« ПредишнаНапред »
internal evidence, they are all of them subjects in which Defoe showed a keen interest in his acknowledged works. In providing amusement for his readers, he did not soar above his age in point of refinement; and in providing instruction, he did not fall below his age in point of morality and religion. It is a notable circumstance that one of the marks by which contemporaries traced his hand was "the little art he is truly master of, of forging a story and imposing it on the world for truth." Of this he gave a conspicuous instance in Misť's Journal in an account of the marvellous blowing up of the island of St. Vincent, which in circumstantial invention and force of description must be ranked among his master-pieces. But Defoe did more than embellish stories of strange events for his newspapers. He was a master of journalistic art in all its branches, and a fertile inventor and organizer of new devices. It is to him, Mr. Lee says, and his researches entitle him to authority, that we owe the prototype of the leading article, a Letter Introductory, as it became the fashion to call it, written on some subject of general interest and placed at the commencement of each number. The writer of this Letter Introductory was known as the "author" of the paper.
Another feature in journalism which Defoe greatly helped to develop, if he did not actually invent, was the Journal of Society. In the Review he had provided for the amusement of his readers by the device of a Scandal Club, whose transactions he professed to report. But political excitement was intense throughout the whole of Queen Anne's reign; Defoe could afford but small space for scandal, and his Club was often occupied with fighting his minor political battles. When, however, the Hanoverian succession was secured, and the land had rest from the hot strife of parties, light gossip was more in request. Newspapers became less political, and their circulation extended from the coffee-houses, inns, and ale-houses to a new class of readers. “ They have of late," a writer in Applebee's Journal says in 1725, “ been taken in much by the women, especially the political ladies, to assist at the tea-table.” Defoe seems to have taken an active part in making Mist's Journal and Applebee's Journal, both Tory organs, suitable for this more frivolous section of the public. This fell in with his purpose of diminishing the political weight of these journals, and at the same time increased their sale. He converted them from rabid party agencies into registers of domestic news and vehicles of social disquisitions, sometimes grave, sometimes gay in subject, but uniformly bright and spirited in tone.
The raw materials of several of Defoe's elaborate tales, such as Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack, are to be found in the columns of Misť's and Applebee's. In connexion with Applebee's more particularly, Defoe went some way towards anticipating the work of the modern Special Correspondent. He apparently interviewed distinguished criminals in Newgate, and extracted from them the stories of their lives. Part of what he thus gathered he communicated to Applebee ; sometimes, when the notoriety of the case justified it, he drew up longer narratives and published them separately as pamphlets. He was an adept in the art of puffing his own productions, whether books or journals. It may be doubted whether any American editor ever mastered this art more thoroughly than Defoe. Nothing, for instance, could surpass the boldness of Defoe's plan for directing public attention to his narrative of the robberies and escapes of Jack Sheppard. He seems to have taken a particular interest in this daring gaol-breaker. Mr. Lee, in fact, finds evidence that he had gained Sheppard's affectionate esteem. He certainly turned his acquaintance to admirable account. He procured a letter for Applebee's Journal from Jack, with “kind love,” and a copy of verses of his own composition. Both letter and verses probably came from a more practised pen, but, to avert suspicion, the original of the letter was declared to be on view at Applebee's, and well known to be in the handwriting of Jack Sheppard.” Next Defoe prepared a thrilling narrative of Jack's adventures, which was of course described as written by the prisoner himself, and printed at his particular desire. But this was not all. The artful author fur. ther arranged that when Sheppard reached his place of execution, he should send for a friend to the cart as he stood under the gibbet, and deliver a copy of the pamphlet as his last speech and dying confes. sion. A paragraph recording this incident was duly inserted in the newspapers. It is a crowning illustration of the inventive daring with which Defoe practised the tricks of his trade.
