Reference > Cambridge History > From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift > Defoe—The Newspaper and the Novel > Mercator and commercial pamphlets
  Defoe and Harley The Secret History of the White Staff and An Appeal to Honour and Justice  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

I. Defoe—The Newspaper and the Novel.

§ 18. Mercator and commercial pamphlets.

As luck would have it, his second imprisonment was the direct result of his activity against the Jacobites. During a visit to Scotland in the autumn of 1712, he was much alarmed at the progress Jacobitism seemed to be making, and he wrote several tracts on the subject, in some of which he made an unfortunate use of his favourite weapon, irony. Such a title as Reasons against the Succession of the House of Hanover should have deceived no one; but this tract and others furnished certain whigs with an occasion for bringing an action against him for treason. Their object was twofold—to crush Defoe and to besmirch Oxford, if the latter took any overt measures to protect his unacknowledged agent. The scheme was clever, but Defoe’s measures to counteract it—too intricate to be described here—were cleverer. He would doubtless have come off scot-free, had he not made the tactical mistake of reflecting in The Review upon chief justice Parker. This contempt of court led to his being confined, for a few days, in the queen’s bench prison in May, 1713. Immediately upon his release, he began to edit a new trade journal Mercator, in the interest of Bolingbroke’s treaty of commerce, suffering The Review to expire quietly. There is some, though, perhaps, not sufficient, evidence to show that, at this time, his services were controlled by Bolingbroke rather than by Oxford; but, towards the end of 1713, he was again in frequent communication with the latter, through whose favour he secured a pardon under the great seal for all past offences, thus effectually stopping, for the time, the schemes of his whig enemies.   27
  The year 1714 was a turning point for him, as well as for his tory employers. He continued Mercator  5  almost to the time of the queen’s death. The paper, together with numerous pamphlets of the period, including the four which form A General History of Trade, gives abundant proof of the liberality of his commercial views, although it scarcely justifies his modern admirers in styling him the father of free trade. He also wrote voluminously in opposition to the schism bill; and he entered into obscure intrigues against his old enemy George Ridpath, which resulted in his forming a connection with a rival Flying Post. In this, he published a glowing eulogy of the new king and an indiscreet attack upon one of the lords regent, which led to his indictment for libel and, in the following year, to his trial and conviction. How he escaped punishment will soon appear.   28

Note 5. Perhaps it may not be amiss to give a concrete illustration of Defoe’s casuistry. This is furnished by a comparison of the evasive language he used in his Appeal (1715) with regard to his editorship of Mercator, and the frank language about his share in that journal which he permitted himself to use in a short-lived trade paper of 1719, The Manufacturer, which has escaped his bibliographers but was attributed to him by his contemporaries and is certainly his. Moreover, in the Appeal, he stated categorically that he had “never had any payment or reward for writing any part” of Mercator; but in his letter to Oxford of 21 May, 1714, he wrote that Arthur Moore, who undertook to support the paper, had “declined any consideration for it ever since Lady Day last.” There is little reason to doubt that Defoe was a poorly paid editor; but it is very certain that his relations with Mercator were much closer than he wished readers of that periodical to believe. [ back ]

  Defoe and Harley The Secret History of the White Staff and An Appeal to Honour and Justice  

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