ePub 版

grace acknowledged the truth of the lesson, that their national extraction instead of being pure, was obscure and confused in the extreme. Never again were Dutchmen sneered at for not being true-born Englishmen.

In March, 1702, the great King William died. Times were now to change. Intolerant churchmen were to gain a passing ascendancy, and conscientious dissenters were to be persecuted. At this crisis Defoe sent forth his most notorious, and, perhaps, his most brilliant political pamphlet the "Shortest Way with the Dissenters; a Proposal for the establishment of the church. London: 1702." Those who have studied the powers of irony displayed in this and other similar writings of Defoe, will not, however much they continue to admire Gulliver's Travels, be inclined to rate the Dean's irony as pre-eminent for originality. But irony is a dangerous weapon to use. What with fools who cannot, and rogues who will not understand, it too frequently wounds him who wields it not less than those against whom it is employed. "But consider, my dear lad, that fools cannot distinguish this,and that knaves will not," said Eugenius to Yorick. Sound churchmen were delighted with the barbarous proposals, found in "the shortest way," for the treatment of non-conformists; grave clergymen said the book ought to be bound with the sacred Scriptures. The dissenters were not less affected-but in a different way in the anonymous author of the tract they saw only a bloodthirsty foe. At last the secret was discovered ;- -the churchmen were furious at the blow they had received, so deeply humiliating to them as Christians and people of intelligence; the dissenters were far from being pleased they could not forgive their advocate the possession of talents so superior to their own; and they never ceased to remember with bitterness the ridicule they had incurred by being hoaxed by their own hoax. But though the churchmen were the laughingstock of all but their own partizans, they were powerful, and had the means of vengeance in their hands. Let us read the London Gazette, Jan. 10th, 1702-3:

"Whereas Daniel De Foe, alias De Fooe,

is charged with writing a scandalous and seditious pamphlet, entitled "The Shortest Way with the Dissenters;" he is a middlesized, 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'syard, in Corn-hill, and now is owner of the brick and pantile works near Tilbury Fort, in Essex whoever shall discover the said Daniel De Foe to one of her Majesty's principal secretaries of state, or any of her Majesty's justices of the peace, so as he may be apprehended, shall have a reward of fifty pounds, which her Majesty has ordered immediately to be paid on such discovery."


Defoe having disappeared from the storm, the bookseller and printer were taken into custody. On this, the author surrendered himself into the hands of the Philistines. February 24th, 1703, he was indicted for libelling the Tory party, and he was tried at the Old Bailey in the following July; he was found guilty, and the sentence was, that he should pay 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.

It may not be omitted, moreover, that the House of Commons, February 25th, 1702-3, resolved with regard to "The Shortest Way," "that this book, being full of false and scandalous reflections on this parliament, and tending to promote sedition, be burnt by the hands of the common hangman, to-morrow, in New Palace-yard." Poor book! Poor honourable members!

They little thought what was the principal thing that fire destroyed! Let us now read the London Gazette, No. 3,936, Thursday, July 29th, to Monday, August 2nd, 1703:-" London, July 31st. On the 29th instant, Daniel Foe, alias, De Foe, stood in the pillory before the Royal Exchange in Corn-hill, as he did yesterday near the conduit in Cheapside, and this day at Temple-bar," &c., &c. But to the great mortification of enthusiastic admirers of religious intolerance, the mob did not annoy this hose-factor when exposed in the pillory, but closing round him protected him from all annoyance, sang his songs in compliment to him, drank his health, and pelted him-not with rotten eggs, but with flowers. Really and truly,

the House of Commons, and all the bigoted ecclesiastics of the kingdom, were the ones pilloried, and not the courageous writer. Pope wrote in the Dunciad:

"Earless on high stood unabashed De Foe."

But the poet lived to repent the line, and to learn (to use the happy words of an eminent author) that in attempting to murder he had committed suicide. Swift named Defoe as "the fellow that was pilloried: I forget his name:" but a cruel punishment was in store for that selfish, bad, dishonest man. The martyr himself wrote, while in Newgate, an ode to the pillory, containing the following lines:

Hail! hi'roglyphick state machine,
Condemned to punish fancy in:
Men, that are inen, can in thee feel no pain,
And all thy insignificance disdain.
Contempt, that false new word for shame,
Is without crime an empty name-
A shadow to arnuse mankind,

But never frights the wise or well-fixed mind:
Virtue despises human scorn
And scandals innocence adorn.

