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facts. _An Appeal to Honour and Justice_ was Defoe's next production.
While writing it, he was seized with a violent apoplectic fit, and it
was issued with a Conclusion by the Publisher, mentioning this
circumstance, explaining that the pamphlet was consequently incomplete,
and adding: "If he recovers, he may be able to finish what he began; if
not, it is the opinion of most that know him that the treatment which he
here complains of, and some others that he would have spoken of, have
been the apparent cause of his disaster." There is no sign of
incompleteness in the _Appeal_; and the Conclusion by the Publisher,
while the author lay "in a weak and languishing condition, neither able
to go on nor likely to recover, at least in any short time," gives a
most artistic finishing stroke to it. Defoe never interfered with the
perfection of it after his recovery, which took place very shortly. The
_Appeal_ was issued in the first week of January; before the end of the
month the indomitable writer was ready with a Third Part of the _Secret
History_, and a reply to Atterbury's _Advice to the Freeholders of
England_ in view of the approaching elections. A series of tracts
written in the character of a Quaker quickly followed, one rebuking a
Dissenting preacher for inciting the new Government to vindictive
severities, another rebuking Sacheverell for hypocrisy and perjury in
taking the oath of abjuration, a third rebuking the Duke of Ormond for
encouraging Jacobite and High-Church mobs. In March, Defoe published his
_Family Instructor_, a book of 450 pages; in July, his _History, by a
Scots Gentleman in the Swedish Service, of the Wars of Charles XII_.

Formidable as the list of these works seems, it does not represent more
than Defoe's average rate of production for thirty years of his life.
With grave anxieties added to the strain of such incessant toil, it is
no wonder that nature should have raised its protest in an apoplectic
fit. Even nature must have owned herself vanquished, when she saw this
very protest pressed into the service of the irresistible and triumphant
worker. All the time he was at large upon bail, awaiting his trial. The
trial took place in July, 1715, and he was found guilty. But sentence
was deferred till next term. October came round, but Defoe did not
appear to receive his sentence. He had made his peace with the
Government, upon "capitulations" of which chance has preserved the
record in his own handwriting. He represented privately to Lord Chief
Justice Parker that he had always been devoted to the Whig interest, and
that any seeming departure from it had been due to errors of judgment,
not to want of attachment. Whether the Whig leaders believed this
representation we do not know, but they agreed to pardon "all former
mistakes" if he would now enter faithfully into their service. Though
the Hanoverian succession had been cordially welcomed by the steady
masses of the nation, the Mar Rebellion in Scotland and the sympathy
shown with this movement in the south warned them that their enemies
were not to be despised. There was a large turbulent element in the
population, upon which agitators might work with fatal effect. The
Jacobites had still a hold upon the Press, and the past years had been
fruitful of examples of the danger of trying to crush sedition with the
arm of the law. Prosecution had been proved to be the surest road to
popularity. It occurred therefore that Defoe might be useful if he still
passed as an opponent of the Government, insinuating himself as such
into the confidence of Jacobites, obtained control of their
publications, and nipped mischief in the bud. It was a dangerous and
delicate service, exposing the emissary to dire revenge if he were
detected, and to suspicion and misconstruction from his employers in
his efforts to escape detection. But Defoe, delighting in his superior
wits, and happy in the midst of dangerous intrigues, boldly undertook
the task.



For the discovery of this "strange and surprising" chapter in Defoe's
life, which clears up much that might otherwise have been disputable in
his character, the world is indebted solely to Mr. William Lee. Accident
put Mr. Lee on the right scent, from which previous biographers had been
diverted by too literal and implicit a faith in the arch-deceiver's
statements, and too comprehensive an application of his complaint that
his name was made the hackney title of the times, upon which all sorts
of low scribblers fathered their vile productions. Defoe's secret
services on Tory papers exposed him, as we have seen, to
misconstruction. Nobody knew this better than himself, and nobody could
have guarded against it with more sleepless care. In the fourth year of
King George's reign a change took place in the Ministry. Lord Townshend
was succeeded in the Home Secretary's office by Lord Stanhope. Thereupon
Defoe judged it expedient to write to a private secretary, Mr. de la
Faye, explaining at length his position. This letter along with five
others, also designed to prevent misconstruction by his employers, lay
in the State Paper Office till the year 1864, when the "whole packet"
fell into the hands of Mr. Lee. The following succinct fragment of
autobiography is dated April 26, 1718.

