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De Foe's Commendation of Biography.-Its Object the Study of Man.—~ Remarks of Lord Bolingbroke.-De Foe famous in his Generation.— His Country and Extraction.-Origin of his Name.-Conjecture upon its Etymology.-Remarks upon his Descent.-Account of his Grandfather Daniel.-And his Father James Foe.-His Collateral Relations.—Birth of De Foe.-Belongs to Dr. Annesley's Congregation.-Early Exhibition of his Character.-Anecdote of him when a Boy.-Importance of early Principles. He is educated amongst the Dissenters.-Religion of a Nonconformist.- His Account of the Rise of the Puritans.—And the Reasons they assigned for their Practice.
AMONGST the various methods that have been devised for the instruction of mankind, experience has allotted an important station to history. But, as De Foe observes, "Of all the writings delivered to the world in an historical manner, none certainly were ever held in greater esteem than those which give us the lives of distinguished men at full length, and as I may say, to the life. Such curious fragments of biography are the rarities which great men seek after with eager industry, and when found, prize as the chief ornaments that enrich their libraries and deservedly; for they are the beauties of the greatest men's lives handed down by way of example or instruction to posterity, and commonly handed down likewise by the greatest men. Since, therefore, persons distinguished for merit in one kind or other are the constant subjects of such discourses, and have employed the ablest pens; and since persons of the most refined and delicate relish are curious enough to be the
USE OF BIOGRAPHY.
readers of them, it is a wonder to me that when a man's life has something in it peculiarly great and remarkable, it should not move some skilful writer to give the public a taste of it, because it must be at least entertaining, if it be not, which is next to impossible, instructive and profitable."*
That the lives of eminent men, when faithfully written, possess all the attractions assigned to them by De Foe, we have the concurrent testimony of writers in all ages, and justified by the approbation with which they have been received by the public. Of their utility, it may be observed, that some of the greatest characters both in ancient and modern times, have been formed from models committed to writing; and the relation of a trifling incident has sometimes called forth those latent energies which have issued in splendid actions. When Zeno consulted the oracle, In what manner he should live? The answer was, "That he should inquire of the dead." These teach us by their actions no less than by their writings, and the lessons they inculcate when applied to the purposes of life, furnish the philosophy of history. Examples of this application have been furnished by Plutarch amongst the ancients, and Johnson amongst the moderns, from whom we may learn, that the study of man possesses higher objects than mere amusement. "Nature," says Lord Bolingbroke, "gave us curiosity to excite the industry of our minds, but she never intended it should be the principal, much less the sole object of their application. The true and proper object of this application, is a constant improvement in private and in public virtue. An application to any study that tends neither directly nor indirectly to make us better men and better citizens, is at best but a specious and ingenious sort of idleness, to use an expression of Tillotson's; and the knowledge we acquire by it is a creditable kind of ignorance-nothing more."+
The following narrative of "a writer, famous in his gene* Life of Duncan Campbell.
+ Letters on the Study of History, i. 14.
DE FOE FAMOUS IN HIS GENERATION.
ration for politics and poetry, especially the former,"* and to whom Johnson allows "considerable merit," as an author who had "written so variously and so well,"+ may be introduced with propriety by a remark of his own upon another occasion: "If ever the life of any man was remarkable, this which I am going to treat upon is so to a very eminent degree. It affords such a variety of incidents, and is accompanied with such diversity of circumstances, that it includes within it what must yield entire satisfaction to the most learned, and admiration to persons of a moderate understanding."+
Although but little is known concerning the parentage of De Foe, who, so far as celebrity is concerned, may be considered as the first and last of his family; yet even upon so obscure a subject, it is natural that some degree of curiosity should be awakened. If it could be gratified, however, to any extent, but little interest would attach to a bare recital of names and dates, which are the common properties of every pedigree; and his family does not appear to have been of sufficient consequence for the acquisition even of this knowledge. Until of late years, indeed, it remained doubtful in what town or county he was born, and even whether he was an Englishman or a foreigner. This difficulty was farther increased by the foreign prefix to his name, which it now appears was of his own adoption. A Tory writer, who published a lampoon upon him in the reign of Queen Anne, under the title of "The True-born Hugonot; or Daniel De Foe, a Satyr," supposes him to have been of French extraction, and to have come into England with the persecuted Protestants, or as this author would term them, the rebellious subjects of Louis XIV. He speaks thus:
Out of this rebel herd our rebel sprung,
Biog. Brit. Art. Arbuthnot, 1st. ed. Boswell's Life of Johnson, iii. 286. Life of Duncan Campbell, p. 3.
