F OR more than a year and a half Defoe remained in prison; then he was set free.
A new Government had come into power. It was pointed out to the
Queen that it was a mistake to make an enemy of so clever an
author as Defoe. Then he was set at liberty, but on condition
that he should use his pen to support the Government. So
although Defoe was now free to all seeming, this was really the
beginning of bondage. He was no longer free in mind, and by
degrees he became a mere
We cannot follow him through all the twists and turns of his politics, nor through all his ups and downs in life, nor mention all the two hundred and fifty books and pamphlets that he wrote. It was an adventurous life he led, full of dark and shadowy passages which we cannot understand and so perhaps cannot pardon. But whether he sold his pen or no we are bound to confess that Defoe's desire was towards the good, towards peace, union, and justice.
One thing he fought for with all his buoyant strength was the
Union between England and Scotland. It had been the desire of
William III ere he died, it had now become the still stronger
desire of Queen Anne and her ministers. So Defoe took "a long
winter, a chargeable, and, as it proved, hazardous journey" to
he threw himself into the struggle, doing all he
could for the Union. He has left for us a history of that
which perhaps better than any other makes us realize
the unrest of the Scottish people, the anger, the fear, the
indecision, with which they were filled. "People went up and
down wondering and amazed, expecting every day strange events,
afraid of peace, afraid of war. Many knew not which way to fix
their resolution. They could not be clear for the Union, yet
they saw death at the door in its breaking off—Death to their
liberty, to their religion, and to their country." Better than
any other he gives a picture of the "infinite struggles, clamor,
railing, and tumult of party." Let me give, in his own words, a
description of a riot in the streets of
"The rabble by shouting and noise having increased their numbers
to several thousands, they began with
"His lady, in the utmost despair with this fright, came to the window, with two candles in her hand, that she might be known; and cried out, for God's sake to call the guards. An honest Apothecary in the town, who knew her voice, and saw the distress she was in, and to whom the family, under God, is obliged for their deliverance, ran immediately down to the town guard. But they would not stir without the Lord Provost's order. But that being soon obtained, one Captain Richardson, who commanded, taking about thirty men with him, marched bravely up to them; and making his way with great resolution through the crowd, they flying, but throwing stones and hallooing at him, and his men. He seized the foot of the stair case; and then boldly went up, cleared the stair, and took six of the rabble in the very act, and so delivered the gentleman and his family.
"But this did not put a stop to the general tumult, though it delivered this particular family. For the rabble, by this time, were prodigiously increased, and went roving up and down the town, breaking the windows of the Members of Parliament and insulting them in their coaches in the streets. They put out all the lights that they might not be discovered. And the author of this had one great stone thrown at him for but looking out of a window. For they suffered nobody to look out, especially with any lights, lest they should know faces, and inform against them afterwards.
"By this time it was about eight or nine o'clock at night, and now they were absolute masters of the city. And it was reported they were going to shut up all the ports. The Lord Commissioner being informed of that, sent a party of the foot guards, and took possession of the Netherbow, which is a gate in the middle of the High Street, as Temple Bar between the City of London and the Court.
"The city was now in a terrible fright, and everybody was under concern for their friends. The rabble went raving about the streets till midnight, frequently beating drums, raising more people. When my Lord Commissioner being informed, there were a thousand of the seamen and rabble come up from Leith; and apprehending if it were suffered to go on, it might come to a dangerous head, and be out of his power to suppress, he sent for the Lord Provost, and demanded that the guards should march into the city.
"The Lord Provost, after some difficulty, yielded; though it was alleged, that it was what never was known in Edinburgh before. About one o'clock in the morning a battalion of the guards entered the town, marched up to the Parliament Close, and took post in all the avenues of the city, which prevented the resolutions taken to insult the houses of the rest of the treaters. The rabble were entirely reduced by this, and gradually dispersed, and so the tumult ended."
Although Defoe did all he could to bring the Union about he felt for and with the poor distracted people. He saw that amid the strife of parties, proud, ignorant, mistaken, it may be, the people were still swayed by love of country, love of freedom.
Even after the Union was accomplished Defoe remained in Scotland.
He still wrote his Review every week, and filled it so full of
Union matters that his readers began to think he could speak of
nothing else and that he was grown dull. In his Review he
"Nothing but Union, Union, says one now that wants diversion; I
am quite tired of it, and we hope, 'tis as good as over now.
The years went on, Defoe always living a stormy life amid the clash of party politics, always writing, writing. More than once his noisy, journalistic pen brought him to prison. But he was never a prisoner long, never long silenced. Yet although Defoe wrote so much and lived at a time when England was full of witty writers he was outside the charmed circle of wits who pretended not to know of his existence. "One of these authors," says another writer, "(the fellow that was pilloried, I have forgotten his name), is indeed so grave, sententious, dogmatical a rogue that there is no enduring him."
At length when Defoe was nearly sixty years old he wrote the book
which has brought him
The book was a tremendous success. It pleased the men and women
and children of two hundred years ago as much as it pleases them
Defoe got the idea of his story from the adventures of a Scots sailor named Alexander Selkirk. This sailor quarreled with his captain, and was set ashore upon an uninhabited island where he remained alone for more than four years. At the end of that time he was rescued by a passing ship and brought home to England. Out of this slender tale Defoe made his fascinating story so full of adventure.
What holds us in the story is its seeming truth. As we read it
we forget altogether that it is only a story, we feel sure that
Crusoe really lived, that all his adventures really happened.
And if you ever read any more of Defoe's books you will find that
this feeling runs through them all. Defoe was, in fact, a born
Finding that Robinson Crusoe was such a success, Defoe began to
write other stories. He wrote of thieves, pirates and rogues.
These stories have the same show of truth as Robinson Crusoe.
Defoe, no doubt, got the ideas for them from the stories of the
rogues with whom he mixed in prison. But they have nearly all
been forgotten, for although they are clever the heroes and
heroines are coarse and the story of their adventures is
unpleasant reading. Yet as history, showing us the state of the
people in the days of
Defoe was now well off. He had built himself a handsome house surrounded by a pleasant garden. He had carriages and horses and lived in good style with his wife and beautiful daughters. There seemed to be no reason why he should not live happily and at ease for the rest of his life. But suddenly one day, for some unknown reason, he fled from his comfortable home into hiding. Why he did this no one can tell. For two years he lived a homeless. skulking fugitive. Then in 1731 he died, if not in poverty at least in loneliness and distress of mind.
Books To Read
Robinson Crusoe, abridged by John Lang.
Robinson Crusoe, retold by Edith Robarts, illustrated by
Robinson Crusoe (Everyman's Library).