« VorigeDoorgaan »
intellect, great keenness of wit, exemplary perseverance, and a coolness not to be provoked, nature had qualified him in a high degree for a disputant.
“ To an accurate acquaintance with the history of mankind generally, and of the British constitution in particular, he united sound opinions upon government; and the rational exercise of his powers enabled him to detect the sophisms invented by cunning or mistaken men, to enslave the world and encircle it with ignorance. In discussing & subject of such high importance, he brings learning and eloquence, reasons profoundly, and batters down the props of his opponents with seriousness or ridicule, as best suited the occasion. To strength and perspicuity of argument, and skill in its arrangement, he unites candour and fairness, and lets his adversary know that he is not to be driven from his point by sophistry on the one hand, or by railing on the other. Relying solely upon argument for a rational conviction, he strips it of its disguises, and recommends liberty to the world as a sacred deposit, worthy of a divine original, and rising superior to the pretences to power. “He that won't fight for it is a fool ; he that denies it to others must be a knave. The effects of tyranny, as they had passed under his own review, had given him a just abhorrence of a lawless government; he therefore rejoiced in the revolution settlement, and was a passionate admirer of its hero. De Foe's labours in the cause of liberty have never been sufficiently appreciated. Amongst the political writers who then abounded, no one contributed more largely, nor more effectually, to the overthrow of those absurd tenets which were cherished under the Stuarts, and pertinaciously adhered to by the statesmen and priests of his day. It is to his credit that he employed his great talents in forcing the strongholds of despotism and priestcraft, and in assisting to relieve his countrymen from their oppressive influence. His political tracts abound in useful information, and are replete with solid arguments in defence of civil and religious liberty. He that would write, or even study, with accuracy, the history of that period of fermentation, alarm, and suspicion, in the public mind of England, cannot hope for success in his researches, unless he has patience to go over the fugitive pieces of Daniel De Foe. In many of them he will find more amusement than their subjects might lead him to expect in all of them he will at least find traces of a genuine and masculine English intellect, and a power of language which he will seek for in vain among the far greater mass of miscellaneous politics, either of that or of any other period of our history.
“De Foe treated largely upon trade, both in his Reviews, and in some separate publications; and the manner in which he handled it shows deep and uncommon penetration, knowledge as various as extensive, and a judgment at once discerning and profound. Intimately acquainted with the power and resources of his own country, he was desirous of seeing them rendered still more available by beating out new paths to enterprise and wealth. No man understood better the principles of commerce, its relative bearings, and its practical details ; no man argued upon the subject more wisely, or possessed greater skill in detecting the errors and combating the prejudices with which it was surrounded. It is to the credit of De Foe that he argued the principles of free trade, and contended against monopolies, at a time when the current of opinion was set strong the other way. His acquaintance with foreign countries, their produce, their manners, and their government, gave him great advantage in discussing the subject, and shows no less the extent of his reading than his good sense in its application. Notwithstanding later treatises upon the subject of commerce, De Foe's speculations may still be perused with advantage.
“Of his talent for executing the lighter narrative, De Foe exhibits favourable specimens in the History of the Plague' and the 'Memoirs of a Cavalier.' But his qualifications for a grave historian were fully exemplified in his History of the Union,' which displays a keen, penetrating, and energetic mind, turned to investigation, and capable of
discriminating the niceties of a great political question. It is minute, even to excess ; but this, so far from being a fault, is a guarantee for its fidelity. The reader will find many important remarks interspersed through the work, as well as much historical information, not only as connected with that great transaction, but as relating to other parts of the affairs of Scotland. It has been justly remarked, that his history of the intrigues which preceded the completion of this long-desired conjunction of the two crowns, must always be read with the most lively interest.'*
“Whoever will be at the pains to examine his writings, must be satisfied that De Foe is entitled to take a high place amongst our English moralists. Whether he discusses politics or trade, history or manners, he converts it to the noble purpose of informing the judgment, or of ameliorating the heart. Not only his ‘Family Instructor' and his
Religious Courtship,' which have for their specific object the awakening mankind to serious reflection, but his writings generally, abound in prudential maxims, enforcing some sentiment of practical importance. Such was his anxiety for reformation, that he never slips an opportunity of introducing some hint or caution, or of suggesting some remark in the way of admonition or satire, with a view to the correction of vice, and the inculcation of moral principles. Yet he never goes out of his way for the purpose, but ingeniously contrives the moral to form a requisite part of his discourse. All his satires are written for the express purpose of exposing the follies of the age, and of inviting mankind to the regulation of their habits in conformity to the dictates of reason and religion. His prose writings, amidst the frequent ruggedness of their style, are rich in sentiment, and abound in sententious passages, that convey the soundest ideas upon some of the most important subjects of human inquiry. Whilst we respect his talents and revere his genius, it is impossible not to admire that purpose of instruction which is the end of all his performances. Although politics first raised his fame, and fiction has embalmed it with posterity, yet it should not be forgotten that he was one of the ablest moralists of his age. If Johnson surpassed him in purity of diction, he only equals him in energy of thought and propriety of sentiment.