This trial stripped Defoe of £3,500, again reducing him, with a wife and family, to penury. But while in prison he worked hard. The greater the difficulties around him, the greater became the man. He commenced his newspaper, "the Review," the parent of the Tatler, Spectator, Rambler. At first it only came out twice a week; but soon an additional weekly number was added. Of this periodical, Defoe was the sole writer. In prison and out of prison, in sickness and health, he supplied the papers: an unparalleled instance of industry! But this was only a portion, and a small one, of his toil. Besides "the Review," which lasted for thirteen years, no less than one hundred and eighty-three separate works-poems, novels, political essays, histories, and expositions of moral questions-unquestionably came from his pen; and fifty-two more are, with sufficient reason, attributed to him. change in his lot is at hand.

But a

In 1704, he is released from prison by the influence of Harley.

In 1705, he is sent abroad by Harley on a secret mission.

In 1706, he makes the first of a

series of visits to Scotland, to negociate and forward the Union; in bringing about which admirable measure he was mainly instrumental.

In 1708, he entered Godolphin's service that is, he remained in the Queen's, with Harley's warm approval.

Again he is indicted for writings, the only fault of which was, that they were addressed to blockheads and dishonest men. Again he has to pay dear for his indulgence in irony. He is fined £800 and thrown into Newgate. But after a few months' confinement, he is released, November, 1713.

In July, 1714, Anne dies; and with her death, a pension Defoe had received for his services in Scotland ceases.

In 1715, Defoe retired from political life, and took his farewell to partystrife in " an Appeal to honour and justice, though it be of his worst enemies. By Daniel De Foe. Being a true account of his conduct in public affairs. London, 1715." While he was employed in revising the work, he was struck with apoplexy.

But soon the lion-hearted man revived, and he was at work again with his pen.

In 1719 (when the author was fiftyeight years of age) appeared Robinson Crusoe.

From his retirement, from the arena of politics, history says little of him, save that which his immortal works tell us. In 1724 he was living in opulence and with dignity, at a house in Church-street, Newington, which is at the present day an object of curiosity, as having been the residence of the celebrated writer and patriot. He was then a hale, hearty old gentleman,-distressed certainly by bodily ailments, but with a vigorous intellect, and a heart kindly as ever. It was about this time that one Thomas Webb wrote:-" And poor distressed I, left alone, and no one to go and speak to, save only Mr. Defoe, who hath acted a noble and generous part towards me and my poor children. The Lord reward him and his with the blessings of the upper and nether spring, and with the blessings of his basket and store."

A fresh reverse comes. And in 1730, the aged Defoe is in a debtors' prison.

Yet another blow-the steel enters to the heart. His son, in whom he trusted, dishonours his name! Let us read Defoe's letter to his sonin-law, Mr. Baker, the celebrated naturalist :

"Dear Mr. Baker,

"I have your very kind and affectionate letter of the 1st, but not come to my hand till the 10th; where it had been delayed I know not, as your kind manner, and kinder thought from which it flows (for I take all you say as I believe you to be, sincere and Nathaniel-like, without guile) was a particular satisfaction to me: so the stop of a letter, however it happened, deprived me of that cordial too many days, considering how much I stood in need of it, to support a mind sinking under the weight of an affliction too heavy for my strength, and looking on myself as abandoned of every comfort, every friend, and every relative, except such only as are able to give me no assistance.

"I am sorry you should say at the beginning of your letter you were debarred seeing me. Depend on my sincerity for this: I am far from debarring you. On the contrary, it would be a greater comfort to me than any I now enjoy, that I could have your agree able visits with safety, and could see both you and my dearest Sophia, could it be without giving her the grief of seeing her father in tenebris, and under the load of insupportable sorrows, I am sorry I must open my griefs so far as to tell her, it is not the blow I received from a wicked, perjured, and contemptible enemy that has broken in upon my spirit; which, as she well knows, has carried me on through greater disasters than these. But it has been the injustice, unkindness, and, I must say, inhuman dealing of my own son, which has both ruined my family, and, in a word, has broken my heart; and as I am at this time under a very heavy weight of illness, which I think will be a fever, I take this occasion to vent my grief in the breasts who I know will make a prudent use of it, and tell you, nothing but this has conquered or could conquer me. Brute. I depended upon him — I trusted him-I gave up my two dear, unprovided children into his hands; but he has no compassion, and suffers them and their poor dying mother to beg their bread at his door, and to crave, as if it were an alms-what he is bound under hand and scal, and by the most sacred promises, to supply them withhimself at the same time living in a profusion of plenty. It is too much for ine. my infirmity; I can say no more; my heart is too full. I only ask one thing of you as a dying request. Stand by them when I am gone, and let them not be wronged while he is able to do them right. Stand by them as a brother and if you have anything within you owing to my memory, who have bestow

Et tu,


ed on you the best gift I had to give, let them not be injured and trampled on by false pretences and unnatural reflections. I hope they will want no help but that of comfort and counsel; but that they will indeed want, being too easie to be managed by words and promises.

