Imágenes de páginas

written several years earlier. This is interesting in many ways. It contains a fairly able dissertation on the principles of trade; in its suggestions for an academy to govern the English tongue, for the improvement of roads, for the institution of an academy for the higher education of women, and the like, it not only manifests the spirit of the age for organisation and reform, but frequently shows itself in advance of the age; and most important of all, in the concrete illustrations drawn from homely life, with which Defoe makes his theoretical discussion interesting, the essay shows the power, indispensable to a realistic story-teller, of depicting scenes vividly.

The days of Defoe's greatest prosperity were now at hand. William III., a Dutchman, was thought by many Englishmen to have the interests of Holland more at heart than those of England. Accordingly, he and his Dutch friends were variously lampooned, especially in a pamphlet in verse published on the first of August, 1700, entitled The Foreigners, which taxed them with being wholly out of sympathy with their adopted country. At the beginning of the next year Defoe answered this pamphlet vigorously with his True-Born Englishman in doggerel verse, in which he showed satirically that the English were a hybrid race, and that the king, with his Dutch blood, had as good a right to call himself English as Englishmen of mixed Celtic, Danish, and Norman blood. The people took the satire good-naturedly. It raised the king in their estimation, and it raised Defoe in the king's. He was received in audience by William, who remained till his death a friend to Defoe.

It was apparently about this time, or a year or two afterwards, that the son of the butcher Foe took to writing his name De Foe or Defoe. Some biographers have thought the change accidental — that De Foe was originally a mistake for D. Foe. The best opinion, however, is that Defoe made the change intentionally in order to give his name a less plebeian look. A desire thus to conceal the humbleness of his origin would not be inconsistent with the innate vulgarity of the man.

With the death of William III. in March, 1702, Defoe's most prosperous days were over ; before the year was out, he had got into trouble with the Tory House of Commons. The country was now feeling a Tory reaction, and as sentiment against the Dissenters grew stronger and stronger, Defoe was moved to come to their aid with his ironical pamphlet, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. Strange as it may seem to-day, this was taken in earnest, and the high Tories commended it. The first of the pamphlet, indeed, might be mistaken ; for the fable of the cock roosting on a stable floor who says to the horses, “Pray, gentlefolks, let us stand still, for fear we should tread upon one another," was aimed at the foolish arrogance of some Nonconformists. But as the pamphlet progresses, the propositions become so extreme that it seems impossible, as Defoe wrote later in A Brief Explanation of a Late Pamphlet entitled The Shortest Way with the

[ocr errors]

Dissenters, “ to imagine it should pass for anything but a banter upon the high-flying churchmen.”

When the truth was discovered, the House of Commons was shamed into declaring a slander what many high-churchmen had already praised. A prosecution of Defoe was begun. The pamphlet was condemned as seditious, and its author, on giving himself up, was sentenced to pay a fine of two hundred marks, stand three times in the pillory, and then go to prison for the queen's pleasure.

Part of this punishment Defoe, with characteristic shrewdness, converted from a disgrace into a triumph. Before the three days came in July, 1703, when he stood in the pillory, he had written the best verse which ever came from his pen, his Hymn to the Pillory. In lines to which righteous wrath had given some real dignity, Defoe denounced his enemies, some of whom, he declared, ought to be standing where he then stood. Defoe had copies of the poem circulated among the crowd which came to see him.

The combined effect of these and the sympathy which the masses already felt for him was to make his punishment an ovation. Fruits and flowers were presented to him and garlands hung about the pillory.

Once in Newgate, however, and no longer stimulated by the popular ovation, Defoe must have felt his fortunes at a very low ebb. When William was still king, Defoe had become the proprietor of an establishment, which grew to be very successful, for making bricks and tiles, near Tilbury in Essex. This

was now necessarily closed. And so Defoe found himself without an established business and an indefinite imprisonment before him.

Even in this desperate situation, he turned circumstances to his advantage. From his prison he brought out several pamphlets urging peace and moderation between the hostile political parties. He wrote a graphic account of the famous storm which swept England in November, 1703, an account which must be partially fiction, for Defoe, shut up in Newgate, could have had little experience of the actual violence of the tempest. More important yet, he started in February, 1704, the Weekly Review of the Affairs of France, which lasted until 1713. It was published first once, then twice, and finally three times a week, and treated of both foreign and domestic matters which, according to Defoe, were affected by French events. An important part of the paper was the Mercure Scandale, which, with its discussion of various social questions, was a sort of forerunner of the Tatler, and Spectator, and their many successors.

Better times were now coming for Defoe. In the spring of 1704, the Whigs and moderate Tories supplanted the extreme Tories in power, and Harley became important in the government. This minister, who interceded for Defoe's release in April, freed him, it would seem, in May. From now on, in

1 The date of Defoe's release has commonly been given as August. Mr. Thomas Bateson in The Relations of Defoe and Harley, English Historical Review, xv. (1900), p. 240, shows that it must have been earlier.

spite of difference of political opinion, Defoe was Harley's faithful follower.

For the next fifteen years, politics occupied the most important position in Defoe's life. He was employed as a secret agent of the government by Harley, and also by the Whig ministers after Harley had been forced to give up his office. He was sent to Scotland to help make arrangements for the union of that kingdom with England; and he made two subsequent trips to the same place on matters relating to the Union. He also made two or three trips on secret government business through the English provinces. As Defoe was in the service of ministers on both sides, it made little difference to him which party was in power. When the political changes of 1710 brought back the Tories with Harley at their head, Defoe served them as well as he had served the Whigs in the years immediately preceding. In fact, though an apparently sincere Whig on the questions of civil and religious liberty, on the question of the French War he stood with the moderate Tories. Like Swift, he advocated an early peace, though he did not approve of the terms finally agreed upon.

The extreme Tories brought about the downfall of Defoe's patron, Harley, in July, 1714; within three weeks the queen died, and George I. was proclaimed king. On this accession of the House of Hanover, it was once supposed that Defoe's political life ended. It is now certain, however, that he continued his political career, though in an underhand

« AnteriorContinuar »