Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

many deceived so still, which is the occasion there is such an outcry about false friends, and about sharping and tricking in men's ordinary dealings with the world."

A master-mind in the art of working a man, as Bacon calls it, is surely apparent here. Who could have suspected the moralist of concealing the sins he was inclined to, by exposing and lamenting those very sins? There are other passages in the Serious Reflections which seem to have been particularly intended for Mist's edification. In reflecting what a fine thing honesty is, Crusoe expresses an opinion that it is much more common than is generally supposed, and gratefully recalls how often he has met with it in his own experience. He asks the reader to note how faithfully he was served by the English sailor's widow, the Portuguese captain, the Xury, and his man Friday. From these allegoric types, Mist might select a model for his own behaviour. When we consider the tone of these Serious Reflections, so eminently pious, moral, and unpretending, so obviously the outcome of a wise, simple, ingenuous nature, we can better understand the fury with which Mist turned upon Defoe when at last he discovered his treachery. They are of use also in throwing light upon the prodigious versatility which could dash off a masterpiece in fiction, and, before the printer's ink was dry, be ready at work making it a subordinate instrument in a much wider and more wonderful scheme of activity, his own restless life.

It is curious to find among the Serious Reflections a passage which may be taken as an apology for the practises into which Defoe, gradually, we may reasonably believe, allowed himself to fall. The substance of the apology has been crystalised into an aphorism by the author of Becky Sharp, but it has been, no doubt, the consoling phil. osophy of dishonest persons not altogether devoid of conscience in all ages.

“Necessity makes an honest man a knave : and if the world was to be the judge, according to the common received notion, there would not be an honest poor man alive.

“A rich man is an honest man, no thanks to him, for he would be a double knave to cheat mankind when he had no need of it. He has no occasion to prey upon his integrity, nor so much as to touch upon the borders of dishonesty. Tell me of a man that is a very honest man; for he pays everybody punctually runs into nobody's debt, does no man any wrong; very well, what circumstances is he in? Why, he has a good estate, a fine yearty income, and no business to do. The Devil must have full possession of th s man, if he should be a knave; for no man commits evil for the sake of it; even the Devil himself has some farther design in sinning, than barely the wicked part of it. No man is so hardened in crimes as to commit them for the mere pleasure of the fact; there is always some vice gratified; ambition, pride, or avaríce makes rich men knaves, and necessity the poor.

This is Defoe's excuse for his backslidings put into the mouth of Robinson Crusoe. It might be inscribed also on the threshold of each of his fictitious biographies. Colonel Jack, Moll Flanders, Roxana, are not criminals from malice; they do not commit crimes for the mere pleasure of the fact. They all believe that but for the force of circumstances they might have been orderly, contented, virtuous members of society.

A Colonel, a London Arab, a child of the criminal regiment, began to steal before he knew that it was not the approved way of making a livelihood. Moll and Roxana were overreached by acts against which they were too weak to cope. Even after they were tempted into taking the wrong turning, they did not pursue the downward road without compunction. Many good people might say of them, “There, but for the grace of God, goes_myself.” But it was not from the point of view of a Baxter or a Bunyan that Defoe regarded them, though he credited them with many edifying reflections. He was careful to say that he would never have written the stories of their lives, if he had not thought that they would be useful as awful examples of the effects of bad education and the indulgence of restlessness and vanity ; but he enters into their ingenious shifts and successes with a joyous sympathy that would have been impossible if their reckless adventurous living by their wits had not had a strong charm for him. We often find peeping out in Defoe's writings that roguish cynicism which we should expect in a man whose own life was so far from being straightforward. He was too much dependent upon the public acceptance of honest professions to be eager in depreciating the value of the article, but when he found other people protesting disinterested motives, he could not always resist reminding them that they were no more disinterested than the Jack-pudding who avowed that he cured diseases from mere love of his kind. Having yielded to circumstances himself, and finding life enjoyable in dubious paths, he had a certain animosity against those who had maintained their integrity and kept to the highroad, and a corresponding pleasure in showing that the motives of the sinner were not after all so very different from the motives of the saint.