One of Defoe's last works in connection with journalism was to write a prospectus for a new weekly. periodical, the Universal Spectator, which was started by his son-in-law, Henry Baker, in October, 1728. There is more than internal and circumstantial evidence that this prospectus was Defoe's composition. When Baker retired from the paper five years afterwards, he drew up a list of the articles which had appeared under his editorship, with the names of the writers attached. This list has been preserved, and from it we learn that the first number, containing a prospectus and an introductory essay on the qualifications of a good writer, was written by Defoe. That experienced journalist naturally tried to give an air of novelty to the enterprise. If this paper,” the first sentence runs, was not intended to be what no paper at present is, •We should never attempt to crowd in among such a throng of public writers as at this time oppress the town." In effect the scheme of the Universal Spectator was to revive the higher kind of periodical essays which made the reputation of the earlier Spectator. Attempts to follow in the wake of Addison and Steele had for so long ceased to be features in journalism ; their manner had been so effectually superseded by less refined purveyors of light literature-Defoe him-,
self going heartily with the stream—that the revival was opportune, and in point of faet proved successful, the Universul Spectator continuing to exist for nearly twenty years. It shows how quickly the Spectator took its place among the classics, that the writer of the prospectus considered it necessary to deprecate a charge of presumption in seeming to challenge comparison.
“Let no man envy us the celebrated title we have assumed, or charge us with arrogance, as if we bid the world expect great things from us. Must we have no power to please, unless we come up to the full height of those ipimitable performances? Is there no wit or humour left because they are gone? Is the spirit of the Spectators all lost, and their mantle fallen upon nobody? Have they said all that can be said ? Has the world offered no variety, and presented no new scenes, since they retired from us? Or did they leave off, because they were quite exhausted and had no more to say pa
Defoe did not always speak so respectfully of the authors of the Spectator. If he had been asked why they left off, he would proba. bly have given the reason contained in the last sentence, and backed his opinion by contemptuous remarks about the want of fertility in the scholarly brain. He himself could have gone on producing for ever; he was never gravelled for lack of matter, had no nice ideas about manner, and was sometimes sore about the superior respectability of those who had. But here he was on business, addressing people who looked back regretfully from the vulgarity of Mist's and Applebee's to the refinement of earlier periodicals, and making a bid for their custom. A few more sentences from his advertisement will show how well he understood their prejudices :
The main design of this work is, to turn your thoughts a little cff from the clamour of contending parties, Fhieh has so long surfeited you with their ill-timed politics, and restore your taste to things truly superior and sublime.
“In order to this, we shall endeavonr to present you with such subjects as are capable, if well handled, both to divert and to instruct you ; such as shall render conversation pleasant, and help to make mankind agreeable to one another
“As for our management of them not to promise too much for ourselves, we shall only say we hope, at least, to make our work acceptable to everybody, because we resolve, if possible, to displease nobody.
"We assure the world, by way of negative, that we shall engage in no quarrels, meddie with no parties deal in no scandal, nor endeavour to make any men merry at the expense of their neighbours. In a word, we shall set nobody together by the ears. And though we have encouraged the ingenious world to correspond with us by letters, we hope they will not take it ill, that we say beforehand, no letters will be taken notice of by us which contain any personal reproaches, intermeddle with family breaches, or tend to scandal or indecency of any kind.
“The current papers are more than sufficient to carry on all the dirty work the town can have for them to do; and what with party strife, politics. poetic quarrels, and all the other consequences of a wrangling age, they are in no danger of wanting employment; and those readers who delight in such things, may divert themselves there." But our views, as is said above, lie another way."
Good writing is what Defoe promises the readers of the Universal Spectator, and this leads him to consider what particular qualifications go to the composition, or, in a word, "what is required to denominate a man a good writer." His definition is worth quoting as a statement of his principles of composition.
"One says this is a polite author ; another says, that is an excellent good writer; and generally we find some oblique strokes pointed sideways at themselves ; intimating that wbether we think fit to allow it or not, they take themselves to be very good writers. And, indeed, I must excuse them their vanity : for if a poor author had not some good opinion of himself, especially when under the discouragement of having nobody else to be of his mind, he would never write at all ; nay, he could not;
it would take off all the little dull edge that his pen might bave on it before, and he would not be able to say one word to the purpose.
"Now whatever may be the lot of this paper, be that as common fame shall direct, yet without entering into the enquiry who writes better or who writes worse, shall lay down one specific, by which you that read shall impartially determine who are, or are not, to be called good writers. In a word, the character of a good writer, wherever be is to be found, is this, viz., that he writes so as to please and serve at the same time.
