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“ These are the heroes that despise the Dutch
“And lest, by length of time, it be pretended,
As may be judged from this specimen, there is little delicacy in Defoe's satire. The lines run on from beginning to end in the same strain of bold, broad, hearty banter, as if the whole piece had been written off at a heat. The mob did not lynch the audacious humour. ist. In the very height of their fury against foreigners, they stopped short to laugh at themselves. They were tickled by the hard blows, as we may suppose a rhinoceros to be tickled by the strokes of an oaken cudgel. Defoe suddenly woke to find himself the hero of the hour, at least with the London populace. The pamphlet was pirated, and. eighty thousand copies, according to his own calculation, were sold in the streets. Henceforth he described himself in his title-pages as the author of the True-Born Englishman, and frequently did himself the honour of quoting from the work as from a well-established classic. It was also, he has told us, the means of his becoming personally known to the King, whom he had hitherto served from a distance.
Defoe was not the man to be abashed by his own popularity. He, gloried in it, and added to his reputation by taking a prominent part in the proceedings connected with the famous Kentish Petition, which
marked the turn of the tide in favour of the King's foreign policy. Defoe was said to be the author of “Legion's Memoriaľ” to the House of Commons, sternly warning the representatives of the freeholders that they had exceeded their powers in imprisoning the min who had prayed them to “turn their loyal addresses into Bills of Supply." When the Kentish Petitioners were liberated from the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and feasted by the citizens at Mercers' Hall, Defoe was seated next to them as an lionoured guest.
Unfortunately for Defoe, William did not live long after he had been honoured with his Majesty's confidence. He declared afterwards that he had often been privately consulted by the King. The pamphlets which he wrote during the close of the reign are all such as might have been directly inspired. That on the Succession is chiefly memorable as containing a suggestion that the heirs of the Duke of Monmouth should be heard as to King Charles's alleged marriage with Lucy Walters. It is , ossible that this idea may have been sanctioned by the King, who had had painful experience of the disadvantages attending a ruler of foreign extraction, and besides had reason to doubt the attachment of the Princess Sophia to the Protestant faith. When the passionate aversion to war in the popular mind was suddenly changed by the recognition of the Pretender into an equally passionate thirst for it, and the King seized the opportunity to dissolve Parliament and get a new House in accord with the altered temper of the people, Defoe justified the appeal to the freeholders by an examination and assertion of “the Original Power of the Collective Body of the People of England." His last service to the King was a pamphlet bearing the paradoxical title, Reasons against a War with France. As Defve had for nearly a year been zealously working the public mind to a warlike pitch, this title is at first surprising, but the surprise disappears when we find that the pamphlet is an ingepious plea for beginning with a declaration of war against Spain, showing that not only was there just cause for such a war, but that it would be extremely profitable, inasmuch as it would afford occasion for plundering the Spaniards in the West Indies, and thereby making up for whatever losses our trade might suffer from the French privateers. And it was more than a mere plundering descent that Defoe had in view ; his object was that England should take actual possession of the Spanish Indies, and so rob Spain of its chief source of wealth. There was a most powerful buccaneering spirit concealed under the peaceful title of this pamphlet. The trick of arresting attention by an unexpected thesis, such as this promise of reasons for peace when everybody was dreaming of war, is an art in which Defoe has never been surpassed. As we shall have occasion to see, he practised it more than once too often for his comfort,
FROM the death of the King in March, 1702, we must date a change in Defoe's relations with the ruling powers. Under William, his position as a political writer had been distinct and honourable. He supported William's policy warmly and straightforwardly, whether he divined it by his own judgment, or learned it by direct or indirect instructions or hints. When charged with writing for a place, he indignantly denied that he held either place or pension at Court, but at another time he admitted that he had been employed by the King and rewarded by him beyond his deserts. Any reward that he received for his literary services was well earned, and there was nothing dishonourable in accepting it. For concealing the connexion while the King was alive, he might plead the custom of the time. But in the confusion of parties and the uncertainty of government that followed William's death, Defoe slid into practices which cannot be justified by any standard of morality.
It was by accident that Defoe drifted into this equivocal position. His first writings under the new reign were in staunch consistency with what he had written before. He did not try to flatter the Queen as many others did by slighting her predecessors; on the contrary, he wrote a poem called The Mock Mourners, in which he extolled the glorious memory”—a phrase which he did much to bring into useand charged those who spoke disrespectfully of William with the vilest insolence and ingratitude. He sang the praises of the Queen also, but as he based his joy at her accession on an assurance that she would follow in William's footsteps, the compliment might be con. strued as an exhortation. Shortly afterwards, in another poen, The Spanish Descent, he took his revenge unon the fleet for not carrying out his West Indian scheme by ridiculing unmercifully their first fruitless cruise on the Spanish coast, taking care at the same tin 9 to exult in the capture of the galleons at Vigo. In yet another poemthe success of the True-Born Englishman seems to have misguided him into the belief that he had a genius for verse—he reverted to tha Reformation of Manners, and angered the Disscnters by belabouring certain magistrates of their denomination. A pamphlet entitled Å Nero Test of the Church of England's Loyalty--in which he twitted the High Church party with being neither more nor less loyal than the Dissenters, inasmuch as they consented to the deposition of James and acquiesced in the accession of Anne-was better received by his co-religionists.
