The Best of Defoe's Review: An Anthology

The Best of Defoe's Review: An Anthology

The Best of Defoe's Review: An Anthology

The Best of Defoe's Review: An Anthology

Excerpt

The reader who knows the eighteenth-century periodical only through the Tatler and the Spectator may well feel some bewilderment as he leafs through the pages of these selections from Defoe's Review. He will find no casual and charming comment upon the passing scene of court and coffee-house, of lovely (if slightly ludicrous) ladies, no periwigged dandies at the opera or theatre, no sense of a world at leisure with infinite time for brilliant chatter. He will seek in vain for amusing reflections upon beaux's heads and coquettes' hearts or for quiet ponderings on the tombs in Westminster Abbey. But it is possible that if he goes on to read the essays, he will find something that strikes him as more "modern" than the charmingly artificial world of Mr. Spectator. In the essays of Mr. Review he will discover another side of the eighteenth century, will learn how earlier men faced political, social, and economic problems which we sometimes think peculiar to our own times. It is possible too that he will turn from these pages to reread Robinson Crusoe or Moll Flanders with new eyes and new understanding.

In an age famous for its periodicals (more than three hundred were published during the first sixteen years of the eighteenth century) Defoe's Review was remarkable for its longevity. The Spectator lived only into its second year, as did the Tatler and the Guardian. The Rehearsal maintained its hold on life for four years, the Observator only a little longer. But the Review held its course for nine years, from February 19, 1704, until June 11, 1713. On occasion it changed its format, its days of publication, its long-title, but whatever it was officially called, it remained what it had been from the beginning, the Review.

Various explanations have been offered for its unusually long life, the most probable of which is that the periodical was subsidized by an influential member of the government, well aware of the importance of periodicals in what we now call "propaganda." Defoe himself has left us only one cryptic statement about the origin of the magazine: he said that it "had its birth in tenebris." For many years modern scholars . . .

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