Abbildungen der Seite


If Criticism, in its difficult task of arranging the precedenco of the great names whose writings have won for them an immortal and imperishable name, could adopt as its sole standard or measure of comparative eminence, the degree of influence produced by an author upon his own or succeeding ages, or the extent to which his works have been diffused over various and remote countries, De Foe would vindicate for himself a pedestal in the Temple of Fame little, if at all, lower than that which the universal consent of civilized mankind has so justly conceded to Cervantes.

If, in addition to this, suffering and virlue, that noblest heroism which enables its possessor to support unmerited persecution, obloquy, and sorrow, that lofty and divine spirit which, disregarding, with a calm and patient dignity «the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,» awaits the distant time when party rage and personal malignity, shall have passed away, and Posterity shall have learned the lesson, so rarely understood by a contemporary age, to understand the Work of Genius, and that still more difficult lesson to Man in the abstract, as it is to Man the individual, the lesson of Gratitude-if Criticism might found her judgments upon these data, the Author of 'Robinson Crusoe' would have nothing to fear from a comparison with that gentle yet mighty spirit which created the half-crazed yet chivalrous Knight of La Mancha.

The cell of Newgate, no less than the dungeon of the Inquisition, was a proof of that deep truth that « the world or at least the contemporary world— knows nothing of its greatest men.” It will be our endeavour, in the succeeding pages, to show that the comparison which we have just made, flattering as it may appear, and indicative of a too high admiration of the genius of De Foe; is not unjust to the memory of Cervantes : and in the discussion of our subject to devole our attention, at a length somewhat greater than usual, first, to a sketch of the Life of this great writer, and secondly, on another occasion, to an attempt to justify by a critical examination of his chief works, an admiration which may appear to some of our readers extravagant: and we are willing to hope , that our biographical notice of De Foe, by the pictures il presents of great and frequent vicissitudes-supported with invariable calmness-of a long and chequered life, devoled unceasingly to the good of his native couniry, and the virlue and civilization of man — will be no less interesting, than an attempt, however imperfect, to investigate and develope the means by which he has acquired so elevated a place in the great Hero-temple of Immortality.

In no country perhaps so remarkably as in England has Literature been indebted to the middle and lower classes for its most distinguished names : and although the Student may be inclined to assign various social and political reasons for a peculiarity which must forcibly strike him who has made even a superficial acquaintance with the biographical History of Great Britain, the great relative wealth, importance, and intelligence, of those classes, consequent upon the peculiar genius of the English Constitution, are perhaps hardly sufficient to resolve this problem, and to account for a phenomenon which is so striking, and in some measure anomalous, even after due allowance is made for the agency of that powerful influence.

That the envelopements of ignorance, which during the long burial of the dark ages, had enswathed Science and Reason,

like the bandages that wrap the limbs of some dead Pharaoh, were torn off by the hand of an () obscure monk, is certainly a fact to which the history of other countries may perhaps afford a parallel ; that the intellect (*) which, with a power, we speak it reverently, almost like that of the Creator, weighed and numbered the colossal masses which circle rejoicing in the infinity of space, received its first education in a poor man's cottage,--such a fact, we say, may occur in the annals of other lands, however inferior may be the importance of the cases 80 alledged by the citizen of any country but England. Shakspeare too-the greatest of all; that sublime genius, before whose fame the poels, the philosophers, the reasoners, the moralists of all ages, the brightest stars of the intellectual heaven, pale their fire, as before a Sun-his cradle also was rocked by a poor man's fireside : it was beneath a humble roof-and few are humbler than that lowly one at Stralford, which has become to all the nations of the earth the Mecca of the soul—that the gentlest, noblest, sublimest of mankind first saw the light. Washington Irving beautifully says, « that genius delights to nestle its offspring in obscure places, » and what he remarks of the locality, will, in the Jilerary history of England at least, be found singularly true also of the origin, of genius.

