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Flanders, and England was to have some portions of Canada. But there was
no mention of dividing the West Indies between them - the West Indies
were to remain attached to Spain. It was the restoration of their trade
that was their main desire in these great commercial countries, and even
that object Louis agreed to promote in a manner that seemed, according
to the ideas of the time, to be more to his own advantage than to
theirs. In the case of England, he was to remove prohibitions against
our imports, and in return we engaged to give the French imports the
privileges of the most favoured nations. In short, we were to have free
trade with France, which the commercial classes of the time looked upon
as a very doubtful blessing.

It is because Defoe wrote in favour of this free trade that he is
supposed to have been superior to the commercial fallacies of the time.
But a glance at his arguments shows that this is a very hasty inference.
It was no part of Defoe's art as a controversialist to seek to correct
popular prejudices; on the contrary, it was his habit to take them for
granted as the bases of his arguments, to work from them as premisses
towards his conclusion. He expressly avowed himself a prohibitionist in
principle. -

"I am far from being of their mind who say that all prohibitions
are destructive to trade, and that wise nations, the
Dutch, make no prohibitions at all."

"Where any nation has, by the singular blessing of God,
a produce given to their country from which such a manufacture
can be made as other nations cannot be without, and
none can make that produce but themselves, it would be distraction
in that nation not to prohibit the exportation of
that original produce till it is manufactured."

He had been taunted with flying in the face of what he had himself said
in King William's time in favour of prohibition. But he boldly
undertakes to prove that prohibition was absolutely necessary in King
William's time, and not only so, but that "the advantages we may make of
taking off a prohibition now are all founded upon the advantages we did
make of laying on a prohibition then: that the same reason which made a
prohibition then the best thing, makes it now the maddest thing a nation
could do or ever did in the matter of trade." In King William's time,
the balance of trade was against us to the extent of 850,000 l., in
consequence of the French King's laying extravagant duties upon the
import of all our woollen manufactures.

"Whoever thinks that by opening the French trade I
should mean ... that we should come to trade with them
850,000 _l. per annum_ to our loss, must think me as mad as I
think him for suggesting it; but if, on the contrary, I prove
that as we traded then 850,000 l. a year to our loss, we can
trade now with them 600,000 l. to our gain, then I will venture
to draw this consequence, that we are distracted, speaking
of our trading wits, if we do not trade with them."

In a preface to the Eighth Volume of the _Review_ (July 29, 1712), Defoe
announced his intention of discontinuing the publication, in consequence
of the tax then imposed on newspapers. We can hardly suppose that this
was his real motive, and as a matter of fact the _Review_, whose death
had been announced, reappeared in due course in the form of a single
leaf, and was published in that form till the 11th of June, 1713. By
that time a new project was on foot which Defoe had frequently declared
his intention of starting, a paper devoted exclusively to the discussion
of the affairs of trade. The _Review_ at one time had declared its main
subject to be trade, but had claimed a liberty of digression under which
the main subject had all but disappeared. At last, however, in May,
1713, when popular excitement and hot Parliamentary debates were
expected on the Commercial Treaty with France, an exclusively trading
paper was established, entitled _Mercator_. Defoe denied being the
author - that is, conductor or editor of this paper - and said that he had
not power to put what he would into it; which may have been literally
true. Every number, however, bears traces of his hand or guidance;
_Mercator_ is identical in opinions, style, and spirit with the
_Review_, differing only in the greater openness of its attacks upon the
opposition of the Whigs to the Treaty of Commerce. Party spirit was so
violent that summer, after the publication of the terms of the Treaty of
Utrecht, that Defoe was probably glad to shelter himself under the
responsibility of another name, he had flaunted the cloak of impartial
advice till it had become a thing of shreds and patches.

