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CHAPTER I

DEFOE-THE NEWSPAPER AND THE NOVEL

DEFOE is known to our day chiefly as the author of Robinson Crusoe, a pioneer novelist of adventure and low life. Students, indeed, remember that he was also a prolific pamphleteer of unenviable character and many vicissitudes. To his early biographers, he was not merely a great novelist and journalist, but a martyr to liberal principles and a man of exalted probity. His contemporaries, on the contrary, inclined to regard him as an ignorant scribbler, a political and social outcast, a journalist whose effrontery was equalled only by his astonishing energy. There is, probably, a measure of truth in all these views; it is certainly true that the novelist we remember was evolved out of the journalist we have forgotten.

When Defoe established his most important periodical, The Review, in February 1704, the English newspaper, in a technical sense, was not quite fifty years old. There had been weekly Corantos, or pamphlets of foreign news, from 1622 to 1641, and, throughout the period of the civil war and the commonwealth, there had been weekly 'newsbooks' designed to spread domestic news, official or unofficial, parliamentary or royalist; but there existed no real newspaper, no news periodical, not a pamphlet or a newsletter, until the appearance of The Oxford Gazette in November 1665'. The intrigues that led to the founding of this paper, which soon became The London Gazette and, for many years, meagre and jejune though it was, possessed a monopoly of the printed news, are of abundant interest, but have already been noticed in this work?. It must suffice to say that such predecessors in journalism as Defoe had before he was of an age to be influenced by what he read were, in the main, purveyors of news through pamphlets and written newsletters-interesting and able men, many of them; generally staunch partisans; sometimes, as in the case of Marchamont Nedham, whom one regrets to encounter in Milton's company, shameless turncoats. From their rather sorry 1 See Williams, J. B., History of English Journalism, etc. p. 7.

2 See ante, vol. vii, chap. xv, pp. 363—5.

E. L. IX. CH. I.

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ranks, two figures of special importance stand out: Henry Muddiman, the best news disseminator of his day, who has been mentioned previously1, and Roger L'Estrange, who was worsted by Muddiman as an editor of 'newsbooks,' but in whom, as political journalist, indefatigable pamphleteer and competent man of letters, we discover Defoe's most significant prototype.

L'Estrange was born, of good Norfolk stock, on 17 December 1616. He received an education befitting his station and, on reaching his majority, became a zealous supporter of the king. Betrayed in a plot for the recapture of Lynn, he was seized, unfairly condemned to death, reprieved, left languishing for a few years in Newgate and, finally, suffered to escape. During his imprisonment, he made a small beginning as a pamphleteer, and it is to the exasperating treatment accorded him that we may partly attribute the dogmatic partisanship which is the most striking characteristic of his political and ecclesiastical writings. His adventures on the continent and his experiences in England from his return in 1653 to the death of Cromwell may be passed over. Late in 1659, he came forward as a writer of pamphlets and broadsides designed to promote the restoration of Charles II. Many of them may be read in the tract entitled L'Estrange his Apology, but his only production of the period that possesses any general interest is his scurrilous attack on Milton bearing the inhuman title No Blinde Guides. After the restoration, L'Estrange felt that his services were not duly recognised; but he did not, on that account, neglect his assumed duties as castigator of all persons whom he deemed factious-particularly presbyterians. His tracts of this period often contain important information about their author and throw light on the times; but, save for occasional passages of quaint homeliness, they make dismal reading.

In the summer of 1663, he published his stringent Considerations and Proposals in order to the Regulation of the Press, and he soon had his reward in his appointment as one of the licensers, and as surveyor of printing presses. He was also granted a monopoly of the news; but his two weekly newsbooks caused dissatisfaction, and The Gazette finally drove him from the field. He was more successful as a suppressor of seditious publications— witness the notorious case of John Twyn-but such sinister success as he had has cast upon his name, whether fully merited or not, a reproach from which it will never be freed. For about fifteen years, his official duties seem to have checked his fluent pen; but,

1 See ante, vol. vII, pp. 349, 362 ff.

L'Estrange and Popish Plot. The Observator 3

during this period, he began, probably with his version of the Visions of Quevedo, in 1667, the long series of his translations, and he published, in 1674, a sensible Discourse of the Fishery, thus anticipating Defoe in the character of promoter.

