Lidia De Michelis
Focusing on Defoe's Historical Account, Theobald's Memoirs and Sewell's Tragedy featuring the life of Sir Walter Raleigh in the wake of the Anglo-Spanish hostilities of 1718-20, this paper aims to highlight the sophisticated rhetorical and formal devices by means of which apparently distinct authors - each according to his own discoursive strategy - appropriated the figure of the Elizabethan courtier and recast him as a national icon by inscribing his biography within a homologous imperialistic discourse.
I shall try to suggest, likewise, that the built-in schematizing bias of such propaganda contributed to developing and formalizing effective approaches to biographical sketching which eventually found their way into the wider canon of biography as an accomplished eighteenth-century genre.
It is worth noticing that not until 1736 did Raleigh's first extended biography appear. Although it still lacks the introspective emphasis which after Johnson was soon to become the most essential feature of the genre, William Oldys's Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to the 1736 edition of The History of the World, is the earliest one to strike us as recognizably "modern".
Not only does it prove innovative as it leaves the beaten tracks of the annalistic and exemplary minor life narratives and histories of the seventeenth century (major contributions, such as those by Hutchinson, North, Walton, Baxter and Clarendon obviously tell a different tale)2. Its most outstanding appeal to "modernity" is indeed to be found in its deep imprinting with the new cultural background which in the early decades of the eighteenth century caused the most responsive professional agents in the literary arena to take side with the "Moderns" in order to spread the still tentative nationalistic agenda of instituting a distinctly British intellectual identity.
Discarding the short pamphlet format it had maintained over most of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (a notable exception was Shirley's Life of 1677, which - beside laying new emphasis on the Elizabethan as a champion of aggressive foreign trade3 - incorporated substantial excerpts from Raleigh's Apology and from the minutes of his trials), Raleigh's life narrative was expanded to reach 232 close type in folio sheets in Oldys's work. So huge an extension cannot be properly understood unless it is related to the biographer's scholarly commitment to restore Sir Walter Raleigh as a "British Author" in full relief, redeeming his memory from selective and partizan appropriations as the author, basically, of The History of the World.
Himself a minor playwright and shortly to be known as one of the erudite compilers (with Edmund Curll) of The History of the English Stage, from the Restoration to the Present Time (1741), Oldys (1696-1761) ostensibly appears to share in the fecund rage for authorship and textuality4 characterizing the decade between Pope's edition of Shakespeare's works in 1725 and the much discussed one by Theobald of 1733.
His wholehearted support to the cultural revolution then paving the way to principles of intellectual property and propriety which conflated the ideas of individual genius and of "Genius of the Nation" within a single nationalist agenda5 is clearly to be seen in his biography of Sir Walter Raleigh. Beside relying to an unprecedented extent on first-hand scrutiny of all the best known seventeenth-century authorities cited in previous "Lives" of the Elizabethan courtier, Oldys's text embraces and explores Raleigh's manifold literary voices, concerning itself with assessing the authorship of recent and still controversial attributions (Raleigh's corpus had been greatly increased in the decades after his death, as exhaustively discussed by Anne Beer [1997]), and even contributing to identifying a few lyrics6.
At the same time this work - conceived over the years between Walpole's peaceful arrangement with Spain of 1732, which had caused vociferous Patriot opposition, and the outbreak of a new war in 1739 - stands out for its overt reliance, by means of long encomiastic quotations, on earlier anti-Iberian propaganda and imperialist tenets explicitly appropriated from the three 1719 texts making up the subject of this study.
Quite deservedly, Theobald's Memoirs - which under close scrutiny turn out to be but an abridged and largely unoriginal paraphrase of Shirley's biography7, probably written in the wake of the unexpected success of Sewell's Tragedy and in order to gain from the current anti-Iberian atmosphere - are referred to but twice and scantily. That happens even as their author - a fellow scholar and a personal acquaintance of Oldys's, who refers to him in the incipit as to an anonymous "late collector of his memoirs"8 (Oldys, 1829: I, 4) - is more appreciatively mentioned as a provider of unknown texts9 and for his references to Raleigh, in his edition of Shakespeare, concerning the dating of Twelfth Night 10.
Theobald's Memoirs - that we shall later examine in greater detail as the selected target of Defoe's methodological sallies - are indeed more noteworthy as a beacon of future achievements than as biographical writing, while even their frail propagandistic texture appears to rely mostly on fashionable anti-Iberian stereotypes, such as the demonization of the Spanish Ambassador, Count Gondomar.