The aims in life of Defoe's thieves and pirates are at bottom very little different from the ambition which he undertakes to direct in the Complete English Tradesman, and their maxims of conduct have much in common with this ideal. Self-interest is on the look-out and Selfreliance at the helm.

“A tradesman behind his counter must have no flesh and blood about him, no passions, no resentment; he must never be angry-no, not so much as seem to be so, if a customer tumbles him five hundred pounds' worth of goods, and scarce bids money for anything : nay, though they really come to his shop with no intent to bay, as many do, only to see what is to be sold, and though he knows they cannot be better pleased than they are at some other shop where they intend to buy, 'tis all one; the tradesman must take it, he must place it to the account of his calling, that 'tis his business to be ill-used, and resent nothing; and so must answer as obligingly to those who give him an hour or two's trouble, and buy nothing, as he does to those who, in half the time, lay out ten or twenty pounds. The case is plain; and if some do give him trouble, and do not buy, others make amends and do buy; and as for the trouble, 'tis the bnsiness of the shop."

All Defoe's heroes and heroines are animated by this practical spirit, this thoroughgoing subordination of means to ends. When they have an end in view, the plunder of a house, the capture of a ship, the ensnaring of a dupe, they allow neither passion, nor resentment, nor sentiment in any shape or form to stand in their way. Every other consideration is put on one side when the business of the shop has to be attended to. They are all tradesmen who have strayed into unlawful courses. They have nothing about them of the heroism of sin ; their crimes are not the result of ungovernable passion, or even of antipathy to conventional restraints ; circumstances and not any law-defying bias of disposition have made them criminals. How is it that the novelist contrives to make them so interesting? Is it because we are a nation of shopkeepers, and enjoy following lines of business which are a little out of our ordinary routine ? Or is it simply that he makes us enjoy their courage and cleverness without thinking of the purposes with which these qualities are displayed ? Defoe takes such delight in tracing their bold expedients, their dexterous intriguing and maneuvring, that he seldom allows us to think of anything but the success or failure of their enterprises. Our attention is concentrated on the game, and we pay no heed for the moment to the players or the stakes. Charles Lamb says of The Complete English Tradesman that “such is the bent of the book to narrow and to degrade the heart, that if such maxims were as catching and infectious as those of a licentious cast, which happily is not the case, had I been living at that time, I certainly should have recommended to the grand jury of Middlesex, who presented The Fable of the Bees, to have presented this book of Defoe's in preference, as of a far more vile and debasing tendency. Yet if Defoe had thrown the substance of this book into the form of a novel, and shown us a tradesman rising by the sedulous practise of its maxims from errand-boy to gigantic capitalist, it would have been hardly less interesting than his lives of successful thieves and tolerably successful harlots, and its interest would have been very much of the same kind--the interest of dexterous adaptation of means to ends.

CHAPTER X.

HIS MYSTERIOUS END.

“THE best step,” Defoe says, after describing the character of a deceitful talker, "such a man can take is to lie on, and this shows the singularity of the crime ; it is a strange expression, but I shall make it out; their way is, I say, to lie on till their character is completely known, and then they can lie no longer, for he whom nobody de. ceives can deceive nobody, and the essence of lying is removed ; for the description of a lie is that it is spoken to deceive, or the design is to deceive. Now, he that nobody believes can never lie any more, because nobody can be deceived by him.”

Something like this seems to have happened to Defoe himself. He touched the summit of his worldly prosperity about the time of the publication of Robinson Crusoe (1719). He was probably richer then than he had been when he enjoyed the confidence of King William,and was busy with projects of manufacture and trade. He was no longer solitary in journalism. Like his hero, he had several plantations and companions to help him in working them. He was connected with four journals, and from this source alone his income must have been considerable. Besides this, he was producing separate works at the rate, on an average, of six a year, some of them pamphlets, some of them considerable volumes, all of them calculated to the wants of the time, and several of them extremely popular, running through three or four editions in as many months. Then he had his salary from the Government, which he delicately hints at in one of his extant letters as being overdue. Further, the advertisement of a lost pocket-book in 1728, containing a list of Notes and Bills, in which Defoe's name twice appears, seems to show that he still found time for commercial transactions outside literature. * Altogether Defoe was exceedingly prosperous, dropped all pretence of poverty, built a large house at Stoke Newington, with stables and pleasure-grounds, and kept a coach.

