« AnteriorContinuar »
to be gleaned from the correspondence of his friends, and it is only of late years that an attempt has been made to write the doctor's biography, and to collect his works.? To edit these works' satisfactorily is a difficult and a doubtful task-several of Arbuthnot's writings having been produced in connection with Swift, Pope, and Gay. So indifferent was he to literary fame, that his children are said to have made kites of papers in which he had jotted down hints that would have furnished good matterforfolios. His most famous work is The History of John Bull (1713), which Macaulay considered the most humorous political satire in the language. It was designed to help the Tory party at the expense of the Duke of Marlborough, whose genius as a military leader was probably equal to that of Wellington, while he fell far below the Great Duke' in the virtues which form a noble character. The irony and dry humour of the satire remind one of Swift, and, like Arbuthnot's Art of Political Lying, is so much in Swift's vein throughout that M. Taine may be excused for attributing both of these pieces to the Dean of St. Patrick's.
The History of John Bull is not fitted to attain lasting popularity. It will be read from curiosity and for information, but the keen excitement, the amusement, and the irritation caused by a brilliant satire of living men and passing events can be but vaguely imagined by readers whose interest in the statecraft of the age is historical and not personal. Arbuthnot, like Swift, belonged to the Tory camp, and both did their utmost to depreciate the great General who never knew defeat, and to promote the designs of Harley. When Arbuthnot produced his satire, all the town laughed at the representation
1 See The Life and Works of Dr. Arbuthnot, by George A. Aitken. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
of Marlborough as an old smooth-tongued attorney who loved money, and was said by his neighbours to be henpecked, which was impossible by such a mild-spirited woman as his wife was.' That an honest plain-dealing
.' fellow' like John Bull the Clothier, should be deceived by such wily men of business as Lewis Baboon of France, and Lord Strutt of Spain, and also that other tradesmen should be willing to join John and Nic Frog, the linen-draper of Holland, in the lawsuit, provided that Bull and Frog, or Bull alone, would bear the law charges, is made to appear likely enough; and Scott says truly that it was scarce possible so effectually to dim the lustre of Marl. borough's splendid achievements as by parodying them under the history of a suit conducted by a wily attorney who made every advantage gained over the defendant a reason for protracting law procedure, and enhancing the expense of his client.' In this long lawsuit everybody is represented as gaining something except John Bull, whose ready money, book debts, bonds, and mortgages go into the lawyer's pockets. Whether the nickname of John Bull originated with Arbuthnot or was merely adopted by him is not known.
Arbuthnot was an active member of the Scriblerus Club, and wrote the larger portion of the Memoirs of Martin Scriblerus (1741), the design of which was, as Pope said, to ridicule false tastes in learning, in the character of a man that had dipped into every art and science, but injudiciously in each. Dr. Johnson says of this work that no man can be wiser, better, or merrier for remembering it. Perhaps he is right; but the Memoirs contain some humorous points which, if they do not create merriment, may yield some slight amusement. The pedant's endeavours to make a philosopher of his child are sufficiently ludicrous. He is delighted to find that the infant has the wart of Cicero
and the very neck of Alexander, and hopes that he may come to stammer like Demosthenes, and in time arrive at many other defects of famous men.'
As the boy grows up his father invents for him a geographical suit of clothes, and stamps his gingerbread with the letters of the Greek alphabet, which proved so successful a mode of teaching the language, that on the very first day the child.ate as far as iota. He also taught him as a diversion an odd and secret manner of stealing, according to the custom of the Lacedemonians, wherein he succeeded so well that he practised it till the day of his death.' Martin studies logic, philosophy, and medicine, and discovers that the seat of the soul is not confined to one place in all persons, but resides in the stomach of epicures, in the brain of philosophers, in the fingers of fiddlers, and in the toes of rope-dancers. His discoveries, it may be added, are made without the trivial help of experiments or observations.'
DANIEL DEFOE JOHN DENNIS–COILEY CIBBER- LADY
MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU-EARL OF CHESTERFIELD-
The most voluminous writer of his century is popularly
remembered as the author of one book, pubDaniel Defoe
lished in his old age. Everybody has read (1661-1731).
Robinson Crusoe, and knows the name of its author; but few readers outside the narrow circle of literary students are aware of Defoe's exhaustless labours as a politician, social reformer, projector, pamphleteer, and novelist.
It would be well for the author's reputation if we knew less about him than we do. There was a time when he was regarded as a noble sufferer in the cause of civil and religious liberty. His faults were credited to his age while his virtues were supposed to place him on an eminence far above the time-servers who despised him. He has been praised as a man courageously living for great aims, who was maligned by the malice of party, and to whose memory scant justice has been done. No one,' says Henry Kingsley,
could come up to the standard of his absolute precision,' and his inexorable honesty alienated everyone.' These words were written in 1868. Four years previously, however, the discovery of six letters in the State Paper Office, in Defoe's own hand, had entirely destroyed his character
for inexorable honesty, and the resrarches of his latest and most exhaustive biographer, who regards his hero's vices as virtues, do but serve to give greater prominence to the baseness of his conduct. Defoe, by his own confession,
many years in the pay of the Government for secret services, taking shares in Tory papers and supervising them as editor, in order to defeat the aims of the party to which he professed to be allied, and of the proprietors with whom he was in partnership. Thus in 1718, he writes as a plea that his labours should be remembered : ‘I am, Sir, for this service, posted among Papists, Jacobites, and enraged High Tories—a generation who I profess my very soul abhors; I am obliged to hear traitorous expressions and outrageous words against his majesty's person and government, and his most faithful servants, and smile at it all as if I approved it; I am obliged to take all the scandalous and indeed villainous papers that come, and keep them by me as if I would gather materials from them to put them into the News; nay, I often venture to let things pass which are a little shocking that I may not render myself suspected. Thus I bow in the House of Rimmon, and must humbly recommend myself to his lordship’s protection, or I may be undone the sooner, by how much the more faithfully I execute the commands I am under.' It would not be fair to judge Defoe altogether by the moral standard of our own day, but the part he played as a servant and spy of the government would have been an act of baseness in any age, and of this he seems to have been conscious.
Daniel Foe, who about 1703 assumed the prefix of De, for no assignable reason, was the son of a butcher and Nonconformist in Cripplegate, who had the youth educated
Daniel Defoe: his Life and recently discovered Writings, extending from 1716 to 1729. By William Lee. 3 vols.