Tailoring Shirley's Life to suit his own youthful interest in forensic matters and adult involvement as an actor, performer, editor, critic and playwright, Theobald characteristically chooses to highlight emotionally charged and pathetic episodes, such as Raleigh's secret love for Elizabeth Throckmorton, his dying addresses from the scaffold, and the most theatrical phases of his trials.
Within this framework, Theobald's erudite bias for meticulous sifting of his (or rather Shirley's) sources is also conspicuous, as in the following passage, advocating textual evidence in order to refute the common wisdom of Raleigh's familiarity with legal studies: "Sir Walter, upon his Arraignment, in a reply to the Attorney-General, lays a heavy imprecation upon himself, if ever he read a Word of the Law, or Statutes, before he was a Prisoner in the Tower" (Theobald, 1719: 5). Even more meaningful is his long digression questioning current tales about Raleigh burning his own sequel to the History of the World:
For my own part, I have too great an Opinion of Sir Walter's Wisdom, to suppose he would so rashly have rob'd his Executors of such a Treasure, upon a single Person's complaining of a Loss from the ill Sale of the first Volume. It seems a Fable copy'd out of another concerning Virgil, who would have burnt his Aeneis, to which he had not put the last hand, lest it should survive to the Injury of his Reputation (17)11.
To which he adds, before lavishly quoting from The Premonition to Princes and from the final address of the History, "I think besides, there is no better way of interpreting for an Author than from his own Words" (ibid.)
Yet, the most noticeable insight in this pamphlet - the one that Oldys singles out and elaborates on as a preamble to his own Life of Sir Walter - is no doubt to be found in the long and sustained simile which makes up the rich opening of the text, where Theobald's aesthetic concerns about biographical and historical writing are assessed:
To treat of a Man like Sir Walter Raleigh, of such approve'd Sufficiency, and of so diffusive a Praise, so equally great in so many different Parts of Life, is like attempting a Landschap from a high Hill, where the Variety and Extent of the Prospects serve rather to confound, than entertain the Eye, and call for judgement to correct the Fancy, which is too apt to run riot, and especially when employ'd on too many Objects (3; my italics).
Not only does this passage immediately call forth the strikingly similar rhetorical opening of Theobald's "Preface" to the Works of Shakespeare a few years later:
The Attempt to write upon Shakespeare is like going into a large, a spacious, and a splendid Dome thro' the Conveyance of a narrow and obscure Entry (...) The Prospect is too wide to come within the Compass of a single View: 'tis a gay Confusion of pleasing Objects, too various to be enjoyed but in a general Admiration; and they must be separated and ey'd distinctly, in order to give the proper Entertainment (Theobald, 1733: I, 1; my italics).
It elaborates, likewise, on Shirley's preliminary consideration, referring to time and history, that
Distance of time doth sometimes, like some mediums, make the straightest Actions seem crooked, and sometimes gives them the advantage of Landscapes, which appear taking and agreeable afar off, tho' when nearly search'd, and pry'd into by a curious and intelligent Eye, they seem rude, harsh, and unpleasant (Shirley, 1677: 6-7; my italics)12.
Although obviously triggered by its source, Theobald's simile consciously discards the moral overtones and the urge to discriminate between truth and deceitful vision apparent in Shirley's words, quite discernibly superseded by Augustan principles of balance and decorum in the later work. The whole sentence, indeed, seems to be heading towards its final appeal to foregrounding "Judgement" in order to curb "Fancy", which - thus echoing Dryden's words that describe it as "so wild and lawless that like an high-ranging spaniel it must have clogs tied to it, lest it outrun the judgement" (Dryden: 1664, "Epistle to Lord Orrery", my italics) - is consistently denounced as "too apt to run riot".
"Judgement" - and the unmentioned convenience of passively following Shirley's well documented tracks, with but minor additions from Raleigh's writings - warn Theobald to inform the reader that the "best Method" to do Raleigh
the most Justice, and make him the least a Sufferer by my own Inability is, in his Rise and Actions, his Advancements and Struggles, to follow the best Accounts of his times, and to let the Character of his Wit and Learning stand on the Credit of his own History, and those Remains of His which are happily transmitted to us (Theobald, 1719: 3-4).