"Though I doubt not but you have acquainted my Lord Stanhope with what
humble sense of his lordship's goodness I received the account you were
pleased to give me, that my little services are accepted, and that his
lordship is satisfied to go upon the foot of former capitulations, etc.;
yet I confess, Sir, I have been anxious upon many accounts, with respect
as well to the service itself as my own safety, lest my lord may think
himself ill-served by me, even when I have best performed my duty."

"I thought it therefore not only a debt to myself, but a duty to his
lordship, that I should give his lordship a short account, as clear as I
can, how far my former instructions empowered me to act, and in a word
what this little piece of service is, for which I am so much a subject
of his lordship's present favour and bounty."

"It was in the Ministry of my Lord Townshend, when my Lord Chief Justice
Parker, to whom I stand obliged for the favour, was pleased so far to
state my case that notwithstanding the misrepresentations under which I
had suffered, and notwithstanding some mistakes which I was the first to
acknowledge, I was so happy as to be believed in the professions I made
of a sincere attachment to the interest of the present Government, and,
speaking with all possible humility, I hope I have not dishonoured my
Lord Parker's recommendation."

"In considering, after this, which way I might be rendered most useful
to the Government, it was proposed by my Lord Townshend that I should
still appear as if I were, as before, under the displeasure of the
Government, and separated from the Whigs; and that I might be more
serviceable in a kind of disguise than if I appeared openly; and upon
this foot a weekly paper, which I was at first directed to write, in
opposition to a scandalous paper called the _Shift Shifted_, was laid
aside, and the first thing I engaged in was a monthly book called
_Mercurius Politicus_, of which presently. In the interval of this,
Dyer, the _News-Letter_ writer, having been dead, and Dormer, his
successor, being unable by his troubles to carry on that work, I had an
offer of a share in the property, as well as in the management of that

"I immediately acquainted my Lord Townshend of it, who, by Mr. Buckley,
let me know it would be a very acceptable piece of service; for that
letter was really very prejudicial to the public, and the most difficult
to come at in a judicial way in case of offence given. My lord was
pleased to add, by Mr. Buckley, that he would consider my service in
that case, as he afterwards did."

"Upon this I engaged in it; and that so far, that though the property
was not wholly my own, yet the conduct and government of the style and
news was so entirely in me, that I ventured to assure his lordship the
sting of that mischievous paper should be entirely taken out, though it
was granted that the style should continue Tory as it was, that the
party might be amused and not set up another, which would have destroyed
the design, and this part I therefore take entirely on myself still."

"This went on for a year, before my Lord Townshend went out of the
office; and his lordship, in consideration of this service, made me the
appointment which Mr. Buckley knows of, with promise of a further
allowance as service presented."

"My Lord Sunderland, to whose goodness I had many years ago been
obliged, when I was in a secret commission sent to Scotland, was pleased
to approve and continue this service, and the appointment annexed; and
with his lordship's approbation, I introduced myself, in the disguise of
a translator of the foreign news, to be so far concerned in this weekly
paper of _Mist's_ as to be able to keep it within the circle of a secret
management, also prevent the mischievous part of it; and yet neither
Mist, or any of those concerned with him, have the least guess or
suspicion by whose direction I do it."

"But here it becomes necessary to acquaint my lord (as I hinted to you,
Sir), that this paper, called the _Journal_, is not in myself in
property, as the other, only in management; with this express
difference, that if anything happens to be put in without my knowledge,
which may give offence, or if anything slips my observation which may be
ill-taken, his lordship shall be sure always to know whether he has a
servant to reprove or a stranger to correct."

"Upon the whole, however, this is the consequence, that by this
management, the weekly _Journal_, and _Dormer's Letter_, as also the
_Mercurius Politicus_, which is in the same nature of management as the
_Journal_, will be always kept (mistakes excepted) to pass as Tory
papers and yet, be disabled and enervated, so as to do no mischief or
give any offence to the Government."

