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fervid imagination and daring ingenuity than business talent in Defoe's essay ; if his trading speculations were conducted with equal rashness, it is not difficult to understand their failure. The most notable of them are the schemes of a dictator, rather than of the advisor of a freo Government. The essay is chiefly interesting as a monument of Defoe's marvellous force of mind and strange mixture of steady sense with incontinent flightiness. There are ebullient sallies in it which we generally find only in the production of madmen and charlatans, and yet it abounds in suggestions wh ch statesmen might pr. fitably have set themselves with due adaptations to carry into effect. The Essay on Projects might alone be adduced in proof of Defoe's title to genius.
One of the first projects to which the Government of the Revolution addressed itself was the reformation of manners-a purpose at once commendable in itself and politically useful as distinguishing the new Government from the old. Even while the King was absent in Ireland at the beginning of his reign, the Queen issued a letter calling upon all justices of the peace and other servants of the Crown to exert themselves in suppressing the luxuriant growth of vice, which had been fostered by the example of the Court of Charles. On the conclusion of the war in 1697, William issued a most elaborate proclamation to the same effect, and an address was voted by Parliament, asking his Majesty to see that wickedness was discouraged in high places. The lively pamplilet in which Defoe lent his assistance to the good work entitled The Poor Man's Pler, was written in the spirit of the parliamentary address. It was of ro use to jass laws and make declarations and proclamations for the reform of the common plebeii, the poor man pleaded, so long as the mentors of the laws were themselves corrupt. His argument was spiced with amusing anecdotes to show the prevalen, e of swearing and drunkenness among members of the judicial bench. Defoc appeared several times afterwards in the character of a reformer of manners, sometimes in verse, sometimes in prose. When the retort was made that his own nanners were not perfect, lie denied that this invalidated the worth of his appeal, but at the same time challenged his accusers to prove him guilty of any of the vices that he had satirised.
It is impossible now to ascertain what induced Defoe to break with the Dissenters, among whom he liad been brouglit up, lut break with them he did in his pamphlet against the practice of Occasional Conformity. This practice of occasionally taking conimunion with the Established Church, as a qualification for public office, had grown up after the Revolution, and had attracied very little notice till a Dissenting lord mayor, after attending church one Sunday forenoon, went in the afternoon with all the insignia of liis office to a Conventicle. Defoe's objection to this is indicated in his quotation, “If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him."
he contended, who could reconcile it with his conscience to attend the worship of the Church, had no business to be a Dissenter. Occasional conformity was " either a sinful act in itself, or else his dissenting before was sinful.” The Dissenters naturally did not like this intolerant logical dilemma, and resented its being forced upon them by one of their own number against a practical compromise to which the good sense of the majority of them assented. No reply was made to the pamphlet when first issued in 1698; and two or three years afterwards Defoe, exulting in the unanswerable logic of his position, reprinted it with a prefatory challenge to Mr. Howe, an eminent Dissenting minister. During the next reign, however, when a bill was introduced to prohibit the practice of occasional conformity, Defoe strenuously wrote against it as a breach of the Toleration Act and a measure of persecution. In strict logic it is possible to make out a case for his consistency, but the reasoning must be fine, and he cannot be acquitted of having in the first instance practically justified a persecution which he afterwards condemned. In neither case does he point at the repeal of the Test Act as his object, and it is impossible to explain his attitude in both cases on the ground of principle. However much he objected to see the sacrament taken as a matter of form, it was hardly his province, in the circumstances in which Dissenters then stood, to lead an outcry against the practice ; and if he considered it scandalous and sinful, he could not with much consistency protest against the prohibition of it as an act of persecution of this no person was better aware than Defoe himself, and it is a curious circumstance that, in his first pamphlet on the bill for putting down occasional conformity, he ridiculed the idea of its being persecution to suppress politic or state Dissenters, and maintained that the bill did not concern true Dissenters at all. To this, however, we must refer again in connection with his celebrated tract, The Shortest Way with Dissenters.
The troubles into which the European system was plunged by the death of the childless King of Spain, and that most dramatic of historical surprises, the bequest of his throne by a death-bed will to the Duke of Anjou, the second grandson of Louis XIV., furnished Defoe with a great opportunity for his controversial genius. In Charles II.'s will, if the legacy was accepted, William saw the ruin of a lifelong policy. Louis, though he was doubly pledged against acknowl. edging the will, having renounced all pretensions to the throne of Spain for himself and his heirs in the Treaty of the Pyrenees, and consented in two successive treaties of partition to a different plan of succession, did not long hesitate ; the news that he had saluted his grandson as King of Spain followed close upon the news of Charles's ' death.. The balance of the great Catholio Powers which William had established by years of anxious diplomacy and costly war, was topplod over by a stroke of a pen. With Spain and Italy virtually added to
his dominions, the French King would now be supreme upon the Continent. Louis soon showed that this was his view of what had happened, by saying that the Pyrenees had ceased to exist. He gave a practical illustration of the same view by seizing, with the authority of his grandson, the frontier towns of the Spanish Netherlands, which were garrisoned under a special treaty by Dutch troops. Though deeply enraged at the bad faith of the most Christian King, William was not dismayed. The stone which he had rolled up the hill with such effort had suddenly rolled down again, but he was eager to renew his labours. Before, however, he could act, he found himself, to his utter astonishment and mortification, paralysed by the attitude of the English Parliament. His alarm at the accession of a Bourbon to the Spanish throne was not shared by the ruling classes in England. They declared that they liked the Spanish King's will better than William's partition. France, they argued, would gain much less by a dynastic alliance with Spain, which would exist no longer than their common interests dictated, than by the complete acquisition of the Spanish provinces in Italy. William lost no time in summoning a new Parliament.
