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De Foe's education was rather circumscribed, which is the more to be lamented, as, in so many instances, he has exhibited proofs of rare natural genius. He was sent by his father, at twelve years old, to the Newington Green Dissenting Academy, then kept by Mr Morton, where he remained about four years; and this appears to have been all the education he ever received. When he was remanded from school, it would seem, that, his genius not lying towards the marrow-bone and cleaver, his father had put him to some other trade; of what nature we are unable to learn, De Foe himself being very reserved on the subject. When charged by Tutchin b with having his breeding as an apprentice to a hosier, he asserts (May 1705) “that he never was a hosiero, or an apprentice, but admits that he had been a trader.”
This, however, had occupied but a short period of his youth; for in. 1685, when he was in his twenty-second year, he took up arms in the cause of the duke of Monmouth. On the destruction of Monmouth's party, Daniel had the good fortune to escape unpunished amidst the herd of greater delinquents; but, in his latter years, when the avowal was no longer dangerous, he boasts himself much of his exploits, in His Appeal to Honour and Justice, being a true Account of his Conduct in Public Affairs.
b Tutchin, the publisher of the Observator, and a steady opponent of De Foe's both in politics and literature.
c Perhaps the salvo he laid to his conscience for this apparently false assertion, was, that though he dealt in hose, he did not make them.
Two years afterwards (1688), De Foe was admitted a Liveryman of London. As he had been throughout a steady advocate for the Revolution, he had now the satisfaction of witnessing that great event. Oldmixon says, (Works, vol. ii. p. 276) that at a feast, given by the Lord Mayor of London to King William, on the 29th October, 1689, De Foe appeared gallantly mounted, and richly accoutred, amongst the troopers commanded by Lord Peterborough, who attended the king and queen from Whitehall to the Mansion-house. All Daniel's horsemanship, however, united to the steady devotion of his pen to the cause of William, were unable to procure him the notice of that cold-charactered monarch ; and our author was fain to content himself (as his adversary Tutchin asserts) with the humble occupation of a hosier in Freeman's Yard, Cornhill; -wisely considering, that if the court could do without political tracts, the people could not do without stockings.
With the ill fortune, however, attendant upon those men of genius, who cultivate their superior powers to the neglect of that common sense, which is requisite to carry a man creditably through this every-day world, De Foe's affairs declined from bad to worse; he spent those hours, which he ought to have devoted to his shop, in a society for the cul
tivation of polite learning, and he was under the necessity of absconding from his creditors in 1692. One of those creditors, who had less consideration for polite learning, and more irritability than the rest, took out a commission of bankruptcy against him ; but, fortunately for our author, this was superseded on the petition of those to whom he was most indebted, and a composition was accepted. This composition he punctually paid by efforts of unwearied diligence; and some of the creditors, whose claims had been thus satisfied, falling into distress themselves, he waited upon them, and paid their debts in full. He was next engaged in carrying on tile-works, on the banks of the Thames, near Tilbury, but with little success; for it was sarcastically said of him, that he did not like the Egyptians, require bricks without straw, but, like the Jews, required bricks without paying his labourers.” United to his tile-making, our author, stimulated by an active mind and embarrassed circumstances, devised many other schemes, or, as he called them, projects. He wrote many sheets about the English coin; he projected Banks for every county, and Factories for goods; he exhibited a Proposal (very feelingly, no doubt) for a commission of enquiry into bankrupts' estates; he contrived a Pension-office for the relief of the poor, and finished, by publishing a long Essay upon projects themselves.
About this period (1695), our author's indefatigable endeavours procured him some notice from the court, and he was appointed accountant to the commissioners for managing the duties on glass. Here also his usual ill luck attended him; he was thrown out of his situation by the suppression of the tax in 1699.
But the time at length arrived when the sun of royal favour was to shine out upon our author's prospects. About the end of 1699, there was published, what De Foe calls, “a horrid pamphlet, in very ill verse, written by one Tutchin, and called The Foreigners : in which the author fell personally upon the king, then upon the Dutch nation, and, after having reproached his majesty with crimes, that his worst enemies could not think of without horror, he sums up all in the odious name of Foreigner. This filled me with rage against the book, and gave birth to a trifle, which I never could hope should have met with so general an acceptation.”
The trifle, which De Foe here alludes to, was his True Born Englishman; a poetical satire on the Foreigners, and a defence of King William and the Dutch ; of which the sale was great without example, and our author's reward proportionate. He was even admitted to the honour of a personal interview with the king, and became with more ardour than ever a professed partizan of the court.
His first publication afterwards, was, The original Power of the Collective Body of the people of England examined and asserted; next, An Argument to prove, that a standing Army, with consent
of Parliament, was not inconsistent with a free Government; but, as we do not mean to follow De Foe through the career of his politics, and intend only to notice such as, in their consequences, materially affected his personal situation and affairs, we shall pass to the death of his sovereign and patron, which took place 8th March, 1702d.
The accession of Anne having restored the line of Stuart, to whom the politics and conduct of De Foe had been peculiarly obnoxious, our author was shortly reduced, as before, to live on the produce of his wits; and it is perhaps lucky for the world, that there is so much truth in the universal out-cry against the neglect of living authors; for there seems a certain laziness concomitant with genius, which can only be incited to action by the pressure of necessity. Had William lived, probably the world would never have been delighted with the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
Whether De Foe found politics the most vendible produce of the press, or, like Macbeth, felt himself
Stept in so far, that shoud I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er,we are yet to learn; but he ventured to reprint his Shortest Way with the Dissenters; and to pub
d Feb. 26th. William, riding from Kensington towards Hampton, was thrown from his horse, and broke his collar-bone. He lingered till the morning of March 8th, when he died about eight o'clock, in the fifty-second year of his age.