To prove that the balance of trade, in spite of a prevailing impression
to the contrary, not only might be, but had been, on the side of
England, was the chief purpose of _Mercator_. The Whig _Flying Post_
chaffed _Mercator_ for trying to reconcile impossibilities, but
_Mercator_ held stoutly on with an elaborate apparatus of comparative
tables of exports and imports, and ingenious schemes for the development
of various branches of the trade with France. Defoe was too fond of
carrying the war into the enemy's country, to attack prohibitions or the
received doctrine as to the balance of trade in principle; he fought the
enemy spiritedly on their own ground. "Take a medium of three years for
above forty years past, and calculate the exports and imports to and
from France, and it shall appear the balance of trade was always on the
English side, to the loss and disadvantage of the French." It followed,
upon the received commercial doctrines, that the French King was making
a great concession in consenting to take off high duties upon English
goods. This was precisely what Defoe was labouring to prove. "The French
King in taking off the said high duties ruins all his own manufactures."
The common belief was that the terms of peace would ruin English
manufacturing industry; full in the teeth of this, Defoe, as was his
daring custom, flung the paradox of the extreme opposite. On this
occasion he acted purely as a party writer. That he was never a
free-trader, at least in principle, will appear from the following
extract from his _Plan of the English Commerce_, published in 1728: -

"Seeing trade then is the fund of wealth and power, we
cannot wonder that we see the wisest Princes and States
anxious and concerned for the increase of the commerce and
trade of their subjects, and of the growth of the country;
anxious to propagate the sale of such goods as are the manufacture
of their own subjects, and that employs their own
people; especially of such as keep the money of their dominions
at home; and on the contrary, for prohibiting the importation
from abroad of such things as are the product of
other countries, and of the labour of other people, or which
carry money back in return, and not merchandise in exchange."

"Nor can we wonder that we see such Princes and States
endeavouring to set up such manufactures in their own countries,
which they see successfully and profitably carried on
by their neighbours, and to endeavour to procure the materials
proper for setting up those manufactures by all just and
possible methods from other countries."

"Hence we cannot blame the French or Germans for endeavouring
to get over the British wool into their hands, by
the help of which they may bring their people to imitate our
manufactures, which are so esteemed in the world, as well
as so gainful at home."

"Nor can we blame any foreign nation for prohibiting the
use and wearing of our manufactures, if they can either make
them at home, or make any which they can shift with in their

"The reason is plain. 'Tis the interest of every nation to
encourage their own trade, to encourage those manufactures
that will employ their own subjects, consume their own
growth of provisions, as well as materials of commerce, and
such as will keep their money or species at home."

"'Tis from this just principle that the French prohibit the
English woollen manufacture, and the English again prohibit,
or impose a tax equal to a prohibition, on the French silks,
paper, linen, and several other of their manufactures. 'Tis
from the same just reason in trade that we prohibit the wearing
of East India wrought silks, printed calicoes, &c.; that
we prohibit the importation of French brandy, Brazil sugars,
and Spanish tobacco; and so of several other things."



Defoe's unwearied zeal in the service of Harley had excited the
bitterest resentment among his old allies, the Whigs. He often
complained of it, more in sorrow than in anger. He had no right to look
for any other treatment; it was a just punishment upon him for seeking
the good of his country without respect of parties. An author that wrote
from principle had a very hard task in those dangerous times. If he
ventured on the dangerous precipice of telling unbiassed truth, he must
expect martyrdom from both sides. This resignation of the simple
single-minded patriot to the pains and penalties of honesty, naturally
added to the rage of the party with whose factious proceedings he would
have nothing to do; and yet it has always been thought an extraordinary
instance of party spite that the Whigs should have instituted a
prosecution against him, on the alleged ground that a certain remarkable
series of Tracts were written in favour of the Pretender. Towards the
end of 1712 Defoe had issued _A Seasonable Warning and Caution against
the Insinuations of Papists and Jacobites in favour of the Pretender_.
No charge of Jacobitism could be made against a pamphlet containing such
a sentence as this: -

"Think, then, dear Britons! what a King this Pretender
must be! a papist by inclination; a tyrant by education; a
Frenchman by honour and obligation; - and how long will
your liberties last you in this condition? And when your
liberties are gone, how long will your religion remain?
When your hands are tied; when armies bind you; when
power oppresses you; when a tyrant disarms you; when a
Popish French tyrant reigns over you; by what means or
methods can you pretend to maintain your Protestant religion?"

