Defoe’s Preface

P R E F A C E.

WHen Authors present their Works to the World, like a Thief at the Gallows; they make a Speech to the People.

The Author indeed has something like this to say too, Good People all take Warning by me; — I have studied to Inform and to Direct the World, and what have I had for my Labour, Profit, the Press would not allow; and therein I am not deceiv’d, for I expected none.

But Good Manners and Good Language, I thought I might expect; because I gave no other; and it was but just to Treat Mankind, as they would be Treated by them.

But neither has this been Paid me, in Debt to Custom and Civility — How often have my Ears, my Hands, and my Head, been to be pull’d off, — Impotent Bullies, that Attackt by Truth, and their Vices storm’d, fill the Air with Rhodomontades and Indecencies, but never shew’d their Faces to the Resentment Truth had a just Cause to Entertain for them.

I have pass’d through Clouds of Clamour, Cavil, Raillery and Objection, and have this satisfaction, that Truth being the Design; Finis Coronat: I am never forward to value my own Performances, Let another Man’s Mouth Praise thee, said the Wise Man; but I cannot but own my self infinitely pleas’d, and more than satisfied; that Wise Men Read this Paper with Pleasure, own the just Observations in it, and have Voted it Useful.

The first Design, I allow is not yet pursu’d, and indeed I must own, the Field is so large, the Design so vast, and the necessary Preliminaries so many; that tho’ I cannot yet pass for an Old Man, I must be so, if I live to go thorough with it.

This Volume has pass’d through my Description of the French Grandeur, with its Influence on the Affairs of Poland, Sweden, and Hungary.

What Assaults I have met with, from the Impatience of the Readers, what Uneasiness of Friends, left I was turn’d about to the Enemy; I leave to their Reading the Sheets to discover.

How is this Age Unqualifi’d to bear Feeling Truth; how unwilling to hear, what we do not like, tho’ never so necessary to know!

And yet if this French Monarchy was not very Powerful, vastly strong, its Power Terrible, its increasing encroaching Measures formidable; why do we, and justly too, Applaud, Extol, Congratulate, and Dignifie, the Victorious Duke of Marlbourough at such a rate? If it had been a mean and Contemptible Enemy, how shall we justifie the English Armies March thro’ so many hazards; the Nations vast Charge, the daily just Concern, in every Article of this War; and as I have frequently hinted, why not beat them all this while?

They who have made, or may make an ill use of the true Plan of French Greatness which I have laid down, must place it to the Account of their own Corrupted prejudic’d Thoughts; my Design is plain, to tell you the Strength of your Enemy, that you may fortifie your selves in due Proportion, and not go out with your Ten Thousands against his Twentys.

In like manner, I think my self very odly handled in the Case of the Swedes and Hungarians, how many Complaints of Ambassadors for one, and Fellow-Protestants for the other; and yet after the whole Story is finished, I have this Felicity, than which no Author can desire a greater, viz. not one thing I ever affirm’d but was exactly true; not one Conjecture I have made, but has appear’d to be rational; not one Inference drawn, but the Consequences have prov’d just; and not one thing guess’d at, but what has come to pass.

I am now come home to England, and enter’d a little into our own Affairs; indeed I have advanc’d some things as to Trade, Navys, Seamen, &c. which some may think a little arrogant, because perfectly new. But as I have offer’d nothing but what I am always ready to make appear practicable, I finish my Apology with saying to the World, Bring me to the Test, and the rest I leave to time.

In the bringing the Story of France down to the matter of Trade, I confess my self surprizingly drawn into a vast Wilderness of a Subject, so large, that I know not were it will end; the Misfortune of which is, that thinking to have finish’d it with this Volume, I found my self strangely deceiv’d, and indeed amazed, when I found the Story of it intended to be the End of this Volume, and hardly enough of it entred upon to say, it begun.

However the Volume being of Necessity to be closed, I am oblig’d to content my self with taking what is here as an Introduction to the next Volume, and to give this Notice, that the matter of our English Trade appears to be a thing of such Consequence to be treated of, so much pretended to, and so little understood, that nothing could be more profitable to the Readers, more advantageous to the publick Interest of this Nation, or more suitable to the Greatness of this Undertaking, than to make an Essay at the Evils, Causes, and Remedies of our general Negoce.

I have been confirm’d in my Opinion of the Consequences and Benefit of this Undertaking by a Croud of Entreaties from Persons of the best Judgment, and some of extraordinary Genius in these Affairs, whose Letters are my Authority for this Clause, and whose Arguments are too forcible for me to resist.

And this is to me a sufficient Apology for a vast Digression from the Affairs of France, which were really in my first Design; and to which my Title at first too streightly bound me.

