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'so well apparelled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, 'whatwould it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of •Pindare!"
The critic is right in his estimation of the noble old ballad; but is be not wrong, beyond a question, in his idea, that its beauties could be enhanced by any greater elaborateness of diction? The simplicity, nay the very rudeness of those stanzas constitute no small part of their beauty. There is, in their rough and unpolished surface, somewhat to which the tendrils of feeling can cling, while they too often find nothing around which they can twine themselves in the polished exterior of a later or an earlier date. To load bold and original thoughts with an unsuitable, perhaps a cumbrous, gorgeousness of expression— to level the harsh but pointed excrescences by soft words, and carefully selected rhyme—is sacrilege as atrocious aa it would be to wrap the Apollo or the Venus in an imperial mantle. The gold is brilliant and the velvet rich; but how do they compare with what they conceal?
In the remarks, which in the course of our article, we have made upon the poetry of Beranger, we may appear by far too unvaried in our praise. It would have been certainly very easy and perhaps as gratifying " to forge or find a fault," but—tempus est laudandi—and we do not fear being condemned by any French scholar for having waived our privilege of critic.
Our chief desire in whatever we have said, has been to call the attention of the literary public to a writer infinitely more deserving of their notice, than the herd of English poetasters whom we republish, if we do not read. If this end shall be in any degree accomplished by our effort, we shall be thought to have underrated than to have overrated the merits of Beranger.
Art. III.—Memoirs of the Life and Times of Daniel De Foe: containing a Review of his writings, aml his opinions upon a variety of important matters, civil and ecclesiastical. By WalTer Wilson, Esq. of the Inner Temple. In three volumes, 8vo. London. 1830.
Who has not read Robinson Crusoe? Years fly away and manners change, but this simple narrative, addressed to feelings of all time, retains its original attraction. The shipwrecked mariner in his lonely island, his man Friday, the very kids and parrot that excited our youthful interest, forever maintain their place in memory, with the vividness of realities. Yet the author of a work, read and admired in every language of the civilized world, had nearly, until our day, sunk into oblivion.
Some plodders in history, perchance, remembered that soon after the restoration, there were such political writers as Ridpath, Tutchin, or Deanton, as also a certain De Foe; others, that a fellow of that name is mentioned in the Dunciad* as having stood in the pillory with cropped ears. Few, very few knew him as a novelist fruitful in agreeable and moral fictions, and an untiring advocate in the cause of civil and religious freedom. Dr. Chalmers, some years back, first attempted briefly to rescue his reputation from the unjust aspersions unsparingly heaped upon it, but the work at the head of our 'article has collected abundant materials to establish the purity of the man we have so long admired as a writer. It is much to be lamented, that the pleasing and natural pencil that pourtrayed Robinson, Captain Jacque and Colonel Singleton has not pourtrayed the artist himself. Besides the interest of his eventful life, he could have thrown much light on the political changes of a stormy period; and, particularly, on the varied scenes of "open war and slumbered strife," enacted by churchmen and dissenters, in which he himself sustained no inconsiderable character. Indeed, De Foe was so intimately engaged in the religious contentions from a little before the reign of the last of the Stuarts to the accession of the house of Hanover, that a life of him is, in a measure, the church history of the period. As even now the theological warfare of that age may furnish food for much reflection, we will make no apology to our readers for presenting them with De Foe, in his own times.
* "Earless on high stood unabashed De Foe,
Daniel Foe, or as he chose to call himself—we know not why—De Foe was horn in London, in 1661. His father was a non-conforming butcher, who had retired from business with a comfortable fortune. A certificate from under the hand of the old gentleman, still existing, savours strongly of the seraphic piety of the days of old Noll, which, still in the dissolute times that succeeded, remained in good odour with a considerable party; he recommends a handmaid " to Mr. Cave, that godly minister, (which, saith he) we should not have done, had not her conversation been becoming the gospel." Very little trace remains of his boyish days, except that he was "a pretty considerable" boxer. He also relates of himself that during that part of the reign of Charles II. when it was feared that hiblcs in the vernacular would be suppressed, he applied himself to copying the holy volume; in his own woids "he worked like a horse, till he had written out the whole Pentateuch, when he grew so tired that he was willing to risk the rest." These two particulars gave an early indication of his intrepidity and religious zeal throughout life.
He received his education in a celebrated non-conformist academy at JVewington Green, under the Rev. Charles Morton, afterwards Vice-president of Harvard College in Massachusetts. What he learnt at school cannot be ascertained; but in his writings he mentions that he was master of five languages, and that he had studied mathematics, natural philosophy, logic, geography and history. This would be surely sufficient to vindicate him from the reproach of being "an illiterate person without education" so often thrown up to him by his enemies. "I think (says he, replying to some antagonists,) I owe this justice to my ancient father, still living, and in whose behalf I freely testify, that if I am a blockhead, it was no body's fault but my own, he having spared nothing in my education that might qualify me to match the accurate Dr. Brown, or the learned observator." "With the theory and practice of our constitution, '(observes his biographer) he was also well acquainted. Un'der the direction of his tutor he went through a complete course 'of theology, in which he acquired a proficiency that enabled 'him to cope with the most acute writers of that disputatious 'age." One of his writings shews that he was educated for a presbyterian minister, but it is not known why he changed his original intentions.