Others of the tell-tale letters show us in detail how Defoe acquitted
himself of his engagements to the Government - bowing, as he said, in the
house of Rimmon. In one he speaks of a traitorous pamphlet which he has
stopped at the press, and begs the Secretary to assure his superiors
that he has the original in safe keeping, and that no eye but his own
has seen it. In another he apologizes for an obnoxious paragraph which
had crept into _Mist's Journal_, avowing that "Mr. Mist did it, after I
had looked over what he had gotten together," that he [Defoe] had no
concern in it, directly or indirectly, and that he thought himself
obliged to notice this, to make good what he said in his last, viz. that
if any mistake happened, Lord Stanhope should always know whether he had
a servant to reprove or a stranger to punish. In another he expresses
his alarm at hearing of a private suit against Morphew, the printer of
the _Mercurius Politicus_, for a passage in that paper, and explains,
first, that the obnoxious passage appeared two years before, and was
consequently covered by a capitulation giving him indemnity for all
former mistakes; secondly, that the thing itself was not his, neither
could any one pretend to charge it on him, and consequently it could not
be adduced as proof of any failure in his duty. In another letter he
gives an account of a new treaty with Mist. "I need not trouble you," he
says, "with the particulars, but in a word he professes himself
convinced that he has been wrong, that the Government has treated him
with lenity and forbearance, and he solemnly engages to me to give no
more offence. The liberties Mr. Buckley mentioned, viz. to seem on the
same side as before, to rally the _Flying Post_, the Whig writers, and
even the word 'Whig,' &c., and to admit foolish and trifling things in
favour of the Tories. This, as I represented it to him, he agrees is
liberty enough, and resolves his paper shall, for the future, amuse the
Tories, but not affront the Government." If Mist should break through
this understanding, Defoe hopes it will be understood that it is not his
fault; he can only say that the printer's resolutions of amendment seem
to be sincere.

"In pursuance also of this reformation, he brought me this
morning the enclosed letter, which, indeed, I was glad to see,
because, though it seems couched in terms which might have
been made public, yet has a secret gall in it, and a manifest
tendency to reproach the Government with partiality and
injustice, and (as it acknowledges expressly) was written to
serve a present turn. As this is an earnest of his just intention,
I hope he will go on to your satisfaction."

"Give me leave, Sir, to mention here a circumstance which
concerns myself, and which, indeed, is a little hardship upon
me, viz. that I seem to merit less, when I intercept a piece of
barefaced treason at the Press, than when I stop such a letter
as the enclosed; because one seems to be of a kind which no
man would dare to meddle with. But I would persuade myself,
Sir, that stopping such notorious things is not without
its good effect, particularly because, as it is true that some
people are generally found who do venture to print any
thing that offers, so stopping them here is some discouragement
and disappointment to them, and they often die in our

"I speak this, Sir, as well on occasion of what you were
pleased to say upon that letter which I sent you formerly
about _Killing no Murder_, as upon another with verses in it,
which Mr. Mist gave me yesterday; which, upon my word,
is so villainous and scandalous that I scarce dare to send it
without your order, and an assurance that my doing so, shall
be taken well, for I confess it has a peculiar insolence in it
against His Majesty's person which (as blasphemous words
against God) are scarce fit to be repeated."

In the last of the series (of date June 13, 1718), Defoe is able to
assure his employers that "he believes the time is come when the
journal, instead of affronting and offending the Government, may many
ways be made serviceable to the Government; and he has Mr. M. so
absolutely resigned to proper measures for it, that he is persuaded he
may answer for it."