ORIGIN OF HIS NAME.
A mild behaviour and a fluent tongue;
With uplift eyes, and with ambitious heart,
On England's theatre to act his part.
The name of Foe is said to be of Norman origin; and for centuries there was a family of that name seated in Warwickshire. This we learn from De Foe himself, who, speaking of the ancient castle of Warwick, says, "Here we saw the ancient cell or hermitage, where they say, the famous Guy Earl of Warwick ended his days in a private retreat for his devotions, and is from him called Guy-Clift, by others Gib-clift. "Tis now, as Mr. Camden gives an account, which Mr. Dugdale also confirms, the pleasant seat of an ancient Norman family of the name of De Beau-Foe, whose posterity remain there, and in several other parts of the county, retaining the latter part of their sirname, but without the former, to this day. Mr. Dugdale gives the monuments of them; and it appears they removed hither, on account of some marriage, from Seyton in Rutlandshire, where they were lords of the manor, and patrons of the church, and where several of the name also still remain.”* (A)
Whether De Foe was entitled to claim a remote affinity to this family is uncertain; but his immediate ancestors moved in a more humble sphere, and possessing only a slender
* Tour through Great Britain. II. 129. Letter III.
(A) If it be lawful to hazard a conjecture upon so uncertain a subject as the etymology of names, it has occurred to the writer whether De Beau-Foe should not be written De Beau-Foy, and whether it was not originally bestowed upon the family for some signal act of fidelity from a vassal towards his superior lord: should this derivation be right, the awkward name of our author will be converted into the more agreeable one of Foi, or, according to its ancient spelling, Foy, which is a name still in use, both in this country and upon the continent. From the same source, there can be little doubt, is derived the sir-name of Beaufoy. That there is some ground for the conjecture may be readily imagined from its affinity to other names, which may be easily traced to some peculiar circumstance in the early history of the family; such as Beauclerc, Beaufort, Beaumont, Beaudesert, Beauchamps, Beauchateau, Beaulieu, Beaumarchais, Beau sobre, and others that might be mentioned.
REMARKS UPON HIS DESCENT.
patrimony, followed the pursuits of trade. But, as Sprat remarks of his friend Cowley, "what he wanted in titles of honour, and the gifts of fortune, was plentifully supplied by many other excellencies, which make, perhaps, less noise, but are more beneficial for example." It is an advantage almost peculiar to the state of society in this country, and arising out of its political institutions, that there is ample scope for the exertion of talent and enterprize in the most humble individuals. The haughty but ill-treated Wolsey, and the more amiable but unfortunate Cromwell, the one the son of a butcher, and the other of a blacksmith, arose by dint of talent to the highest offices in church and state; and similar instances might be gleaned from the history of our own times. In the walks of literature, we have seen some of its brightest ornaments emerging from obscurity, and rising to distinction in spite of all the disadvantages of birth and education. If De Foe could not boast of exalted parentage, he possessed the inheritance of a virtuous example, which, combined with a good education, had an important influence upon his future character; and if he never attained to dignity nor opulence, yet his talents procured him political importance, and caused him to occupy a respectable station in the republic of letters. No person who possesses any claim to good sense, will undervalue the advantages of station because he does not happen to possess them; but at the same time he will agree with our author in giving the precedency to character:
"Honour by virtue only is upheld,
And vain are all the trophies vice can build;