But when the Bill to prevent occasional conformity was introduced by some hot-headed partisans of the Ilig' Church, towards the close
of 1702, with the Queen's warm approval, Defoe took a course which made the Dissenters threaten to cast him altogether out of the synago-ue.
We have already seen how Defoe had taken the lead in attacking the practice of occasional conformity. While his co-religionists were imprecating him as the man who had brought this persegution upon them, Defoe added to their ill-feeling by issuing a jaunty pamphlet in which he proved with provoking unanswerableness that all honest Dissenters were noways concerned in the Bill. Nobody, ke said, with his usual bright audacity, but himself, “who was altogether born in sin,” saw the true scope of the measure. · All those people who designed the Act as a blow to the Dissenting interests in England are mistaken. All those who take it as a prelude or introduction to the further suppressing of the Dissenters, and a step to repealing the Toleration, or intend it as such, are mistaken.
All those phlegmatic Dissenters who fancy themselves undone, and that persecution and desolation is at the door again, are mistaken. All those Dissenters who are really at all disturbed at it, either as an advantage gained by their enemies or as a real disaster upon themselves, are mistaken. All those Dissenters who deprecate it as a judgment, or would vote against it as such if it were in their power, are mistaken.” In short, though he did not suppose that the movers of the Bill “ did it in mere kindness to the Dissenters, in order to refine and purge them from the scandals which some people had brought upon them,” nevertheless it was calculated to effect tuis object. The Dissenter, being a man that was something desirous of going to Heaven,” ventured the displeasure of the civil magistrate at the command of his conscience, which warned him that there were things in the Established form of worship not agreeable to the Will of God as revealed in Scripture. There is nothing in the Act to the prejudice of this Dissenter; it affects only the Politic Dissenter, or State Dissenter, who, if he can attend the Established worship without offending liis conscience, has no cause to be a Dissenter. An act against occasional conformity would rid the Dissenting body of these lukewarm members, and the riddance would be a good thing for all parties.
It may hare been that this cheerful argument, the legitimate devel. opment of Defoe's former writings on the subject, was intended to comfort liis co-religionists at a moment when the passing of the Act seemed certain. They did not view it in that light; they resented it bitterly, as an insult in the hour of their misfortune from the man who had shown their enemies where to strike. When, however, the Bill, after passing the Commons, was opposed and modified by the Lords, Defoe suddenly appeared on a new tack, publishing the most famous of his political pamphlets, The Shortest IVay with the Dissenters, which las, by a strange freak of circumstances, gained him tle lionour of being enshrined as one of the martyrs of Dissent. In the “brief explanation" of the pamphlet which he gave afterwards,
he declared that it had no bearing whatever upon the Occasional Conformity Bill, pointing to his former writings ou the snbject, in which he had denounced the practice, and welcomed the Bill as a useful instrument for purging the Dissenting bodies of half-andhalf professors. It was intended, he said, as a banter upon the High-flying Tory Churchmen, putting into plain English the drift of their furious invectives against the Dissenters, and so,“ by an irony not unusual," answering them out of their own mouths.
The Shortest Way is sometimes spoken of as a piece of exquisite irony, and on the other hand Mr. Saintsbury* has raised the question whether the representation of an extreme case, in which the veil is never lifted from the writer's own opinion , can properly be called irony at all.
This last is, perhaps, a question belonging to the strict definition of the figures of speech; but, however that might be settled, it is a mistake to describe Defoe's art in this pamphlet as delicate. There are no subtle strokes of wit in it such as we find in some of Swift's ironical pieces. Incomparably more effective as an engine of controversy, it is not entitled to the same rank as a literary exercise. Its whole merit and its rousing political force lay in the dramatic genius with which Defoe personated the temper of a thorough-going High-flyer, putting into plain and spirited English such sentiments as a violent partisan would not dare to utter except in the unguarded heat of familiar discourse, or the half-humorous ferocity of intoxication. Have done, he said, addressing the Dissen. ters, with this cackle about Peace and Union, and the Christian duties of moderation, which you raise now that you find “your day is over, your power gone, and the throne of this nation possessed by a Royal, English, true, and ever-constant member of and friend to the Church of England.
We have heard none of this lesson for fourteen years past. 'We have been huffed and bullied with your Act of Toleration ; you have told us that you are the Church established by law as well as others ; have set up your canting synagogues at our Church doors, and the Church and members have been loaded with reproaches, with oaths, associations, abjurations, and what not. Where has been the mercy, the forbearance, the charity, you have shown to tender consciences of the Church of England, that could not take oaths as fast as you made them ; that, having sworn allegiance to their lawful and rightful King, could not dispense with that oath,
their King being still alive, and swear to your new hodge-podge of a Dutch constitution ?
Now that tl:e tables are turned upon you, you must not be persecuted ; 'tis not a Christian spirit.” You talk of persecution ; what persecution have you to complain of ? “ The first execution of the laws against Dissenters in England was in
* In an admirable article on Defoe in the Encyclopædia Britannica.