In 1679, he assailed Shaftesbury and the exclusionists in pamphlets which won him the royal regard. During the next year, he was in the thick of the controversy about the popish plot, labouring to allay the popular fury against Roman Catholics. His denunciations of Oates and other informers led to machinations against himself. He was falsely accused of endeavouring by bribery to secure the defamation of Oates, and he was charged with being a papist. He was acquitted by the council; but public opinion ran so high against him that he fled, for a short time, to Holland. To employ a phrase in the title of one of his tracts, 'a whole Litter of Libellers' assailed him at this season; but 'the Dog Towzer' was not to be thus daunted. He returned in February 1681, and kept the press busy, not only with apologetic pamphlets, but with bitter assaults upon the dissenters and with one of the most important of his works, his political newspaper The Observator: In Question and Answer.

This journal, of two double-columned folio pages, began its career on 13 April 1681 and ran to 9 March 1686/7. After no. 5, readers could not be sure how many issues they would receive a week; but, as a rule, the tireless editor supplied them with three or four numbers devoted to abuse of dissenters, whigs, trimmers and Titus Oates. Throughout, he employed a device, which he had not originated, but which his example made popular for a generation-the trick of casting each number in the form of a dialogue. It is needless to attempt to chronicle the changes in the form of title and in the persons of his interlocutors, since, in order to avoid the mistakes already made by bibliographers, one would need to examine every page of the periodical-an appalling task. It is enough to say that L'Estrange had a large share in the final discrediting of Oates; that, until it suited the king's purpose to issue the declaration of indulgence, clerical and royal favour crowned his ecclesiastical and political zeal; and that his many critics had abundant excuse for the diatribes they continued to issue against him. Defoe, who was probably in London during the larger part of The Observator's life, may thus early have determined that, if ever he should edit a paper of his own, he would avoid the awkward dialogue form and an extravagance that defeated its own ends.

The date of his knighting by James II, April 1685, may be held to mark the zenith of L'Estrange's career. In 1686, he was sent on a mission to Scotland; in 1687, in his answer to Halifax's famous Letter to a Dissenter, he supported the king's claim to the dispensing power; in 1688, he received from James a reward in money that may have made him feel less keenly the suppression of The Observator. At the revolution, he was dismissed from his post of licenser and imprisoned. For several years after his release, he led a troubled life. He was more than once rearrested; his health declined; his wife died ruined by gambling; he was disappointed in his children; and, long before his death, on 11 December 1704, he had lost all his influence and become a bookseller's hack. Yet it is to this period that we owe his most important literary work, The Fables of Esop and other Eminent Mythologists: with Moral Reflections, which appeared as a folio in 1692, and was followed, in 1699, by a second part, Fables and Storyes Moralized. His long series of translations, many of them from the French and the Spanish1, is noted elsewhere. Defoe did not follow far in his steps as a translator; but it is not improbable that, when, in his old age, he found himself cut off from journalism, he remembered the example set him by L'Estrange and displayed an even more remarkable general literary fecundity. It is almost needless to add that, whether as journalist, pamphleteer, or miscellaneous writer, Defoe, in comparison with his predecessor, profited from the general advance made by the late seventeenth century toward a less cumbrous prose.

There was another journalist contemporary with L'Estrange to whom Defoe was indebted. This was Henry Care, whose opposition to the church party made him a special object of The Observator's vituperations. He edited, in 1678-9, a quarto Pacquet of Advice from Rome, which soon added to its title the word Weekly and continued its existence, through five volumes, to 13 July 1683. Later, he supported James and the Roman Catholics. If we may trust Defoe, there is no doubt that Care's early death was brought on by bad habits. He is chiefly important to us because it was from him that Defoe borrowed the general idea of the department in The Review known as the proceedings of 'the Scandalous Club.'

Space is wanting for a full discussion of the evolution of journalism between the fall of The Observator and the founding of The Review. A few meagre newspapers sprang up to rival The Gazette so soon as James had fled the kingdom, and, between 1690 and 1696, John Dunton, the eccentric bookseller, later famous for 1 Cf. as to these, post, chap. x.

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