will employ you in nothing but what is for the public service, and
agreeably to your own sentiments of things; and besides, it is the Queen
you are serving, who has been very good to you. Pray apply yourself as
you used to do; I shall not take it ill from you in the least." To
Godolphin accordingly Defoe applied himself, was by him introduced a
second time to Her Majesty and to the honour of kissing her hand, and
obtained "the continuance of an appointment which Her Majesty had been
pleased to make him in consideration of a former special service he had
done." This was the appointment which he held while he was challenging
his enemies to say whether his outward circumstances looked like the
figure the agents of Courts and Princes make.

The services on which Defoe was employed were, as before, of two kinds,
active and literary. Shortly after the change in the Ministry early in
1708, news came of the gathering of the French expedition at Dunkirk,
with a view, it was suspected, of trying to effect a landing in
Scotland. Defoe was at once despatched to Edinburgh on an errand which,
he says, was "far from being unfit for a sovereign to direct or an
honest man to perform." If his duties were to mix with the people and
ascertain the state of public feeling, and more specifically to sound
suspected characters, to act, in short, as a political detective or spy,
the service was one which it was essential that the Government should
get some trustworthy person to undertake, and which any man at such a
crisis might perform, if he could, without any discredit to his honesty
or his patriotism. The independence of the sea-girt realm was never in
greater peril. The French expedition was a well-conceived diversion, and
it was imperative that the Government should know on what amount of
support the invaders might rely in the bitterness prevailing in Scotland
after the Union. Fortunately the loyalty of the Scotch Jacobites was not
put to the test. As in the case of the Spanish Armada, accident fought
on our side. The French fleet succeeded in reaching the coast of
Scotland before the ships of the defenders; but it overshot its arranged
landing-point, and had no hope but to sail back ingloriously to Dunkirk.
Meantime, Defoe had satisfactorily discharged himself of his mission.
Godolphin showed his appreciation of his services by recalling him as
soon as Parliament was dissolved, to travel through the counties and
serve the cause of the Government in the general elections. He was
frequently sent to Scotland again on similarly secret errands, and seems
to have established a printing business there, made arrangements for the
simultaneous issue of the _Review_ in Edinburgh and London, besides
organizing Edinburgh newspapers, executing commissions for English
merchants, and setting on foot a linen manufactory.

But we are more concerned with the literary labors of this versatile and
indefatigable genius. These, in the midst of his multifarious commercial
and diplomatic concerns, he never intermitted. All the time the _Review_
continued to give a brilliant support to the Ministry. The French
expedition had lent a new interest to the affairs of Scotland, and Defoe
advertised, that though he never intended to make the _Review_ a
newspaper, circumstances enabled him to furnish exceptionally correct
intelligence from Scotland as well as sound impartial opinions. The
intelligence which he communicated was all with a purpose, and a good
purpose - the promotion of a better understanding between the united
nations. He never had a better opportunity for preaching from his
favourite text of Peace and Union, and he used it characteristically,
championing the cause of the Scotch Presbyterians, asserting the
firmness of their loyalty, smoothing over trading grievances by showing
elaborately how both sides benefited from the arrangements of the Union,
launching shafts in every direction at his favourite butts, and never
missing a chance of exulting in his own superior wisdom. In what a
posture would England have been now, he cried, if those wiseacres had
been listened to, who were for trusting the defence of England solely to
the militia and the fleet! Would our fleet have kept the French from
landing if Providence had not interposed; and if they had landed, would
a militia, undermined by disaffection, have been able to beat them back?
The French king deserved a vote of thanks for opening the eyes of the
nation against foolish advisers, and for helping it to heal internal
divisions. Louis, poor gentleman, was much to be pitied, for his
informers had evidently served him badly, and had led him to expect a
greater amount of support from disloyal factions than they had the will
or the courage to give him.

During the electoral canvass, Defoe surpassed himself in the lively
vigour of his advocacy of the Whig cause. "And now, gentlemen of
England," he began in the _Review_ - as it went on he became more and
more direct and familiar in his manner of addressing his readers - "now
we are a-going to choose Parliament men, I will tell you a story." And
he proceeded to tell how in a certain borough a great patron procured
the election of a "shock dog" as its parliamentary representative. Money
and ale, Defoe says, could do anything. "God knows I speak it with
regret for you all and for your posterity, it is not an impossible thing
to debauch this nation into a choice of thieves, knaves, devils, shock
dogs, or anything comparatively speaking, by the power of various
intoxications." He spent several numbers of the _Review_ in an ironical
advice to the electors to choose Tories, showing with all his skill
"the mighty and prevailing reason why we should have a Tory
Parliament." "O gentlemen," he cried, "if we have any mind to buy some
more experience, be sure and choose Tories." "We want a little
instruction, we want to go to school to knaves and fools." Afterwards,
dropping this thin mask, he declared that among the electors only "the
drunken, the debauched, the swearing, the persecuting" would vote for
the High-fliers. "The grave, the sober, the thinking, the prudent,"
would vote for the Whigs. "A House of Tories is a House of Devils." "If
ever we have a Tory Parliament, the nation is undone." In his _Appeal to
Honour and Justice_ Defoe explained, that while he was serving
Godolphin, "being resolved to remove all possible ground of suspicion
that he kept any secret correspondence, he never visited, or wrote to,
or any way corresponded with his principal benefactor for above three
years." Seeing that Harley was at that time the leader of the party
which Defoe was denouncing with such spirit, it would have been strange
indeed if there had been much intercourse between them.