“As a writer of fiction, whether we consider the originality of his genius, the simplicity of his design, or the utility of his moral, De Foe is now universally acknowledged to stand in the foremost ground. That his inventive powers were of the first order, no one can doubt ; nor that he possessed the art above most other men, of infusing into his performances all the genuine pathos of nature, without the least apparent effort or exaggeration. Although he is now most known by the first great effort of his genius. * Robinson Crusoe.' yet in many of his other works he carries his art to the highest perfection. In these we discover the same unpretending simplicity, a like utility of purpose, and an undeviating likeness to real life. However uninviting his subject, the attention is insensibly chained down by the intense interest it excites, and the reader is inspired with a reluctance to lay down the story until the whole is finished. Much criticism has been employed to decipher the charm that rivets the faculties, and creates so much interest and delight. There have been writers who bring to their aid greater purity of language, and more attractive subjects for their discourse ; but how few of them can be read with the same absorbing attention, and from which of them can be extracted so much nutriment for reflection? Whilst, in ordinary cases, a single perusal is amply sufficient, and often more than can be conquered without weariness, we return to the pages of De Foe with renewed delight, and read him to the close with an appetite that refuses to be satiated. Whether the charm consist in the artificial structure of his story, in the minuteness and quick transition of incidents, or in that intense persuasion of reality which everywhere exists, or in a combination of these together, the effect is no
• Pref. to Cadell's ed. of Rob. Crusoe,' p. xxxviii.
less certain than it is striking ; and however it may be explained, presents a rare occurrence in the history of literature. As De Foe wrote for the common people, who form the most numerous class of readers, he selected his subjects in accommodation to their habits and ideas; and his language is the fittest in the world to recommend them to their attention. Let the same stories be told in the classical style of our purest writers, and they would at once lose their impressive attraction; the charm would be broken, and they would bear about the same comparison with the great original as Patrick's 'Parable of the Pilgrim' by the side of the “ Pilgrim's Progress. It is the homely, matter-of-fact style of De Foe, wholly free from artificial ornament and unincumbered by any aim at effect, that obtains credit with the reader. He is conscious of no disguise, nor is there any in fact; for the matters detailed bear all the marks of authenticity, and are related exactly as they would have occurred had they actually taken place. It has been justly observed, by a distinguished living writer, that it is the last style which should be attempted by a writer of inferior genius ; for though it be possible to disguise mediocrity by fine writing, it appears in all its native inanity when it assumes the garb of sim- , plicity.'*
“It may call for some surprise that De Foe should have been so little known as a novelist, beyond the range of Robinson Crusoe.' To recal the attention of the public to his other fictions, the present writer is happy to enrich his work with some original remarks upon his secondary novels by his early friend Charles Lamb, whose competency to form an accurate judgment upon the subject, no one will doubt who is acquainted with his genius.
“It has happened not seldom that one work of some author has so transcendently surpassed in execution the rest of his compositions, that the world has agreed to pass a ! sentence of dismissal upon the latter, and to consign them to total neglect and oblivion. It has done wisely in this, not to suffer the contemplation of excellencies of a lower standard to abate, or stand in the way of, the pleasure it has agreed to receive from the master-piece.