Yet, such a judicious and humble claim fails to deceive Oldys who, after quoting Theobald's incipit, immediately adds "Many guides may indeed appear to lead us through this wilderness" (and that's the end of Theobald's "Variety and Extent of Prospects"!). "But numerous as the authors are who mention him", continues Oldys, "they contain but fragments of his story" (Oldys, 1829: I, 4):13 a criticism - as we shall see later - he seems to pick up from Defoe's ferocious slanting of the Memoirs as "a few Fragments skimm'd from the Froth of common Fame" (Defoe, 1719: 5)14.
Much more appreciative are Oldys's references to "the ingenious Dr Sewell's Tragedy of Sir Walter Raleigh ", which "of late years did much to revive the public regard" (Oldys, 1829: I, 451-52)15 to the Elizabethan's character and works. Although sincerely appreciating Sewell's poetical achievement, Oldys is obviously aware of its divulgative and propagandistic import, as made apparent in a laborious footnote:
Considering under what disadvantages that dramatic performance appeared - he observes - as written by a poet who had no practice or fame in this kind of writing; one insufficiently read in the personal story of his hero, to form that plot, and enliven it with those characters, and incidents, whereof it was capable (...) Considering all this, and, notwithstanding, how many nights this tragedy successively drew a noble and numerous audience, and how many editions of the copy soon passed the press; we may perceive (...) how inclinable we are to clear ourselves of the imputation many times thrown upon us of alienating our encomiums, and transferring the honours which are due to the worthies of our own island, upon examples of heathen or foreign histories (ibid.).
So much emphasis on Sewell's literary inexperience sounds unnatural, especially if we remember that, beside publishing a successful biography, The Life and Character of Mr John Philips, in 1712, he had also contributed a seventh volume of poems to Pope's edition of Shakespeare of 1725. Conversely, one might feel justified to infer that no particular insight into Raleigh's life were needed to weave what little plot Sewell chose to bring on stage.
In full compliance with Aristotelian rules and Augustan decorum, he confines his subject to the last few hours preceding Raleigh's execution. With very little action and in the restricted setting of the Court and the Tower, the drama indeed consists of a series of sustained monologues uttered by a handful of exemplary characters. Howard, Lady Raleigh, Sir Walter are opposed to Salisbury and Gondomar (Gondamor in the text) - thus staging out Roman virtues of faith and honour against current dependence on cunning, greed and intrigue -, while an unlikely subplot features a doomed love affair between Salisbury's even more unlikely daughter, Olympia, and a bashful young Carew Raleigh16.
Although a veil of Roman greatness is spread over Raleigh's detached stoicism and his wife's combativeness - at times, indeed, she is made to resemble a kind of virago-like Volumnia -, there is no misunderstanding the propagandistic purpose of this text, especially as images of Romanism were currently circulated as metaphors for Britain's rising imperial appetite, moral superiority and civilizing perspectives17.
If Addison's Cato (1713), a work much praised by Sewell and definitely an international bestseller, could be singled out as the outstanding example of such attitude, King George's "Speech from the Throne" on 23 november 1719 (the same year as Sewell's Tragedy was performed) is even more to the point:
All Europe, as well as these Kingdoms, are on the point of being delivered (...) by the influence of British arms and counsels. (...) the Unanimity of this Session of Parliament must establish, with the Peace of all Europe, the Glory and Trade of these Kingdoms, on a lasting Foundation: all I have to ask of you is, that you will agree to be a great and flourishing People (Carswell, 1960: 98).
To clear up all doubt, the paratext is quite explicit about Sewell's aims: the dedication is addressed to James Craggs the younger - the son of the Postmaster General and himself Secretary of War in 1717, Secretary of State in 1718 and one of the main actors in the South Sea Bubble - precisely on the ground of his resemblance to Sir Walter Raleigh, notoriously "jealous (...) of the Greatness of Spain" (Sewell: 1719, II).
"The same Zeal", continues Sewell, "the same Love of Honour and Great Britain, breaths in your late 'Letter' to the Spanish Ambassador. We have seen Plots, Rebellions, and Gundamors too, in our Days" - the hint is to the aborted attempt to restore the Old Pretender with Spanish support in the spring of that year -; "but thank Heav'n we have a Monarch too Wise, and a Ministry too vigilant, to suffer them to succeed" (III).
Sewell's encomium is then transformed into an appeal in Major Richardson Pack's prologue to the tragedy, whose conclusion, conflating the military and the cultural agenda in one empathic plea, is reported also by Oldys "as containing a most notable admonition to succeeding times" (Oldys, 1829: 566):
Britain, by this Example Taught, Unite.
Wound not the Publick out of Private Spight.