Though regarded after his fall from office as the natural leader of the
Tory party, Harley was a very reserved politician, who kept his own
counsel, used instruments of many shapes and sizes, steered clear of
entangling engagements, and left himself free to take advantage of
various opportunities. To wage war against the Ministry was the work of
more ardent partisans. He stood by and waited while Bolingbroke and
Rochester and their allies in the press cried out that the Government
was now in the hands of the enemies of the Church, accused the Whigs of
protracting the war to fill their own pockets with the plunder of the
Supplies, and called upon the nation to put an end to their jobbery and
mismanagement. The victory of Oudenarde in the summer of 1708 gave them
a new handle. "What is the good," they cried, "of these glorious
victories, if they do not bring peace? What do we gain by beating the
French in campaign after campaign, if we never bring them nearer to
submission? It is incredible that the French King is not willing to make
peace, if the Whigs did not profit too much by the war to give peace any
encouragement." To these arguments for peace, Defoe opposed himself
steadily in the _Review_. "Well, gentlemen." he began, when the news
came of the battle of Oudenarde, "have the French noosed themselves
again? Let us pray the Duke of Marlborough that a speedy peace may not
follow, for what would become of us?" He was as willing for a peace on
honourable terms as any man, but a peace till the Protestant Succession
was secured and the balance of power firmly settled, "would be fatal to
peace at home." "If that fatal thing called Peace abroad should happen,
we shall certainly be undone." Presently, however, the French King began
to make promising overtures for peace; the Ministry, in hopes of
satisfactory terms, encouraged them; the talk through the nation was all
of peace, and the Whigs contented themselves with passing an address to
the Crown through Parliament urging the Queen to make no peace till the
Pretender should be disowned by the French Court, and the Succession
guaranteed by a compact with the Allies. Throughout the winter the
_Review_ expounded with brilliant clearness the only conditions on which
an honourable peace could be founded, and prepared the nation to doubt
the sincerity with which Louis had entered into negotiations. Much
dissatisfaction was felt, and that dissatisfaction was eagerly fanned by
the Tories when the negotiations fell through, in consequence of the
distrust with which the allies regarded Louis, and their imposing upon
him too hard a test of his honesty. Defoe fought vigorously against the
popular discontent. The charges against Marlborough were idle
rhodomontade. We had no reason to be discouraged with the progress of
the war unless we had formed extravagant expectations. Though the French
King's resources had been enfeebled, and he might reasonably have been
expected to desire peace, he did not care for the welfare of France so
much as for his own glory; he would fight to gain his purpose while
there was a pistole in his treasury, and we must not expect Paris to be
taken in a week. Nothing could be more admirable than Godolphin's
management of our own Treasury; he deserved almost more credit than the
Duke himself. "Your Treasurer has been your general of generals; without
his exquisite management of the cash the Duke of Marlborough must have
been beaten."

The Sacheverell incident, which ultimately led to the overthrow of the
Ministry, gave Defoe a delightful opening for writing in their defence.
A collection of his articles on this subject would show his
controversial style at its best and brightest. Sacheverell and he were
old antagonists. Sacheverell's "bloody flag and banner of defiance," and
other High-flying truculencies, had furnished him with the main basis of
his _Shortest Way with the Dissenters_. The laugh of the populace was
then on Defoe's side, partly, perhaps, because the Government had
prosecuted him. But in the changes of the troubled times, the Oxford
Doctor, nurtured in "the scolding of the ancients," had found a more
favourable opportunity. His literary skill was of the most mechanical
kind; but at the close of 1709, when hopes of peace had been raised only
to be disappointed, and the country was suffering from the distress of a
prolonged war, people were more in a mood to listen to a preacher who
disdained to check the sweep of his rhetoric by qualifications or
abatements, and luxuriated in denouncing the Queen's Ministers from the
pulpit under scriptural allegories. He delivered a tremendous philippic
about the Perils of False Brethren, as a sermon before the Lord Mayor in
November. It would have been a wise thing for the Ministry to have left
Sacheverell to be dealt with by their supporters in the press and in the
pulpit. But in an evil hour Godolphin, stung by a nickname thrown at him
by the rhetorical priest - a singularly comfortable-looking man to have
so virulent a tongue, one of those orators who thrive on ill-conditioned
language - resolved, contrary to the advice of more judicious colleagues,
to have him impeached by the House of Commons. The Commons readily voted
the sermon seditious, scandalous, and malicious, and agreed to a
resolution for his impeachment; the Lords ordered that the case should
be heard at their bar; and Westminster Hall was prepared to be the scene
of a great public trial. At first Defoe, in heaping contemptuous
ridicule upon the High-flying Doctor, had spoken as if he would consider
prosecution a blunder. The man ought rather to be encouraged to go on
exposing himself and his party. "Let him go on," he said, "to bully
Moderation, explode Toleration, and damn the Union; the gain will be