“Again it has happened, that from no inferior merit of execution in the rest, but from superior good fortune in the choice of its subject, some single work shall have been suffered to eclipse and cast into shade the deserts of its less fortunate brethren. This has been done with more or less injustice in the case of the popular allegory of Bunyan, in which the beautiful and scriptural image of a pilgrim or wayfarer (we are all such upon earth), addressing itself intelligibly and feelingly to the bosoms of all, has silenced, and made almost to be forgotten, the more awful and scarcely less tender beauties of the
Holy War made by Shaddai upon Diabolus,' of the same author; a romance less happy in its subject, but surely well worthy of a secondary immortality. But in no instance i has this excluding partiality been exerted with more unfairness than against what may be termed the secondary novels or romances of De Foe.
«•While all ages and descriptions of people hang delighted over the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,' and shall continue to do so, we trust, while the world lasts, how few comparatively will bear to be told, that there exist other fictitious narratives by the same writer-four of them at least of no inferior interest, except what results from a less felicitous choice of situation. Roxana,' Singleton,' Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack,' are all genuine offspring of the same father. They bear the veritable impress of De Foe. An unpractised midwife that would not swear to the nose, lip, forelicad, and eye of every one of them! They are in their way as full of incident, and some of them every bit as romantic ; only they want the uninhabited island, and the charm that has bewitched the world, of the striking solitary situation.
• Sir W, Scoit's • Miscellaneous Works,' iv. 302.
«« But are there no solitudes out of the cave and the desert ? or cannot the heart in the 1. midst of crowds feel frightfully alone? Singleton, on the world of waters, prowling
about with pirates less merciful than the creatures of any howling wilderness ; is he not alone, with the faces of men about him, but without a guide that can conduct him through the mists of educational and habitual ignorance, or a fellow-heart that can interpret to him the new-born yearnings and aspirations of unpractised penitence? Or when the boy Colonel Jack, in the loneliness of the heart (the worst solitude), goes to hide his illpurchased treasure in the hollow tree by night, and miraculously loses, and miraculously finds it again-whom hath he there to sympathise with him ? or of what sort are his associates ?
« «The narrative manner of De Foe has a naturalness about it, beyond that of any other novel or romance writer. His fictions have all the air of true stories. It is impossible to believe, while you are reading them, that a real person is not narrating to you everywhere nothing but what really happened to himself. To this the extreme homeliness of their style mainly contributes. We use the word in its best and heartiest sense—that which comes home to the reader. The narrators everywhere are chosen from low life, or have had their origin in it; therefore they tell their own tales, (Mr Coleridge has anticipated us in this remark,) as persons in their degree are observed to do, with infinite repetition, and an overacted exactness, lest the hearer should not have minded, or have forgotten, some things that had been told before. Hence the emphatic sentences marked in the good old (but deserted) Italio type ; and hence, too, the frequent in
terposition of the reminding old colloquial parenthesis, " I say”_"mind”-and the like, " when the story-teller repeats what, to a practised reader, might appear to have been | sufficiently insisted upon before : which made an ingenious critic observe, that his works,
in this kind, were excellent reading for the kitchen. And, in truth, the heroes and heroines of De Foe can never again hope to be popular with a much higher class of readers than that of the servant-maid or the sailor. "Crusoe’ keeps its rank only by tough preEcription ; 'Singleton,' the pirate-Colonel Jack,' the thief—Moll Flanders,' both thief and harlot—Roxana,' harlot and something worse-would be startling ingredients in the bill of fare of modern literary delicacies. But, then, what pirates, what thieves, and what harlots is the thief, the harlot, and the pirate of De Foe? We would not hesitate to say, that in no other book of fiction, where the lives of such characters are described, is guilt and delinquency made less seductive, or the suffering made more closely to follow | the commission, or the penitence more earnest or more bleeding, or the intervening flashes of religious visitation, upon the rude and uninstructed soul, more meltingly and fearfully painted. They, in this, come near to the tenderness of Bunyan ; while the livelier pictures and incidents in them, as in Hogarth or in Fielding, tend to diminish that fastidiousness to the concerns and pursuits of common life, which an unrestrained passion