To great Achievements just Rewards allow;
Nor tear the Lawrel from the Victor's Brow.
Exert your Vigour in the Nation's Cause;
But grudge no Rival his Deserv'd Applause.
Safely We may Defy MADRID and ROME,
If no Sly GUNDAMOR prevails at HOME.
(Sewell, 1719: "Prologue", 2).
The overt reference to 1719 Anglo-Spanish hostilities underlying the depiction of the jarring relationship between the two nations one century earlier, is hammered home once again in the final lines of the play, lamenting Raleigh's death:
Arms are no more; the Soldier's Friend is lost.
Be idle then, my Sword, till happy Time
Shall bid thy Country arm; then shine again,
Wave on the Deck, or glitter on the Plain,
Revenging Raleigh's Loss on guilty Spain (63).
Inflaming allusions to current feelings and events are likewise voiced throughout the text, most often in the form of Raleigh's celebrations of England's imperial mission. "My native Land, whom Heav'n design'd, / By her Plantation in the watry Deep, / To mix with every Nation of the Earth." (45) is one such address, shortly matched by the following scornful lines to Gondamor:
Nor launch'd we privately, with sordid Views:
The world beheld us, and approv'd our Deeds
As fair and equal in bright Honour's Eye,
And squaring with the common Rights of Men.
When thy proud Master humbl'd all his Sails,
Implor'd the Water, Tempests, and the Rocks,
To hide his Shame, and save him from the Hand
Of Britons fighting in their Country's Cause (46).
England's greatness is also celebrated by Howard, who refers to it as the "Queen of Isles" (26)18, "To which all Nations of the World pay Homage" (35)19.
Yet, the tragedy mainly hinges on negative propaganda, as its most pervasive opinion-rousing device consists of the sustained and hyperbolic slanting of Gondamor as a fiendish and crooked mind. It is no coincidence that - whereas Raleigh's entrance is delayed until the beginning of Act II - the very first scene begins by a description of the Spanish Ambassador by Carew and Sir Julius Caesar. Dubbed with demoniac epithets, such as "cunning Minister of Hell" (2), characterizing villains in the purest Machiavelian tradition, Gondamor is also described by Howard as a "subtle Spaniard" who "feeds on Poison / And Death disguis'd sits grinning at my Table" (3)20, or introduced by Julius Caesar as a "busie Statesman" whose "Art/ Is working up some cursed Scene of Woe" (1).
More pointedly, his statesmanship is compared to effeminate behaviour, an enervating disease liable to infect all the British Court - newly bent, under a weak King, on unnatural political practices - unless it is curbed by faithful subjects. Such is the description of Gondamor and Salisbury parting at the end of the first scene:
(CAR.) - He whispers Salisbury; see, they squeeze,
And sign some bloody Bargain with that Kiss. -
(HOW.) - Blue Pestilence and Poison blast their Lips!
O! How I hate this Tribe of kissing Courtiers.
There is some Flavour in a Woman's Breath;
And Nature bids us meet it with a Gust.
But these new Kissers, with their Spanish Air,
Make Perjury conclude where Lust begins (7).
Homosexual overtones likewise distinguish all the meetings between the two courtiers, as in Act III, scene 2, when Gondamor cries out
Now thou art honest Salisbury again,
And I could hug thee to this ancient Bosom,
Give me then your Hand. (Puts a Ring on his Finger).
This to be Token of our plighted Loves,
The Seal of Raleigh's Fate (30),
and again in Act IV, scene I ("You seem disturb'd, my Lord, now when our Joys / Should rise at highest, like encount'ring Tides, / Meeting each other with a strong Embrace") (39)21.
In the light of all this, it is not surprizing that The Tragedy of Sir Walter Raleigh, with its stirring mix of imperial euphoria and anti-Iberian cant, unhappy romantic love and lascivious intimations of disapproved behaviour should draw, in Oldys's words, "a noble and numerous audience" in the surge of warlike spirit of 1719. On close scrutiny, the play turns out to be a lavish compound of nationalist pride and drives, whose predictable dynamics just happen to take the shape of Raleigh's life, held up as a suitable emblem.
Neither is it surprising that - notwithstanding its success - it should go unmentioned in the Historical Account of the Voyages and Adventures of Sir Walter Raleigh, an anonymous pamphlet by Defoe22 - notoriously averse to the theatre - issued later in 1719, possibly in January 1720.