A second pamphlet, _Hannibal at the Gates_, strongly urging party union
and the banishment of factious spirit, was equally unmistakable in tone.
The titles of the following three of the series were more
startling: - _Reasons against the Succession of the House of
Hanover_ - _And what if the Pretender should come? or Some considerations
of the advantages and real consequences of the Pretender's possessing
the Crown of Great Britain_ - _An Answer to a Question that nobody thinks
of, viz. But what if the Queen should die?_ The contents, however, were
plainly ironical. The main reason against the Succession of the Prince
of Hanover was that it might be wise for the nation to take a short turn
of a French, Popish, hereditary-right _régime_ in the first place as an
emetic. Emetics were good for the health of individuals, and there could
be no better preparative for a healthy constitutional government than
another experience of arbitrary power. Defoe had used the same ironical
argument for putting Tories in office in 1708. The advantages of the
Pretender's possessing the Crown were that we should be saved from all
further danger of a war with France, and should no longer hold the
exposed position of a Protestant State among the great Catholic Powers
of Europe. The point of the last pamphlet of the series was less
distinct; it suggested the possibility of the English people losing
their properties, their estates, inheritance, lands, goods, lives, and
liberties, unless they were clear in their own minds what course to take
in the event of the Queen's death. But none of the three Tracts contain
anything that could possibly be interpreted as a serious argument in
favour of the Pretender. They were all calculated to support the
Succession of the Elector of Hanover. Why, then, should the Whigs have
prosecuted the author? It was a strange thing, as Defoe did not fail to
complain, that they should try to punish a man for writing in their own

The truth, however, is that although Defoe afterwards tried to convince
the Whig leaders that he had written these pamphlets in their interest,
they were written in the interest of Harley. They were calculated to
recommend that Minister to Prince George, in the event of his accession
to the English throne. We see this at once when we examine their
contents by the light of the personal intrigues of the time. Harley was
playing a double game. It was doubtful who the Queen's successor would
be, and he aimed at making himself safe in either of the two possible
contingencies. Very soon after his accession to power in 1710, he made
vague overtures for the restoration of the Stuarts under guarantees for
civil and religious liberty. When pressed to take definite steps in
pursuance of this plan, he deprecated haste, and put off and put off,
till the Pretender's adherents lost patience. All the time he was making
protestations of fidelity to the Court of Hanover. The increasing
vagueness of his promises to the Jacobites seems to show that, as time
went on, he became convinced that the Hanoverian was the winning cause.
No man could better advise him as to the feeling of the English people
than Defoe, who was constantly perambulating the country on secret
services, in all probability for the direct purpose of sounding the
general opinion. It was towards the end of 1712, by which time Harley's
shilly-shallying had effectually disgusted the Jacobites, that the first
of Defoe's series of Anti-Jacobite tracts appeared. It professed to be
written by An Englishman at the Court of Hanover, which affords some
ground, though it must be confessed slight, for supposing that Defoe had
visited Hanover, presumably as the bearer of some of Harley's assurances
of loyalty. The _Seasonable Warning and Caution_ was circulated, Defoe
himself tells us, in thousands among the poor people by several of his
friends. Here was a fact to which Harley could appeal as a
circumstantial proof of his zeal in the Hanoverian cause. Whether
Defoe's Anti-Jacobite tracts really served his benefactor in this way,
can only be matter of conjecture. However that may be, they were upon
the surface written in Harley's interest. The warning and caution was
expressly directed against the insinuations that the Ministry were in
favour of the Pretender. All who made these insinuations were assumed by
the writer to be Papists, Jacobites, and enemies of Britain. As these
insinuations were the chief war-cry of the Whigs, and we now know that
they were not without foundation, it is easy to understand why Defoe's
pamphlets, though Anti-Jacobite, were resented by the party in whose
interest he had formerly written. He excused himself afterwards by
saying that he was not aware of the Jacobite leanings of the Ministry;
that none of them ever said one word in favour of the Pretender to him;
that he saw no reason to believe that they did favour the Pretender. As
for himself, he said, they certainly never employed him in any Jacobite
intrigue. He defied his enemies to "prove that he ever kept company or
had any society, friendship, or conversation with any Jacobite. So
averse had he been to the interest and the people, that he had
studiously avoided their company on all occasions." Within a few months
of his making these protestations, Defoe was editing a Jacobite
newspaper under secret instructions from a Whig Government. But this is