An overwhelming majority opposed the idea of vindicating the Partition Treaty by arms. They pressed him to send a message of recognition to Phillip V. Even the occupation of the Flemish fortresses did not change their temper. That, they said, was the affair of the Dutch : it did not concern England. In vain William tried to convince them that the interests of the two Protestant States were identical. In the numerous pamphlets that were hatched by the ferment, it was broadly insinuated that the English people might pay too much for the privilege of having a Dutch King, who had done nothing for them that they could not have done for themselves, and who was perpetually sacrificing the interests of his adopted country to the necessities of his beloved Holland. What had England gained by the peace of Ryswick ? Was England to be dragged into another exhausting war, merely to secure a strong frontier for the Dutch ? The appeal found ready listeners among a people in whose minds the recollections of the last war were still fresh, and who still felt the burdens it had left behind. William did not venture to take any steps to form an alliance against France, till a new incident emerged to shake the country from its mood of surly calculation. When James II. died and Louis recognised the Pretender as King of England, all thoughts of isolation from a Continental confederacy were tlirown to the winds. William dissolved bis Long Parliament, and found the new House as warlike as the former had been peaceful. Of all the nations in the world," cried Defe, in commenting on this sudden change of mood, "there is none that I know of so entirely governed by their humour as the English.”
For ten months Defoe had been vehemently but vainly striving to accomplish by argument what had been wrought in an instant by the French King's insufferable insult. It is one of the inost brilliant periods of his political activity. Comparatively undistinguished before, he now, at the age of forty, ste vped into the foremost rank of publicists. He lost not a moment in tlirowing himself into tire fray as the champion of the king's policy. Charles of Spain died on the 22nd of October, 1701 : by the middle of November, a few days after the news had reached England, and before the French King's resolve to acknowledge the legacy was known, Defoe was ready with a pamphlet to the clear and stirring title of—The Tuco Great questions considered. 1. What the French King will do with respect to the Spanish Monarchy. II. What measures the Engiis!r ought to take. If the French King were wise, he argued, he would reject the dangerous gift for his grandson. But if he accepted it, England liad no choice but to combine with her late allies, the E:nperor and the States, and compel the Duke of Anjou to withdraw his claims. This pamphlet being virulently attacked, and its author accus d of bidding for a place at Court, Defoe made a spiriied rejoinder, and seized the occasion to place his arguments in still clearer ligt. Between them the two pamphlets are a masterly exposition, from the point of view of English interests, of tlie danger of permitting the Will to be fulfilled. He tears the arguments of his opponents to pieces with supreme scorn. What matters it to us who is King of Spain ? asks one adversary. As well ask, retorts Defoc, what it matters to us who is King of Ireland. All this talk about the Balance of Power, says another, is only “a shoeingliorn to draw on a standing armr:” We do not want an army; only let us make our fleet strong enough and we may deiy the world ; our militia is per ectly able to defend us against invasion. If our militia is so strong, is Defoe's reply, why should a standing-army make us fear for our domestic lib. rties? But if you object to a standing-army in England, avert the danger by subsidising allies and raising and paying troops in Germany and the Low Countries. Even if we are capable of beating ofi invasion, it is always wise policy to keep the war out of our own country, and not trust to such miracles as the dispersion of the Armada. In w. r, Defoe says, repeating a favourite axiom of his, “it is not the longest sword but the longest purse that conquers,” and if the French get the Spanish crown, they get the richest trade in the world into their lands. "The French would prove better husbands of the wealth of Mexico and Peru than the Spaniards. They would build fleets with it, which would place our American plantations at their mercy. Our own trade with Spain, one of the most profitable fields of our enterprise, would at once be ruined. Our Mediterranean trade would be burdened with the impost of a toll át Gibraltar. In short, Defoe contended, if the French acquired the upper hand in Spain, nothing but a miracle could savo England from becoming practically a French province.
Defoe's appeal to the sense of self-interest fell, however, upon deaf ears. No eloquence or ingenuity of argument could have availed to stem the strong current of growling prepossession. He was equally unsuccessful in his attempt to touch deeper feclings by exhibiting in a pamphlet, which is perhaps the ablest of the series, The danger of the Protestant Religion, from the present prospect of a Religious War in Europe. Surely you cannot olject to a standing army for the defence of your rel gion,” he argued, “for if you do, then you stand convicted of valuing your liberties more than your religion, which ought to be your first and highest concern. Such scraps of rhetori. cal logic were but as straws in the storms of anti-warlike passion that was then raging. Nor did Defoe succeed in turning the elections by addressing “to the good people of England” his Six Distinguishing Characters of a Parliament Man, or by protesting as a freeholder against the levity of making the strife between the new and the old East India Companies a testing question, when the very existence of the kingdom was at stake. His paniphlets were widely distributed, but he might as soon have tried to check a tempest by throwing handfuls of 1. aves into it. One great success, however, he liad, and that, strangely enough, in a direction in which it was least to be anticipated. No better proof could be given that the good-humoured magnanimity and sense of fair-play on which English people pride themselves is more than an empty boast than the reception accorded to Defoe's True-Born Englishman. King William's unpopularity was at its height. A party writer of the time had sought to inflame the general dislike to his Dutch favourites by "a vile pamphlet in abhorred verse,” entitled The Foreigners, in which they are loaded with scurrilous insinuations. It required no ordinary courage in the state of the national temper at that moment to venture upon the line of retort that Defoe adopted. What were the English, he demanded, that they should make a mock of foreigners ? They were the most mongrel race that ever lived upon the face of the earth; there was no such thing as a true-born Englishman; they were all the offspring of foreigners; what was more of the scum of foreigners.