Daniel Defoe eBook

William Minto
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Daniel Defoe.
when he should be busy over his journal and his ledger, he was glancing at some of the causes which conduced to his own failure as a merchant.  And when he cautions the beginner against going too fast, and holds up to him as a type and exemplar the carrier’s waggon, which “keeps wagging and always goes on,” and “as softly as it goes” can yet in time go far, we may be sure that he was thinking of the over-rashness with which he had himself embarked in speculation.

There can be no doubt that eager and active as Defoe was in his trading enterprises, he was not so wrapt up in them as to be an unconcerned spectator of the intense political life of the time.  When King James aimed a blow at the Church of England by removing the religious disabilities of all dissenters, Protestant and Catholic, in his Declaration of Indulgence, some of Defoe’s co-religionists were ready to catch at the boon without thinking of its consequences.  He differed from them, he afterwards stated, and “as he used to say that he had rather the Popish House of Austria should ruin the Protestants in Hungaria, than the infidel House of Ottoman should ruin both Protestants and Papists by overrunning Germany,” so now “he told the Dissenters he had rather the Church of England should pull our clothes off by fines and forfeitures, than the Papists should fall both upon the Church and the Dissenters, and pull our skins off by fire and faggot.”  He probably embodied these conclusions of his vigorous common sense in a pamphlet, though no pamphlet on the subject known for certain to be his has been preserved.  Mr. Lee is over-rash in identifying as Defoe’s a quarto sheet of that date entitled “A Letter containing some Reflections on His Majesty’s declaration for Liberty of Conscience.”  Defoe may have written many pamphlets on the stirring events of the time, which have not come down to us.  It may have been then that he acquired, or made a valuable possession by practice, that marvellous facility with his pen which stood him in such stead in after-life.  It would be no wonder if he wrote dozens of pamphlets, every one of which disappeared.  The pamphlet then occupied the place of the newspaper leading article.  The newspapers of the time were veritable chronicles of news, and not organs of opinion.  The expression of opinion was not then associated with the dissemination of facts and rumours.  A man who wished to influence public opinion wrote a pamphlet, small or large, a single leaf or a tract of a few pages, and had it hawked about the streets and sold in the bookshops.  These pamphlets issued from the press in swarms, were thrown aside when read, and hardly preserved except by accident.  That Defoe, if he wrote any or many, should not have reprinted them when fifteen years afterwards he published a collection of his works, is intelligible; he republished only such of his tracts as had not lost their practical interest.  If, however, we indulge in the fancy, warranted so far by his describing himself as having been a young “author” in 1683, that Defoe took an active part in polemical literature under Charles and James, we must remember that the censorship of the press was then active, and that Defoe must have published under greater disadvantages than those who wrote on the side of the Court.

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Daniel Defoe from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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