To this-wc may almost call it-general rule De Foe was no exception : nor should we, even in the absence of specific information relative to his birth and parentage, hesitate to form a conclusion from the nature of his works, that he must have

sprung, if not from the lowest, at least from no very elevated · portion of the social scale.

He was the son of a butcher in London, and retained all his life the strongest characteristics not only of the class from which be sprung, and to which, in spite of his literary and political celebrity, he continued to belong, but we fancy that we can detect, in all his writings the stamp of the Liveryman of the City of London, and the plain, manly, indepen

(') Roger Bacon. (*) Newlon.

dent, and thoughtful character which commerce produces in its sober votaries.

By one of those singular anomalies for which it is impossible to account, he appears, whether from consciousness of the plebeian sound of his paternal name, or it may be for some more rational motive, to have early prefixed to it the more aristocratic syllable De—though on no occasion does he seem to have been in the slightest degree tinged with the pride of ancestry. He ever sang, with Béranger,

Moi, noble ? oh! vraiment, messieurs, non.

Non, d'aucnne chevalerie
Je n'ai le brevet sur vélin.
Je ne sais qu'aimer ma patrie....
Je suis vilain et très vilain....

Je suis vilain,
Vilain, vilain.

It is reasonable to conclude that his father was in good circumstances ; as Daniel received a solid education at a Dissenting Academy at Newington, near London--and as he alludes in his writings more than once, to his having been destined to the profession of theology : «It was my misfortune," he says, « to be first set apart for, and afterwards set a part from, the ministry:n and the description he gives of the acquirements he had made, in a very large circle of Literature and Science, while at school, would lead us to conclude that the education he received was one of a very sound and complete character, even if his works did not abound with sufficient evidence-evidence even more convincing than the assertion of a person as veracious as De Foe could be. He was born in 1661, and appears to have been sent to school in his twelfth year, where he remained till he was sixteen : but as he does not seem to have taken part in public affairs till the year 1685, the period of the ill-fated attempt made by the Duke of Monmouth, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he devoted this interval to the accumulation of those stores of useful information, of which his later writings give such abundant proof, and which could not have been amassed, how

VOL. m.


ever he might have increased them, amid the agitations and persecutions of a long, busy, and agitated life.

In that unfortunate cause De Foe appears to have borne arms, but without incurring the penalties which followed in so many cases the defeat of Monmouth's partizans.

In the year 1688 he was made a Liveryman of the City of London, having served his apprenticeship to a hose-factor, as he vehemently repels a charge subsequently made against him by one of his opponents, of having been a manufacturer of stockings, though he confesses that those articles formed the subject of his trade.

At this time occurred that important and beneficial revolution which placed William of Orange on the throne, so long and so unfortunately occupied by the ill-fated house of Stuart, an event which must have been highly in accordance with the principles and wishes, political as well as religious, of De Foe's party. We are told by Oldmixon, that our citizen, gallantly equipped and well mounted, formed part of the triumphal procession, assembled by the City of London, October 29th 1689, to escort the new king from the palace of Whiteball to the feast offered to celebrate his accession by the Lord Mayor. But from the cold and reserved temper of William neither the enthusiasm nor the « gallantry» of our Hosier could expect any reward for such holiday loyalty : and we find De Foe three years afterwards unable to pay his debts, and obliged to abscond from his creditors, one of whom, more vindictive than the rest, is reported to have taken out a writ of bankruptcy against him, a proceeding which the others, confident, and with reason, of the integrity of their unfortunate debtor, quashed by a petition, and enabled De Foe to come to a composition. Let it be said to his honour, that he afterwards proved the justice of this confidence and forbearance, by punctually discharging the debts for which he was liable. It may be asked how De Foe, whose writings give evidence that he possessed not only the integrity which is so high and indispensable an element in the commercial character, but also, to a remarkable degree, the skill and boldness necessary for successful trade, whose life was stained by no

« ZurückWeiter »