"It adds to my grief that it is so difficult to me to see you. I am at a distance from London, in Kent; nor have I a lodging in London, nor have I been at that place in the Old Bailey since I wrote you I was removed from it. At present I am weak, having had some fits of a fever that have left mejlow. But those things much more.

"I have not seen son or daughter, wife or child, many weeks, and know not which way to see them. They dare not come by water, and by land here is no coach, and I know not what to do.

[ocr errors][merged small]

"It adds to my grief that I must never see the pledge of your mutual love, my little grandson. Give him my blessing, and may he be to you both your joy in youth and your comfort in age, and never add a sigh to your sorrow. But, alas! that is not to be expected. Kiss my dear Sophy once more for me; and if I must see her no more, tell her this is from a father that loved her above above all his comforts to his last breath.. Your unhappy

D. F.

"About two miles from Greenwich, Kent, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1730."

The brave old man's work was almost accomplished. His sufferings were at their bitterest; but, thank God! near their termination.

To the very last he appears to have exerted himself. At the close of 1729, he was engaged on a work of imagination, sending revised sheets to his publisher, asking pardon for a delay in returning them, caused by "exceeding illness," and promising to be prompt with the remainder. There is no evidence that this last effort was ever published. The manuscript is in the possession of Mr. Dawson Turner, of Suffolk.

On April 24, 1731, he was taken by death in Ropemakers'-alley, Moorfields, in the parish of St. Giles's, Cripplegate the same parish in

which he first drew the breath of life. Whether he expired in a decent lodging, or in a dismal garret-whether alone, or tended in his last moments by his wife and children, it is impossible to say. The Parish Register contains the fullest account extant of his interment :-" 1731, Daniel Defoe, gentleman. To Tindall's (Lethargy). April 26." Tindall's was the general burial-ground for Dis


A twinge shakes the nerves as we read that ambiguous word gentleman. It is such a pretty title to give Daniel Defoe.

The man who, when a beardless youth, saw the truth, and fearlessly declared it who risked his life for what he felt to be his duty--who fought zealously, and without fainting, for freedom, and was, without doubt, an instrument in the hands of Providence for the preservation of our national religion-for in those days of peril, when the weight of a feather would at times have turned the balance in favour of Romanism, Protestantism was guarded not by the Anglican priesthood (for they be trayed her), but by the great champions of spiritual freedom, the Nonconformists-the man who laboured effectually in consolidating the sister countries of England and Scotland; who was the cause of innumerable social reforms, amongst which the removal of the abuses of the sanctuary at Whitefriars (Alsatia), and the Mint, may be mentioned; who raised his voice against the cruelties of slavery, devised schemes for the amelioration of the poor, and continually urged that woman, so formed by nature to elevate man, should be raised from the depths of ignorance, which was her lot in most cases; the man who tried so many fields of literature, and gained distinction in them all; he who, honourable, singlehearted, fierce in the day of battle, was worthy the regard and confidence of England's last great king, William III. -was Daniel Defoe, gentleman!

Not many insights do we get into Defoe's domestic life. He was married twice; firstly, to Mary; and, secondly, to Susannah, but the maiden surname of neither is known. the year 1706, he had seven children; but in 1707, his daughter Martha




One son, Daniel Defoe, emigrated to Carolina, carrying with him, as his father's representative, a liberal contribution to that stock of Anglo-Saxon intellect (or true-born English!) that has made our Transatlantic cousins (of whom we are so naturally proud) a nation beloved and honoured wherever our common tongue is spoken. Another son, Bernard, took the name of Norton, and was mentioned by Pope in the "Dunciad." He was editor of "The Flying Post," and was the author of "A Complete Dictionary, by B. N. Defoe, Gent., 1735," a "Memoir of the House of Orange," and "The Life of Alderman Barber." The daughters managed to recover their property from their despicable brother, and settled comfortably in life-Hannah as a maiden lady, Henrietta as the wife of a gentleman of condition. Sophia's (Mrs. Baker's) son lived to be the author of "The Companion to the Play-house." A great grandson of Defoe was hanged at Tyburn, Jan. 2, 1771; and another great grandson was, in 1787, cook on the Savage sloop-of-war. These two last, we may presume, were the descendants of the wretch who, whilst "living in a profusion of plenty," allowed his mother and sisters to be in want! From this branch came "the poor descendant from Defoe," to support whose old age there has lately been an appeal to the charitable in the columns of the Times.

In what estimation are we to hold Defoe as a writer of fiction? And for what is the English novel indebted to him? The latter question can be answered in a few words and with great precision. Defoe brought into the domain of imaginative prosewriting graphic descriptions of scenes, events and mental emotions, and quick, pointed conversations.