De Foe always lamented that the universities were closed to those of his religion, and well points out the deficiencies of the non-ronformist seminaries.
"'Tis evident (he writes') the great imperfection of our academies ia want of conversation: this the public universities enjoy; ours cannot. If a man pores upon his book and despises the advantages of conversation, he always comes out a pedant, a mere scholar, rough and unfit for any thing out of the walls of his college. Conversation polishes the gentleman; acquaints him with men and words; lets him into the polite part of language; gives him style, accent, delicacy, and taste of expression; and when he comes to appear in public, he preaches as he discourses, easy, free, plain, unaffected, and untainted with force, stiffness, formality, affected hard words, and all the ridiculous part of a learned pedant, which is, being interpreted, a school fop. Whilst, on the other hand, from our schools we have abundance of instances of men that come away masters of science, critics in the Greek and Hebrew, perfect in languages, and perfectly ignorant, if that term may be allowed, of their mother tongue."—vol. i. 21.
He objects also to another defect of the dissenting academies.
"Many of the tutors in our academies, I do not say all, because I knew some of another opinion, being careful to keep the knowledge of the tongues, tie down their pupils so exactly, and limit them so strictly to perform every exercise, and to have all their readings in Latin or Greek, that, at the end of the severest term of study, they come out unacquainted with English, though that is the tongue in which all their gifts are to shine. The usefulness and excellency of the languages is no way run down in this observation; but the preaching the gospel, which is the end of our study, is done in English, and it seems absurd in the last degree, that all the time Should be spent in the languages which it is to be fetched from, and none in the language it is to be delivered in. 'It is to this error that he attributes, that so many learned, and otherwise excellent ministers, preach away all their hearers,' while a jingling, noisy boy, that has a good stock in his face, and a dysentery of the tongue, though he has little or nothing in his head, shall run away with the whole town. It is true the head is the main thing that a tutor is to see furnished; but the tongue must be tuned •r he'll make no music with the voice. Acceptable words, a good diction, a grave, yet polite and easy style, are most valuable things in a minister and, without which, his learning cannot exert itself."
The first part of these remarks of De Foe, applies, with great force, to the absurd American plan, of placing their colleges in villages, and even woods, from whence the student comes forth an awkward, gawky pedant, and where even the professor without society, without convenient intercourse with Europe, loses both his knowledge and enthusiasm.
At the age of twenty-one, De Foe commenced author, in a pamphlet entitled "Speculum crape-gownorum, or a lookingglass for the young Academicks, new foyled, with reflections on some of the late high flown sermons: to which is added, an essay towards a sermon of the newest fashion. By a guide to the inferiour clergie, 1682." The title is borrowed from the crape gowns then worn by the inferior clergy, and which, by the by, this squib had the effect of banishing. It exhibits some good sense and popular argument, and, now and then, satire well bit; but mixed up with much coarseness and common-place. Yet we clearly see in it the peculiarly popular manner that afterwards distinguished his numerous polemical tracts. He was now fairly engaged in the war for civil and religious freedom in which he was destined to combat the best portion of his days.
His next work was a treatise against the Turks, in which he went against the opinion of almost all his dissenting friends. The question was, how far a catholic monarch, who had tyrannized in the most cruel manner over his protestant subjects, was entitled to the sympathy and succour of protestants, when his dominions were attacked by Mahometans ?" The first 'time (says he) that I had the misfortune to differ with my 'friends, was about the year 1(583, when the Turks were be'seiging Vienna, and the whigs in England, generally speaking, 'were for the Turks taking it: whilst I, having read the his'tory of the cruelty, and perfidious dealings of the Turks in 'their wars, and how they had rooted out the name of the Chris'tian religion in above three-score and ten kingdoms, could, by 'no means, agree with them; and though then but a young 'man, and a younger author, I opposed it, and wrote against it, 'which was taken very unkind indeed." "For my part I am • not for having the whore of Babylon pulled down by the red 'dragon, and popery destroyed by the power of Mahometanism. 'Iam so far a dissenter from the Hungarian protestants. I 'had rather the Emperor should tyrannize than the Turks. 'The papist hates me because he thinks me an enemy to Christ 'and his church : The Turk hates me, because he hates the 'name of Christ, bids him defiance as a Saviour, and declares 'universal war against his very name and all that profess to 'worship him."
The warmth, or more properly, intemperance and scurrility in some of the polemical writings of De Foe and other authors of that period, if not altogether excusable, merits some mercy, when we consider the religious persecution that excited it. The promises of toleration held forth by Charles II. at Breda, had been kept like all the other promises of that singularly faithless monarch. To the cavalier and churchman, he mainly attributed his restoration to a throne from which his father had been hurled by presbyterian influence, and, in return, he lavished on them favours with a most undiscritninating hand. The