"You should use him as we do a hot horse. When he
first frets and pulls, keep a stiff rein and hold him in if you
can; but if he grows mad and furious, slack your hand, clap
your heels to him, and let him go. Give him his belly full
of it. Away goes the beast like a fury over hedge and ditch,
till he runs himself off his mettle; perhaps bogs himself, and
then he grows quiet of course.... Besides, good people, do
you not know the nature of the barking creatures? If you
pass but by, and take no notice, they will yelp and make a noise,
and perhaps run a little after you; but turn back, offer to strike them
or throw stones at them, and you'll never have done - nay, you'll raise
all the dogs of the parish upon you."

This last was precisely what the Government did, and they found reason
to regret that they did not take Defoe's advice and let Sacheverell
alone. When, however, they did resolve to prosecute him, Defoe
immediately turned round, and exulted in the prosecution, as the very
thing which he had foreseen. "Was not the _Review_ right when he said
you ought to let such people run on till they were out of breath? Did I
not note to you that precipitations have always ruined them and served
us?... Not a hound in the pack opened like him. He has done the work
effectually.... He has raised the house and waked the landlady.... Thank
him, good people, thank him and clap him on the back; let all his party
do but this, and the day is our own." Nor did Defoe omit to remind the
good people that he had been put in the pillory for satirically hinting
that the High-Church favored such doctrines as Sacheverell was now
prosecuted for. In his _Hymn to the Pillory_ he had declared that
Sacheverell ought to stand there in his place. His wish was now
gratified; "the bar of the House of Commons is the worst pillory in the
nation." In the two months which elapsed before the trial, during which
the excitement was steadily growing, Sacheverell and his doctrines were
the main topic of the _Review_. If a popular tempest could have been
allayed by brilliant argument, Defoe's papers ought to have done it. He
was a manly antagonist, and did not imitate coarser pamphleteers in
raking up scandals about the Doctor's private life - at least not under
his own name. There was, indeed, a pamphlet issued by "a Gentleman of
Oxford," which bears many marks of Defoe's authorship, and contains an
account of some passages in Sacheverell's life not at all to the
clergyman's credit. But the only pamphlet outside the _Review_ which the
biographers have ascribed to Defoe's activity, is a humorous Letter from
the Pope to Don Sacheverellio, giving him instructions how to advance
the interest of the Pretender. In the _Review_ Defoe, treating
Sacheverell with riotously mirthful contempt, calls for the punishment
of the doctrines rather than the man. During the trial, which lasted
more than a fortnight, a mob attended the Doctor's carriage every day
from his lodgings in the Temple to Westminster Hall, huzzaing, and
pressing to kiss his hand, and spent the evenings in rabbling the
Dissenters' meeting-houses, and hooting before the residences of
prominent Whigs. Defoe had always said that the High-fliers would use
violence to their opponents if they had the power, and here was a
confirmation of his opinion on which he did not fail to insist. The
sentence on Sacheverell, that his sermon and vindication should be burnt
by the common hangman and himself suspended from preaching for three
years, was hailed by the mob as an acquittal, and celebrated by
tumultuous gatherings and bonfires. Defoe reasoned hard and joyfully to
prove that the penalty was everything that could be wished, and exactly
what he had all along advised and contemplated, but he did not succeed
in persuading the masses that the Government had not suffered a defeat.

The impeachment of Sacheverell turned popular feeling violently against
the Whigs. The break up of the Gertruydenberg Conference without peace
gave a strong push in the same direction. It was all due, the Tories
shouted, and the people were now willing to believe, to the folly of our
Government in insisting upon impossible conditions from the French
King, and their shameless want of patriotism in consulting the interests
of the Allies rather than of England. The Queen, who for some time had
been longing to get rid of her Whig Ministers, did not at once set sail
with this breeze. She dismissed the Earl of Sunderland in June, and sent
word to her allies that she meant to make no further changes. Their
ambassadors, with what was even then resented as an impertinence,
congratulated her on this resolution, and then in August she took the
momentous step of dismissing Godolphin, and putting the Treasury
nominally in commission, but really under the management of Harley. For
a few weeks it seems to have been Harley's wish to conduct the
administration in concert with the remaining Whig members, but the

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Online LibraryWilliam MintoDaniel Defoe → online text (page 6 of 13)