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or maybe he mutters, "a pity these pleasant compliments did not come a hundred and fifty years sooner-at Guildhall and St. James's."
Daniel De Foe was born in 1661, in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate. His grandfather was a substantial yeoman at Elton, rich enough to keep hounds. His father carried on the degrading vocation of a butcher. So did Wolsey's father. Mrs. Nickleby asks how this comes, whether there may not be something in the suet. The butcher, however, did his utmost to be a good man; he was a rigid dissenter, and died rich.
Daniel was early indoctrinated into the religious principles of his parents, by the presbyterian Dr. Annesley, the ejected parson of Cripplegate. It was a common thing in that age for clergymen to relinquish their benefices rather than act against conscience, and their doing so was held as a matter of course; but now such a divine is a rarity, and newspapers enlarge on him as a miracle of probity. This good doctor inspired his pupil with no little fervour for the gospel. A panic spread amongst God-fearing nonconformists that the arm of the law would strip them of their bibles; so forthwith, all the country over, there were simple families hard at work making copies of the scriptures, so that if the printed word should be taken from them, they might still have the blessed books in manuscript. Little Dan, then quite a child, copied out the whole of the Pentateuch, and thenstuck fast. Poor little Dan! Cannot one see at this day his inked finger-nails, and imagine how his wee hands ached? Perhaps, moreover, when the young scribe stopped, and said he could not go on further, Pastor Annesley reproved him and called him lukewarm !
At fourteen years of age, Daniel De Foe (or Foe as he was then called), entered the once famous dissenting academy at Newington; and after four years' study left that nursery, by no means a good classicwhich of course he would have been had he been educated at Oxford.
At twenty-one years, he dipped his pen in the ink, and sat down to do battle. The title of his book ran, "Speculum Crape-gownorum; or, a
Looking-glass for the young Academicks, new foyled, &c. By a guide to the Inferior Clergie. London: 1682." Roger L'Estrange, who was the author of the "Guide to the Inferior Clergy," was deeply obliged by the attention. "Oh, pray, don't mention it," Daniel replied, good turn deserves another."
This was in 1682, Richard Steele and Addison were respectively about eleven and ten years of age.
In 1685, Charles II. died. By this event De Foe was doubtless not a little affected. A clear-headed, sagacious young man, of pure manners, and enthusiastic for religious liberty, was one likely to cherish a lively affection for a perjured roué. Doubt
less when he read Mrs. Behn's elegy on the sainted Charles, he formed a due estimate of its merits.
'Tis June, 1685. King James and non-resistance have scarcely been preached up in the London pulpits, when the Duke of Monmouth lands at Lyme in Dorsetshire. In the Duke's army is Daniel Foe. Anything to knock down the enemies of religious liberty.
That contest ended in favour of the worse side; and the land was chastened and corrected for its impiety, by its divinely appointed ruler. Daniel Foe escaped to the Continent. Where he went, one cannot exactly say. But he was, ere he died, what was accounted in those times a very travelled man, being familiar with France, Germany, and Spain. returning from foreign lands, which he did after an absence of not many months, he either commenced or resumed business as a hose-factor, in Freeman's-court, Cornhill. His political enemies deemed this a highly contemptible proceeding. What, sell stockings behind a counter? Pope and Gay shuddered at the thought; Swift, who had never occupied a position lower than that of a menial in a great man's house, gave a grin of contempt; and a pack of ignorant rogues, who tried to cover their moral turpitude under the name of literature, and who had not among them a decent pair of stockings, wrote ungrammatical doggrel on the hosefactor's degradation. De Foe, probably only out of pure mischief and just to give his pursuers the slip for a few seconds, replied, “But, I don't
sell stockings. You're in the wrong, gentlemen; I am not so base a thing as a retail dealer, but a negociator between the manufacturer and the small merchant." "Just hearken to him," exclaimed the gentlemen who a day before had said anybody ought to blush to deal in stockings, &c., "just hearken to him! The man is ashamed of his calling." It was also about this time De Foe put the prefix of De before his name. What led him to do so it would be hard to say. Probably he fancied De made Foe sound prettier. This step again brought on him a vast amount of ridicule; although it was then the custom for gentlemen to alter the spelling of their names, to put in an a or take it out, just as the whim took them. We could point to many unaffected and honourable gentlemen of that time, who changed from one mode of spelling their names to another, much in the same way as they might take a new wine into favour for habitual drinking.
In 1688, he becomes a liveryman of London.
In 1688 also, other events, almost as important, takes place. William the Third lands, and James, king of England, jure divino, runs away. The young London trader was up again. On to the death for freedom of thought! He was one of those who guarded William at Henley, and in 1689 he rode amongst the guard of honour who surrounded William and Mary when they paid a visit to the city. The great William had a cordial admiration for his sagacious, active, and truly noble subject. The hose-factor participated largely in the secret councils of his sovereign, and was honoured with employment on more than one important service.
Just about, and for some time after the revolution, Defoe resided at Tooting, where he was surrounded with the signs of prosperity, and moreover kept his coach. At Tooting he exerted himself successfully to bring the dissenters of the place into a regular congregation. At this period of his life he was involved in commercial affairs-as a city-man on Cornhill, as a Spanish merchant (or peddlar, as his opponents suggested), and as a large proprietor in the tilekiln and brick-kiln works at Tilbury, Essex. The exact points of time when
he entered into these two latter speculations cannot be fixed.
Severe reverses in business soon befel him-from what cause it cannot be said, but certainly not from want of industry on his part. In 1692, he failed; and retired to Bristol to be for a while out of the way of his creditors. It is by the world's treatment of a man when in adversity that we best see some features of his character. Creditors neither are nor ever have been a very merciful class of men; but Defoe's, so high a sense had they of his honour, took his personal security for the amount of composition on his debts. But being legally freed from liabilities was with Defoe very different from being morally liberated. A large portion of his laborious existence was devoted to discharging debts from which his composition had in the eye of the law absolved him. No less a sum than £12,000, earned by continued labour, did he thus pay away.
From 1695 to 1699 he had the post of accountant to the commissioners of the glass duty.
In the January of 1701, appeared one of his most famous productions, "The True-born Englishman," a satire of the first order of merit. Rugged the verse is without doubt, but the language is as manly as the sentiment, and the sarcasm is sharp as a needle, pierces to the marrow, and then burns like caustic.
It has been said that the two first lines of a poem will usually show whether it is worth reading. The two first of "The True-born English. man," are
Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
Let the reader continue,-or rather, with the poem before him, let him discontinue reading if he can. Many couplets will cling to the least tenacious memory ;--such as
Great families of yesterday we show, And lords whose parents were, the Lord knows who.
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, sparc-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 oue 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,
But never frights the wise or well-fixed mind:
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.
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
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 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 particu lar 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 agreeable 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. Et tu, 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 seal, 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
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 me low. 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.
"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
"About two miles from Greenwich, Kent, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1730."
The brave old man's work was al
most 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