for the ideal and the sentimental is in danger of producing I “ It has been intimated, that Richardson, who must have been a diligent reader of De Foe, may have taken him for his model. There is the more reason to suppose this, says Dr Towers, because it may be observed, that the dramatic form into which De Foe has thrown many parts of his works of imagination, has been evidently imitated by Richardson in his · Pamela,' 'Clarissa,' and · Sir Charles Grandison.' Dr Kippis, taking up the same idca, observes, · Richardson seems to have learned from him that mode of delineating character and carrying on dialogues, and that minute discrimination of the circumstances of events, in which De Foe so eminently excelled. If, in certain respects, the disciple rose above his master, as he undoubtedly did, in others he was inferior to him ; for his conversations are sometimes more tedious and diffuse ; and his works, though beautiful in their kind, are not by any means so various. Both of these writers had a wonderful ability in drawing pictures of human nature and human life. A careful
perusal of the Family Instructor' and the Religious Courtship,' would particularly tend to show the resemblance between De Foe and Richardson.' But whatever likeness may be traced between the two writers, the diffuseness of Richardson will ever keep him in the back ground; whilst the very homeliness of De Foe's language, so perfectly adapted to his incidents as they respect persons, time, and place, imparts to them a witchery, which, in spite of all his defects, gives him an unrivalled claim to superiority. Dr Towers further observes, that If Richardson is to be traced to De Foe, we have sometimes thought that the latter was, with regard to simplicity of style, somewhat indebted to Bunyan, an author whom he must have read in his youth, and whose religious principles are obvious in the second volume of Robinson Crusoe. In justification of this remark, it may be added, that examples of the likeness may be adduced from · Moll Flanders,' as compared with Bunyan's 'Grace abounding to the chief of Sinners,' and it may be also traced in some of the other writings of De Foe.
“ If the foregoing estimate of De Foe's talents has not been overstated,” concludes Mr Wilson, “ he will deserve to be considered as one of the most ingenious and enterprising writers of his age. But, if we regard the utility of his performances, he is entitled to still higher praise. He who aims to rescue mankind from the thraldom of oppression, who lays open the sources, and enforces the true principles of knowledge, virtue, and happiness, has no mean pretensions to our regard ; and if the successful display of his talents be a just foundation for fame, but few will be disposed to withhold it from our author. His works have passed through more numerous editions than has fallen to the lot of most writers ; no mean test, surely, of their merit. For, as Mr Chalmers observes,' “He whose works have pleased generally and pleased long, must be deemed a writer of, no small estimation ; the people's verdict being the proper test of what they are the proper judges.' Amidst the taste for collecting uniform editions of popular English writers, it is surprising that De Foe has not received such a distinction, and it confers? some reproach upon the British press. In spite of the obloquy cast upon him by his contemporaries, the time is now arrived when he must be acknowledged as one of the most useful, because one of the most instructive, writers of his day. If he paid the tax of censure for his celebrity, it was in a cause that will be approved by the wise and the virtuous."
Mr Chalmers's criticism upon the genius and writings of De Foe is as follows :“The !" time is come when De Foe must be acknowledged as one of the ablest, as he is one of the most captivating writers of which this island can boast. Before he can be admitted to this pre-eminence, he must be considered distinctly as a poet, as a novelist, as & polemic, as a commercial writer, and as a grave historian.
“As a poet, we must look to the end of his effusions rather than to his execution, ere we can allow him considerable praise. To mollify national animosities, or to vindicate national rights, are certainly noble objects, which merit the vigour and imagination of Milton, or the flow and precision of Pope ; but our author's energy runs into harshness, and his sweetness is to be tasted in his prose more than in his poesy. If we regard the adventures of Crusoe, like the adyentures of Telemachus, as a poem, his moral, his incidents, and his language, must lift him high on the poet's scale. His professed poems, whether we contemplate the propriety of sentiment or the suavity of their numbers, may indeed, without much loss of pleasure or instruction, be resigned to those who, in imitation of Pope, poach in the fields of obsolete poetry for brilliant thoughts, felicities of phrase, or for happy rhymes.
“As a novelist, every one will place him in the foremost rank, who considers his originality, his performance, and his purpose. "The Ship of Fools' had indeed been launched in early times ; but who, like De Foe, had ever carried his reader to sea, in order to mend the heart and regulate the practice of life, by showing his readers the