Whoever shall live to see this Undertaking finished, if the Author or some better Pen after him, shall bring 20 or 30 Volumes of this Work on the Stage, it will not look so prepostorous as it seems now, to have one whole Volume be employ’d on the most delightful as well as profitable Subject of the English Trade.

Things at short Distances look large, and publick Patience is generally very short; but when remote, the Case alters, and People see the Reason of things in themselves.

’Tis this remote Prospect of Affairs which I have before me; and this makes me not so much regard the Uneasiness People shew at the Story, being frequently broken abruptly, and running great Lengths before it revolves upon it self again; but as time and the Course of things will bring all about again, and make the whole be of a Piece with it self, I am content to wait the Approbation of the Readers, till such time as the thing it self forces it from the at present Impatient Readers.

Readers are strange Judges when they see but part of the Design; ’tis a new thing for an Author to lay down, his Thoughts, Piece-Meal, importunate Cavils assault him every Day, who claim to be answer’d to Day before to Morrow; and are so far from staying till the Story is finish’d, that they can hardly stay till their Letters come to Hand; but follow the First with a Second, that with Clamour, and this sometimes with threatning Scoffs, Banters and Raillery.

Thus I am Letter baited by Querists, and think my Trouble to write civil, private Answers to teazing and querulous Epistles, has been equal, if not more troublesome, than all the rest of this Work.

Thro’ these Difficulties, I steer with as much Temper and Steadiness as I can, I still hope to give Satisfaction in the Conclusion; and ’tis this alone that makes continuing the Work tollerable to me; if I cannot, I have made my Essay. If those that know these things better than I, would bless the World with farther Instructions, I shall be glad to see them, and very far from interrupting or discouraging them, as these do me.

Let not those Gentlemen who are Criticks in Stile, in Method or Manner, be angry that I have never pull’d off my Cap to them in humble Excuse for my loose Way of treating the World as to Language, Expression, and Politeness of Phrase; Matters of this Nature differ from most things a Man can write: When I am busied, writing Essays, and Matters of Science, I shall address them for their Aid, and take as much Care to avoid their Displeasure as becomes me; but when I am upon the Subject of Trade, and the Variety of Casual Story, I think my self a little loose from the Bonds of Cadence and Perfections of Stile, and satisfie my self in my Study to be explicit, easie, free, and very plain; and for all the rest, Nec Careo, nec Curo.

I had a Design to say something on the Entertaining Part of this Paper; but I have so often explain’d my self on that Head, that I shall not trouble the World much about it.

When I first found the Design of this Paper, which had its Birth in Tenebris; I consider’d it would be a thing very Historical, very long, and tho’ it could be much better perform’d than ever I was like to do it; this Age had such a Natural Aversion to a Solemn and Tedious Affair, that however Profitable, it would never be Diverting, and the World would never Read it.

To get over this Difficulty that secret hand, I make no Doubt that directed this Birth into the World, Dictated to make some sort of Entertainment, or Amusement at the end of every Paper upon the immediate Subject, then on the Tongues of the Town, which Innocent Diversion, would hand on the more weighty and Serious Part of the Design, into the heads and Thoughts of those, to whom it might be useful.

I take this Opportunity to assure the World, that Receiving or Answering Letters of Doubts, Difficulties, Cases, and Questions, as it is a Work I think my self very meanly qualifi’d for, so it was the remotest thing from my first Design of any thing in the World; and I could be heartily Glad, the Readers of this Paper would excuse me from it yet, — But I see it cannot be, and the World will have it done; I have therefore done my best to oblige them, but as I have not one Word to say, for my Performance that way, so I leave it where I found it; a meer Circumstance, casually and undesignedly annex’d to the Work and Curiosity, tho’ Honestly Endeavour’d to be comply’d with.

If the Method I have taken in answering Questions, has pleas’d some wiser Men than I expected it would; I confess ’tis one of the chief Reasons why I was induc’d to continue it. I have constantly adher’d to this Rule in all my Answers, and I refer my Reader to his Observation for the Proof, that from the loosest and lightest Questions, I endeavour to draw some useful Inferences, and if possible to introduce something solid, and something solemn in applying it.

The Custom of the Antients in writing Fables, is my very Laudable Pattern for this, and my firm Resolution in all I write to exalt Vertue, expose Vice, promote Truth, and help Men to serious Reflection, is my first moving Cause, and last directed End.

If any shall make ill Use of, wrest, wrong interpret, wilfully or otherwise mistake the honest Design of this Work, let such wait for the End, when I doubt not the Author will be clear’d by their own Vote, their Want of Charity appear, and they be Self-condemn’d, till they come to acknowledge their Error, and openly to justifie

  Their Humble Servant,