Following up the clue afforded by these letters, Mr. Lee has traced the
history of _Mist' Journal_ under Defoe's surveillance. Mist did not
prove so absolutely resigned to proper measures as his supervisor had
begun to hope. On the contrary, he had frequent fits of refractory
obstinacy, and gave a good deal of trouble both to Defoe and to the
Government. Between them, however, they had the poor man completely in
their power. When he yielded to the importunity of his Jacobite
correspondents, or kicked against the taunts of the Whig organs about
his wings being clipped - they, no more than he, knew how - his secret
controllers had two ways of bringing him to reason. Sometimes the
Government prosecuted him, wisely choosing occasions for their
displeasure on which they were likely to have popular feeling on their
side. At other times Defoe threatened to withdraw and have nothing more
to do with the _Journal_. Once or twice he carried this threat into
execution. His absence soon told on the circulation, and Mist entreated
him to return, making promises of good behaviour for the future.
Further, Defoe commended himself to the gratitude of his unconscious
dupe by sympathizing with him in his troubles, undertaking the conduct
of the paper while he lay in prison, and editing two volumes of a
selection of _Miscellany Letters_ from its columns. At last, however,
after eight years of this partnership, during which Mist had no
suspicion of Defoe's connexion with the Government, the secret somehow
seems to have leaked out. Such at least is Mr. Lee's highly probable
explanation of a murderous attack made by Mist upon his partner.

Defoe, of course, stoutly denied Mist's accusations, and published a
touching account of the circumstances, describing his assailant as a
lamentable instance of ingratitude. Here was a man whom he had saved
from the gallows, and befriended at his own risk in the utmost distress,
turning round upon him, "basely using, insulting, and provoking him, and
at last drawing his sword upon his benefactor." Defoe disarmed him, gave
him his life, and sent for a surgeon to dress his wounds. But even this
was not enough. Mist would give him nothing but abuse of the worst and
grossest nature. It almost shook Defoe's faith in human nature. Was
there ever such ingratitude known before? The most curious thing is that
Mr. Lee, who has brought all these facts to light, seems to share
Defoe's ingenuous astonishment at this "strange instance of ungrateful
violence," and conjectures that it must have proceeded from imaginary
wrong of a very grievous nature, such as a suspicion that Defoe had
instigated the Government to prosecute him. It is perhaps as well that
it should have fallen to so loyal an admirer to exhume Defoe's secret
services and public protestations; the record might otherwise have been
rejected as incredible.

Mr. Lee's researches were not confined to Defoe's relations with Mist
and his journal, and the other publications mentioned in the precious
letter to Mr. de la Faye. Once assured that Defoe did not withdraw from
newspaper-writing in 1715, he ransacked the journals of the period for
traces of his hand and contemporary allusions to his labours. A rich
harvest rewarded Mr. Lee's zeal. Defoe's individuality is so marked that
it thrusts itself through every disguise. A careful student of the
_Review_, who had compared it with the literature of the time, and
learnt his peculiar tricks of style and vivid ranges of interest, could
not easily be at fault in identifying a composition of any length.
Defoe's incomparable clearness of statement would alone betray him; that
was a gift of nature which no art could successfully imitate.
Contemporaries also were quick at recognising their Proteus in his many
shapes, and their gossip gives a strong support to internal evidence,
resting as it probably did on evidences which were not altogether
internal. Though Mr. Lee may have been rash sometimes in quoting little
scraps of news as Defoe's, he must be admitted to have established that,
prodigious as was the number and extent of the veteran's separate
publications during the reign of the First George, it was also the most
active period of his career as a journalist. Managing Mist and writing
for his journal would have been work enough for an ordinary man; but
Defoe founded, conducted, and wrote for a host of other newspapers - the
monthly _Mercurius Politicus_, an octavo of sixty-four pages
(1716-1720); the weekly _Dormer's News-Letter_ (written, not printed,
1716-1718); the _Whitehall Evening Post_ (a tri-weekly quarto-sheet,
established 1718); the _Daily Post_ (a daily single leaf, folio,
established 1719); and _Applebee's Journal_ (with which his connexion
began in 1720 and ended in 1726).