We get a pleasant glimpse of Defoe's life at this period from the notes of Henry Baker, the naturalist, who married one of his daugh. ters and received his assistance, as we have seen, in starting The Universal Spectator. Baker, originally a bookseller, in 1724 set up a school for the deaf and dumb at Newington. There, according to the notes which he left of his courtship, he made the acquaintance of “Mr. Defoe, a gentleman well known by his writings, who had new. ly built there a very handsome house, as a retirement from London, and amused his time either in the cultivation of a large and pleasant garden or in the pursuit of his studies, which he found means of making very profitable." Defoe was now at least sixty years of age, afflicted with the gout and stone, but retained all his mental faculties entire.” The diarist goes on to say that he “met usually at the tea-table his three lovely daughters, who were admired for their beauty, their education, and their prudent conduct; and if sometimes Mr. Defoe's disorders made company inconvenient, Mr. Baker was entertained by them either singly or together, and that commonly in the garden when the weather was favorable.” Mr. Baker

* Lee's Life, vol. i., pp. 406-7, ACME BIOG. III.-- -4,

fixed his choice on Sophia, the youngest daughter, and, being a prudent lover, began negotiations about the marriage portion, Defoe's part in which is also characteristic. “He knew nothing of Mr. Defoe's circumstances, only imagined, from his very genteel way of living, that he must be able to give his daughter a decent portion ; he did not suppose a large one. On speaking to Mr. Defoe, he sanctioned his proposals, and said he hoped he should be able to give her a certain sum specified ; but when urged to the point some time afterwards, his answer was that formal articles he thought unnecessary; that he could confide in the honour of Mr. Baker; that when they talked before he did not know the true state of his own affairs ; that he found he could not part with any money at present; but at his death his daughter's portion would be more than he had promised; and he offered his own bond as security.” The prudent Mr. Baker would not take his bond, and the marriage was not arranged till two years afterwards, when Defoe gave a bond for £500, payable at his death, engaging his house at Newington as security.

Very little more is known about Defoe's family, except that his eldest daughter married a person of the name of Langley, and that he speculated successfully in South Sea Stock in the name of his second daughter, and afterwards settled upon her an estate at Colchester worth £1020. His second son, named Benjamin, became a journalist, was the editor of the London Journal, and got into temporary trouble for writing a scandalous and seditious libel in that newspaper in 1721. A writer in Applebee's Journal, whom Mr. Lee identifies with Defoe himself, commenting upon this circumstance, denied the rumour of its being the well-known Daniel Defoe that was committed for the offence. The same writer declared that it was known “that the young Defoe was but a stalking-horse and a tool, to bear the lash and the pillory in their stead, for his wages ; that he was the author of the most scandalous part, but was only made sham proprietor of the whole, to screen the true proprietors from justice.'

This son does not appear in a favourable light in the troubles which soon after fell upon Defoe, when Mist discovered his connexion with the Government. Foiled in his assault upon him, Mișt seems to have taken revenge by spreading the fact abroad, and all Defoe's indignant denials and outcries against Mist's ingratitude do not seem to have cleared him from suspicion. Thenceforth, the printers and editors of journals held aloof from him. Such is Mr. Lee's fair interpretation of the fact that his connection with Applebee's Journal terminated abruptly in March, 1726, and that he is found soon after, in the preface to a pamphlet on Street Robberies, complaining that none of the journals will accept his communications. self, gentle reader,” he says, I had not published my project in

- Assure your

[ocr errors]

* Lee's Life, vol. i. p. 418.

« ПредишнаНапред »