That an influential Whig should have set on foot a prosecution of Defoe
as the author of "treasonable libels against the House of Hanover,"
although the charge had no foundation in the language of the
incriminated pamphlets, is intelligible enough. The Whig party writers
were delighted with the prosecution, one of them triumphing over Defoe
as being caught at last, and put "in Lob's pound," and speaking of him
as "the vilest of all the writers that have prostituted their pens
either to encourage faction, oblige a party, or serve their own
mercenary ends." But that the Court of Queen's Bench, before whom Defoe
was brought - with some difficulty, it would appear, for he had fortified
his house at Newington like Robinson Crusoe's castle - should have
unanimously declared his pamphlets to be treasonable, and that one of
them, on his pleading that they were ironical, should have told him it
was a kind of irony for which he might come to be hanged, drawn, and
quartered, is not so easy to understand, unless we suppose that, in
these tempestuous times, judges like other men were powerfully swayed by
party feeling. It is possible, however, that they deemed the mere titles
of the pamphlets offences in themselves, disturbing cries raised while
the people were not yet clear of the forest of anarchy, and still
subject to dangerous panics - offences of the same nature as if a man
should shout fire in sport in a crowded theatre. Possibly, also, the
severity of the Court was increased by Defoe's indiscretion in
commenting upon the case in the _Review_, while it was still _sub
judice_. At any rate he escaped punishment. The Attorney-General was
ordered to prosecute him, but before the trial came off Defoe obtained a
pardon under the royal seal.

The Whigs were thus baulked of revenge upon their renegade. Their loyal
writers attributed Defoe's pardon to the secret Jacobitism of the
Ministry - - quite wrongly - as we have just seen he was acting for Harley
as a Hanoverian and not as a Jacobite. Curiously enough, when Defoe next
came before the Queen's Bench, the instigator of the prosecution was a
Tory, and the Government was Whig, and he again escaped from the
clutches of the law by the favour of the Government. Till Mr. William
Lee's remarkable discovery, fourteen years ago, of certain letters in
Defoe's handwriting in the State Paper Office, it was generally believed
that on the death of Queen Anne, the fall of the Tory Administration,
and the complete discomfiture of Harley's trimming policy, the veteran
pamphleteer and journalist, now fifty-three years of age, withdrew from
political warfare, and spent the evening of his life in the composition
of those works of fiction which have made his name immortal. His
biographers had misjudged his character and underrated his energy. When
Harley fell from power, Defoe sought service under the Whigs. He had
some difficulty in regaining their favour, and when he did obtain
employment from them, it was of a kind little to his honour.

In his _Appeal to Honour and Justice_, published early in 1715, in which
he defended himself against the charges copiously and virulently urged
of being a party-writer, a hireling, and a turncoat, and explained
everything that was doubtful in his conduct by alleging the obligations
of gratitude to his first benefactor Harley, Defoe declared that since
the Queen's death he had taken refuge in absolute silence. He found, he
said, that if he offered to say a word in favour of the Hanoverian
settlement, it was called fawning and turning round again, and therefore
he resolved to meddle neither one way nor the other. He complained
sorrowfully that in spite of this resolution, and though he had not
written one book since the Queen's death, a great many things were
called by his name. In that case, he had no resource but to practise a
Christian spirit and pray for the forgiveness of his enemies. This was
Defoe's own account, and it was accepted as the whole truth, till Mr.
Lee's careful research and good fortune gave a different colour to his
personal history from the time of Harley's displacement.[3]

[Footnote 3: In making mention of Mr. Lee's valuable researches and
discoveries, I ought to add that his manner of connecting the facts for
which I am indebted to him, and the construction he puts upon them, is
entirely different from mine. For the view here implied of Defoe's
character and motives, Mr. Lee is in no way responsible.]