The contributions to these newspapers which Mr. Lee has assigned, with
great judgment it seems to me, to Defoe, range over a wide field of
topics, from piracy and highway robberies to suicide and the Divinity of
Christ. Defoe's own test of a good writer was that he should at once
please and serve his readers, and he kept this double object in view in
his newspaper writings, as much as in _Robinson Crusoe_, _Moll
Flanders_, and the _Family Instructor_. Great as is the variety of
subjects in the selections which Mr. Lee has made upon internal
evidence, they are all of them subjects in which Defoe showed a keen
interest in his acknowledged works. In providing amusement for his
readers, he did not soar above his age in point of refinement; and in
providing instruction, he did not fall below his age in point of
morality and religion. It is a notable circumstance that one of the
marks by which contemporaries traced his hand was "the little art he is
truly master of, of forging a story and imposing it on the world for
truth." Of this he gave a conspicuous instance in _Mist's Journal_ in an
account of the marvellous blowing up of the island of St. Vincent, which
in circumstantial invention and force of description must be ranked
among his master-pieces. But Defoe did more than embellish stories of
strange events for his newspapers. He was a master of journalistic art
in all its branches, and a fertile inventor and organizer of new
devices. It is to him, Mr. Lee says, and his researches entitle him to
authority, that we owe the prototype of the leading article, a Letter
Introductory, as it became the fashion to call it, written on some
subject of general interest and placed at the commencement of each
number. The writer of this Letter Introductory was known as the "author"
of the paper.

Another feature in journalism which Defoe greatly helped to develop, if
he did not actually invent, was the Journal of Society. In the _Review_
he had provided for the amusement of his readers by the device of a
Scandal Club, whose transactions he professed to report. But political
excitement was intense throughout the whole of Queen Anne's reign; Defoe
could afford but small space for scandal, and his Club was often
occupied with fighting his minor political battles. When, however, the
Hanoverian succession was secured, and the land had rest from the hot
strife of parties, light gossip was more in request. Newspapers became
less political, and their circulation extended from the coffee-houses,
inns, and ale-houses to a new class of readers. "They have of late," a
writer in _Applebee's Journal_ says in 1725, "been taken in much by the
women, especially the political ladies, to assist at the tea-table."
Defoe seems to have taken an active part in making _Mist's Journal_ and
_Applebee's Journal_, both Tory organs, suitable for this more frivolous
section of the public. This fell in with his purpose of diminishing the
political weight of these journals, and at the same time increased their
sale. He converted them from rabid party agencies into registers of
domestic news and vehicles of social disquisitions, sometimes grave,
sometimes gay in subject, but uniformly bright and spirited in tone.

The raw materials of several of Defoe's elaborate tales, such as _Moll
Flanders_ and _Colonel Jack_, are to be found in the columns of _Mist's_
and _Applebee's_. In connexion with _Applebee's_ more particularly,
Defoe went some way towards anticipating the work of the modern Special
Correspondent. He apparently interviewed distinguished criminals in
Newgate, and extracted from them the stories of their lives. Part of
what he thus gathered he communicated to _Applebee_; sometimes, when the
notoriety of the case justified it, he drew up longer narratives and
published them separately as pamphlets. He was an adept in the art of
puffing his own productions, whether books or journals. It may be
doubted whether any American editor ever mastered this art more
thoroughly than Defoe. Nothing, for instance, could surpass the boldness
of Defoe's plan for directing public attention to his narrative of the
robberies and escapes of Jack Sheppard. He seems to have taken a
particular interest in this daring gaol-breaker. Mr. Lee, in fact, finds
evidence that he had gained Sheppard's affectionate esteem. He certainly
turned his acquaintance to admirable account. He procured a letter for
_Applebee's Journal_ from Jack, with "kind love," and a copy of verses
of his own composition. Both letter and verses probably came from a more
practised pen, but, to avert suspicion, the original of the letter was
declared to be on view at Applebee's, and "well known to be in the
handwriting of John Sheppard." Next Defoe prepared a thrilling narrative
of Jack's adventures, which was of course described as written by the
prisoner himself, and printed at his particular desire. But this was not
all. The artful author further arranged that when Sheppard reached his
place of execution, he should send for a friend to the cart as he stood
under the gibbet, and deliver a copy of the pamphlet as his last speech
and dying confession. A paragraph recording this incident was duly
inserted in the newspapers. It is a crowning illustration of the
inventive daring with which Defoe practised the tricks of his trade.

One of Defoe's last works in connection with journalism was to write a
prospectus for a new weekly periodical, the _Universal Spectator_, which

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Online LibraryWilliam MintoDaniel Defoe → online text (page 9 of 13)