“If he writes to please, and not to serve he is a flatterer and a hypocrite; if to serve and not to please, he turns cynic and satirist. The first deals in smooth falsehood, the last in rough scandal ; the last may do some good, though little; the first does no good, and may do mischief, not a little; the last provokes your rage, the first provokes your pride ; and in a word either of them is hurtful rather than useful. But the writer that strives to be useful, writes to serve you, and at the same time, by an imperceptible art, draws you on to be pleased also. He represents truth with plainness, virtue with praise he even reprehends with a softness that carries the force of a satire without the salt of it ; and he insensibly screws himself into your good opinion, that as his writings merit your regard, so they fail not to obtain it.
This is part of the character by which I define a çood writer ; I say 'tis but part of it, for it is not a half sheet that would contain the full description; a large volume would hardly suffice it. His fame requires, indeed, a very good writer to give it due praise, and for that reason (and a good reason too) I go no farther with it."
THE PLACE OF DEFOE'S FICTIONS IN HIS LIFE.
THOSE of my readers who have thought of Defoe only as a writer of stories which young and old still love to read, must not be surprised that so few pages of this little book should be left for an account of his work in that field. No doubt Defoe's chief claim to the world's interest is that he is the author of Robinson Crusoe. But there is little to be said about this or any other of Defoe's tales in themselves. Their art is simple, unique, incommunicable, and they are too well known to need description. · On the other hand, there is much that is worth knowing and not generally known about the relation of these works to his life, and the place that they occupy in the sum total of his literary activity. Hundreds of thousands since Defoe's death, and millions in ages to come, would never have heard his name but for Robinson Crusoe. To his contemporaries the publication of that work was but a small incident in a career which for twenty years had claimed and held their interest. People in these days are apt to im. agine, because Defoe wrote the most fascinating of books for children, that he was himself simple, child-like, frank, open, and unsuspecting. He has been so described by more than one historian of literature. It was not so that he appeared to his contemporaries, and it is not so that he
an appear to us when we know his life, unless we recognise that he took a child's delight in beating with their own weapons the most astute intriguers in the most intriguing period of English history.
Defoe was essentially a journalist. He wrote for the day, and for the greatest interest of the greatest number of the day. He always had some ship sailing with the passing breeze, and laden with a useful cargo for the coast upon which the wind chanced to be blowing. If the Tichborne trial had happened in his time, we should certainly have had from him an exact history of the boyhood and surprising adventures of Thomas Castro, commonly known as Sir Roger, which would have come down to us as a true record, taken, perhaps, by the chaplain of Portland prison from the convict's own lips. It would have had such an air of authenticity, and would have been corroborated by such an array of trustworthy witnesses, that nobody in later times could have doubted its truth. Defoe always wrote what a large num. ber of people were in a mood to read. All his writings, with so few exceptions that they may reasonably be supposed to fall within the category, were pièces de circonstance. Whenever any distinguished person died or otherwise engaged public attention, no matter how distinguished, whether as a politician, a criminal, or a divine, Defoe lost no time in bringing out a biography. It was in such emergencies that he produced his memoirs of Charles XII., Peter the Great, Count Patkul, the Duke of Shrewsbury, Baron de Goertz, the Rev. Daniel Williams, Captain Avery the King of the Pirates, Dominique Cartouche, Rob Roy, Jonathan Wild, Jack Sheppard, Duncan Campbell. When the day had been fixed for the Earl of Ossord's trial for high treason Defoe issued the fictitious Minutes of the Secret Negotiations of Mons. Mesnager at the English Court during his ministry. We owe the Journal of the Plague in 1665 to a visitation which fell upon France in 1721, and caused much apprehension in England. The germ which in his fertile mind grew into Robinson Crusoe fell from the real adventures of Alexander Selkirk, whose solitary residence of four years on the island of Juan Fernandez was a nine days' wonder in the reign of Queen Anne. Defoe was too busy with his politics at the moment to turn it to account; it was recalled to him later on, in the year 1719, when the exploits of famous pirates had given a vivid interest to the chances of adventurers in far-away islands on the Amer