This elegy he has been permitted to publish as his last speech and dying confession—
“When malefactors come to
They claim uncommon liberty:
Freedom of speech gives no distaste,
They let them talk at large, because they talk their last.”
The public could hardly have supposed from this what Defoe afterwards admitted to have been the true state of the case, namely, that on leaving prison he was taken into the service of the Government. He obtained an appointment, that is to say a pension, from the Queen, and was employed on secret services. When charged afterwards with having written by Harley’s instructions, he denied this, but admitted the existence of certain “capitulations,” in which he stipulated for liberty to write according to his own judgment, guided only by a sense of gratitude to his benefactor. There is reason to believe that even this is not the whole truth. Documents which Mr. Lee recently brought to light make one suspect that Defoe was all the time in private relations with the leaders of the Whig party. Of this more falls to be said in another place. The True-Born Englishman was, indeed, dead. Defoe was no longer the straightforward advocate of King William’s policy. He was engaged henceforward in serving two masters, persuading each that he served him alone, and persuading the public, in spite of numberless insinuations, that he served nobody but them and himself, and wrote simply as a free lance under the jealous sufferance of the Government of the day.
I must reserve for a separate chapter some account of Defoe’s greatest political work, which he began while he still lay in Newgate, the Review. Another work which he wrote and published at the same period deserves attention on different grounds. His history of the great storm of November, 1703, A Collection of the most remarkable Casualties and Disasters which happened in the late Dreadfal Tempest, both by Sea and Land, may be set down as the first of his works of invention. It is a most minute and circumstantial record, containing many letters from eye-witnesses of what happened in their immediate neighbourhood. Defoe could have seen little of the storm himself from the interior of Newgate, but it is possible that the letters are genuine, and that he compiled other details from published accounts. Still, we are justified in suspecting that his annals of the storm are no more authentic history than his Journal of the Plague, or his Memoirs of a Cavalier, and that for many of the incidents he is equally indebted to his imagination.
THE REVIEW OF THE AFFAIRS OF FRANCE.