A worse fate befell Theobald, whose Memoirs are referred to in the very first paragraph as
so superficial, so empty, so imperfect, that they did but little more than revive the Memory of the Man, and put People in Mind that such a Person had been in the World, without giving so much as a Historical Insight into the glorious Actions of one of the most illustrious Commoners that England, or perhaps the whole World ever bred (Defoe, 1719: 3-4).
From a formal viewpoint, the Account - whose title-page ushers in Raleigh's life as a tale of epic deeds and conquests, ending up by an appeal to the South Sea Company to resume his example23 - concocts such an intriguing mix of biography and propaganda that it may rightly be considered relevant to the development of both modes.
By criticizing Theobald, the text - which stands out for its attempt at methodological exactness - simultaneously discusses and condemns the way historical writing is currently structured, just as its tone of relentless anti-Iberian propaganda is somewhat offset by its strong utopian drive: this is especially apparent in the last pages, where past facts and visions of the future overlap as the biographer identifies with his hero24. As the Account unfolds, it becomes increasingly evident that the biographical approach is but a function of a wider plot: it is, in fact, a kind of tentative subplot, precariously poised between epos and tragedy, by which means the author stakes his hopes to see his projects carried out on his own rhetorical skilfulness and persuasiveness.
To signify that the work is no mere biography, Defoe chooses to discard titles such as "memoirs", "life" or "true history", which he ranks as distinctly inferior to "compleat history", as pointed out by Novak (1964: 650-68)25. More neutrally, he calls his text an "account" (according to the OED "a particular statement or narrative of an event or thing; a relation, report or description"), thus allowing for greater topical and structural flexibility, even as the adjective "historical" sets uncertain claims for consistency and discoursive coherence.
Other title-page devices - such as the recurrence of the term "account", the emphasis on the factual features of deeds and narrative alike ("particular", "the Reality of the Thing itself"), the crowding up of nouns signifying actions ("Voyages", "Adventures", "Discoveries", "Conquests", "Attempts", "Miscarriage") - all contribute to inscribing the text within the field of historical writing, just as they simultaneously alert the reader to the underlying view that a man's life is ultimately self-contained in his actions.
Moreover, "Scheme" and "Design" - the only terms, referring to Sir Walter's aborted conquest of Guiana, pertaining to the subjective sphere - are made to sound more factual as the final address to the South Sea Company conjures up the dream they might be on the verge of coming true, and an "Immense Wealth and Encrease of Commerce might be rais'd from hence" (ibid.).
Against such contrast between rumour and evidence, between inferring and knowing, without ever mentioning his rival's name Defoe plays out his methodological assault on Theobald, provocatively denouncing his work as a "Peice of Dramatick Drollery" (5) cunningly tailored out of Jacobean courtiers' gossips.
Against Theobald's alleged shallowness, he sets his own higher standards of historicity, while describing the Account as but a link in a chain of ever perfectible investigation which will eventually lead to a "compleat" biography of Sir Walter Raleigh, and help erect "a Monument more durable than a Statue of Wast-paper" (ibid.) for a man "whose Actions, for want of faithful Historians are already almost turn'd into Romance" (ibid.), and compared to those of "some giant, that did Wonders" (ibid.).
What he especially blames on Theobald is his lack of ideological motivation, his unguarded reliance on commonplace accounts, tailored according to merely aesthetic concerns. Indeed, Defoe purposefully rejects the myth of the historian's presumed impartiality, to which he opposes his own utilitarian view of history as a form of civic and religious commitment, a providential magistra vitae whose very aim is to propagate ideology and foster political action.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his use of quotations. Unlike Theobald - who, referring but vaguely to his sources, mainly reports glamorous or pathetic passages, thus touching on the reader's subjectivity and eliciting an emotional response -, Defoe resorts to a variety of neatly detailed printed texts - ranging from travel accounts to private letters and State papers -, all of them exclusively concerning the core topic of Raleigh's voyages and discoveries.
Rejecting Theobald's elitarian view of knowledge as a scholarly prerogative, he asserts his protestant and journalistic belief in the free circulation of news and ideas which can be easily apprehended through the written page and whose truthfulness can be directly assessed by their recipients in the light of the reported evidence. As a biographer, that is, he chooses at times to renounce his omniscient perspective and to address his readers as if he were on a level with them.