Colonel Jack, a poor miserable little beggar boy (if miserable may be applied to an urchin with good health and spirits) comes into possession of £5 as his share of a plunder he has achieved with another and an older lad. Hear his story :

Nothing could be more perplexing than this money was to me all that night. I carried it in my hand a good while, for it was in gold, all but fourteen shillings; and that is to say, it was four guineas, and that fourteen shillings was more difficult to carry



than the four guineas. At last I sat down and pulled off one of my shoes, and put the four guineas in that; but after I had gone awhile, my shoe hurt me, so I could not go; so I was fain to sit down again, and take it out of my shoe, and carry it in my hand; then I found a dirty linen rag in the street, and I took that up and wrapped it all together, and carried it in that a good way. have often since heard people say, when they have been talking of money that they could not get in, I wish I had it in a foul clout; in truth, I had mine in a foul clout; for it was foul according to the letter of that saying, but it served me till I came to a convenient place, and then I sat down and washed the cloth in the kennel, and so put my money in again.

The boy carries the money to his lodging and lies down to sleep, with his hand, clutching it, thrust into his bosom.

Every now and then dropping asleep, I should dream that my money was lost, and start like one frightened; then, finding it fast in my hand, try to go to sleep again, but could not for a long while, then drop and start again. At last a fancy came into my head, that if I fell asleep, I should dream of the money, and talk of it in my sleep, and tell that I had money; which if I should do, and one of the rogues should hear me, they would pick it out of my bosom, and of my hand too, without waking me; and after that thought I could not sleep a wink more: so I passed that night over in care and anxiety enough; and, this, I may safely say, was the first night's rest that I lost by the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches.

When daycame, he wandered towards Stepney, turning in his mind what he should do with his wealth; and at last sitting down and crying in his perplexity. Then he rises and goes in search of a tree to hide it in.

I crossed the road at Mile End; and in the middle of the town went down a lane that goes to the Blind Beggar's at Bethnalgreen. When I came a little way over the lane. I found a foot-path over the fields, and in those fields several trees for my turn as I thought at last, one tree had a little hole in it, pretty high out of my reach, and I climbed up the tree to get it; and when I came there, I put my hand in, and found, as I thought, a place very fit; so I placed my treasure there, and was mightly well satisfied with it; but, behold, putting my hand in again, to lay it more commodiously, as I thought, of a sudden it slipped away from me, and I found the tree was hollow, and my

little parcel was fallen in quite out of my reach, and how far it might go in I knew not; so, that in a word, my money was quite gone, irrecoverably lost; there could be no room so much as to hope ever to see it again, for 'twas a vast great tree.

As young as I was, I was now sensible what a fool I was before, that I could not think of ways to keep my money, but I must come thus far to throw it into a hole where I could not reach it: well, I thrust my hand quite up to my elbow, but no bottom was to be found, or any end of the hole or cavity; I got a stick of the tree, and thrust it in a great way, but all was one; then I cried, nay, roared out, I was in such a passion then I got down the tree, then up again, and thrust in my hand again, till I scratched my arm, and made it bleed violently; then I began to think I had not so much of it as a half-penny of it left for a half-penny roll, and I was hungry, and then I cried again then I came away in despair, crying and roaring like a boy that had been whipped; then I went back again to the tree, and up the tree again, and thus I did several times.

The last time I had gotten up the tree I happened to come down not on the same side that I went up and came down before, but on the other side of the tree, and on the other side of the bank also; and, behold, the tree had a great open place in the side of it close to the ground, as old hollow trees often have; and looking into the open place, to my inexpressible joy there lay my money and my linen rag, all wrapped up just as I had put it into the hole; for the tree being hollow all the way up, there had been some moss or light stuff, which I had not judgment enough to know was not firm, that had given way when it came to drop out of my hand, and so it had slipped quite down at once.

I was but a child, and I rejoiced like a child, for I hollo'd quite out aloud when I saw it; thus I ran to it and snatched it up, hugged and kissed the dirty rag a hundred times; then danced and jumped about, and was from one end of the field to the other; and, in short, I knew not what, much less do I know what I did, though I shall never forget the thing, either what a sinking grief it was to my heart when I thought I had lost it, or what a flood of joy overwhelmed me when I had got it again.

Jack now goes to an old clothesshop in Whitechapel, and looks at the clothes hanging at the door.

"Well, young gentleman," says a man. that stood at the door, " you look wishfully; do you see anything you like, and will your pocket compass a good coat now, for you look as if you belong to the ragged regiinent?" I was affronted at the fellow. What's that to you," says I, "how ragged I am? If I

« 上一頁繼續 »