During the dissensions, in the last days of the Queen which broke up the
Tory Ministry, _Mercator_ was dropped. Defoe seems immediately to have
entered into communication with the printer of the Whig _Flying Post_,
one William Hurt. The owner of the _Post_ was abroad at the time, but
his managers, whether actuated by personal spite or reasonable
suspicion, learning that Hurt was in communication with one whom they
looked upon as their enemy, decided at once to change their printer.
There being no copyright in newspaper titles in those days, Hurt
retaliated by engaging Defoe to write another paper under the same
title, advertising that, from the arrangements he had made, readers
would find the new _Flying Post_ better than the old. It was in his
labours on this sham _Flying Post_, as the original indignantly called
it in an appeal to Hurt's sense of honour and justice against the
piracy, that Defoe came into collision with the law. His new organ was
warmly loyal. On the 14th of August it contained a highly-coloured
panegyric of George I., which alone would refute Defoe's assertion that
he knew nothing of the arts of the courtier. His Majesty was described
as a combination of more graces, virtues, and capacities than the world
had ever seen united in one individual, a man "born for council and
fitted to command the world." Another number of the _Flying Post_, a few
days afterwards, contained an attack on one of the few Tories among the
Lords of the Regency, nominated for the management of affairs till the
King's arrival. During Bolingbroke's brief term of ascendency, he had
despatched the Earl of Anglesey on a mission to Ireland. The Earl had
hardly landed at Dublin when news followed him of the Queen's death, and
he returned to act as one of the Lords Regent. In the _Flying Post_
Defoe asserted that the object of his journey to Ireland was "to new
model the Forces there, and particularly to break no less than seventy
of the honest officers of the army, and to fill up their places with the
tools and creatures of Con. Phipps, and such a rabble of cut-throats as
were fit for the work that they had for them to do." That there was some
truth in the allegation is likely enough; Sir Constantine Phipps was, at
least, shortly afterwards dismissed from his offices. But Lord Anglesey
at once took action against it as a scandalous libel. Defoe was brought
before the Lords Justices, and committed for trial.

He was liberated, however, on bail, and in spite of what he says about
his resolution not to meddle on either side, made an energetic use of
his liberty. He wrote _The Secret History of One Year_ - the year after
William's accession - vindicating the King's clemency towards the
abettors of the arbitrary government of James, and explaining that he
was compelled to employ many of them by the rapacious scrambling of his
own adherents for places and pensions. The indirect bearing of this
tract is obvious. In October three pamphlets came from Defoe's fertile
pen; an _Advice to the People of England_ to lay aside feuds and
faction, and live together under the new King like good Christians; and
two parts, in quick succession, of a _Secret History of the White
Staff_. This last work was an account of the circumstances under which
the Treasurer's White Staff was taken from the Earl of Oxford, and put
his conduct in a favourable light, exonerating him from the suspicion of
Jacobitism, and affirming - not quite accurately, as other accounts of
the transaction seem to imply - that it was by Harley's advice that the
Staff was committed to the Earl of Shrewsbury. One would be glad to
accept this as proof of Defoe's attachment to the cause of his disgraced
benefactor; yet Harley, as he lay in the Tower awaiting his trial on an
impeachment of high treason, issued a disclaimer concerning the _Secret
History_ and another pamphlet, entitled _An Account of the Conduct of
Robert, Earl of Oxford_. These pamphlets, he said, were not written with
his knowledge, or by his direction or encouragement; "on the contrary,
he had reason to believe from several passages therein contained that it
was the intention of the author, or authors, to do him a prejudice."
This disclaimer may have been dictated by a wish not to appear wanting
in respect to his judges; at any rate, Defoe's _Secret History_ bears no
trace on the surface of a design to prejudice him by its recital of

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Online LibraryWilliam MintoDaniel Defoe → online text (page 8 of 13)