This preferential angle - meant to pave the way to the final appeal to the South Sea Company, democratically addressed as "a Society of Men qualified to engage in such an Undertaking, (...) which would be too much for any other Body of Merchants in the World" (41) - is apparent from the very first paragraph of the Account. There - in sharp contrast with Shirley and Theobald (and later with Oldys),26 who took pains to refute this assertion as an insulting gossip - Raleigh is introduced as "one of the most illustrious Commoners that England, or perhaps the whole World ever bred" (4); and, later on, he is again extolled as one "who even in his private Capacity, made larger Conquests and Additions to the British Empire than all the Kings of this Island since the Conquest" (5).
This propagandistic opening, which unequivocally sets the tone of the whole work, is followed by a few pages devoted to Raleigh's education and training. Written in a conventional biographical mode, they are worth noticing for their strong resemblance with Defoe's first soundings of the genre in unorthodox contemporary biographies27, such as The Memoirs of Major Alexander Ramkins (1719) and The Memoirs of A Cavalier (1720)28.
Raleigh's unprecedented achievements are not related mythically: rather, they appear as painstakingly founded on the dissenting educational pattern Defoe never ceases to uphold. Combining theoretical and empyrical knowledge to refine the original "Extensiveness of his Parts" (8) and sharpening his civic virtues through the practice of warfare and statesmanship alike, Raleigh is portrayed - like the "compleat English gentleman" and Colonel Jack - as feeding on the travel accounts and histories "that took up his early Reading, and that on all Occasions were the Subject of his ordinary Discourses while he was but a young Man" (9). Far from fostering but youthful daydreaming - and duly checked by means of thorough questioning of expert "Sailors or Pilots and Ship-masters" (10) -, such readings are depicted - thus paralleling the function of Defoe's Account - as channeling Raleigh's desire into well-pondered adventure: "having in his working Head digested these Things, and brought his Thought to such Consistency, as to Depend upon the Certainty of it, he resolv'd upon the Discovery" (11).
Skimming over the well-known facts of Raleigh's life unrelated to discovery and expansion (even to the point of neglecting The History of the World, while lavishly quoting The Discovery of Guiana), the Account determinedly narrows down its focus to lay out a very selective picture of Sir Walter, drawing more on the schematism of epics than on the complexity of biography. Raleigh's actions and drives are increasingly described as functional to his imperialistic quest, in which ideas of nationhood and courtly love conflate, through the cult of Queen Elizabeth, to prompt deeds to be pursued "for the Glory of his Queen, and the Advantage of his Country" (12).
Unlike Theobald and Sewell, by offsetting the role of Gondomar as Raleigh's arch-enemy Defoe chooses to portray the Elizabethan as defying Spain almost single-handed. Yet - subject, in Frye's words, "both to social criticism and the order of nature" (Frye's, 1973: 34)29 -, having been denied cultural communion and ideological support under a new, much weaker King, the epic hero Raleigh impersonates is bound to give in, at last, to the cunning and baseness of the antagonizing nation.
His death, however, by no means implies giving up the pursuit of his quest, which Defoe invites his own readers - and, hopefully, the South Sea Company - to resume, by reporting Raleigh's impassioned words from the Prologue to The Discovery of Guiana. They signify, meanwhile, Defoe's self-identification with Sir Walter, his deeply interiorized drive to advertize his own dreams (the establishing of twin British colonies in Patagonia and Chile, with their unprecedented train of maritime exchanges)30 by staging out the deeds of a hero unsuccessful "merely because Unfortunate" (Defoe, 1719: 36).
Just as Sir Walter ends by praying God, who is "King of all Kings, and Lord of all Lords (...) to put it into her Heart, who is Lady of Ladies" (54) to possess Guiana; and adds "if not, I will judge those men worthy to be King thereof, and by her Grace and Leave, will undertake it for themselves" (ibid.); so, against the political background of a still shaky Hannoverian monarchy and a government saddled with a staggering public debt, Defoe's merchants and investors - come together as an "Encorporated Society" (42)31 - are held up in the final appeal as a forceful emblem of nationhood, perfectly suited to an increasingly powerful trading and imperial culture.
Pursuing his own fertile view of history writing, Defoe too ends by urging the Company to act and offering to contribute, in case, plans and charts of his own making. But, "If the Company decline it", he goes on, thus again echoing Raleigh,
'tis then humbly proposed that they will give Leave to a Society of Merchants to undertake it, under the Company's License, and on such Conditions, as may be thought reasonable, of which more shall be said when such a Proposal shall be entertained by the Company (55, my italics).
By resorting to the future tense, in his last words he strikes a note consistent with the initial sequence "perfect", "more perfect", "abler", "to bring the Attempt to Perfection", "compleat" (3), thus handing down his faith in men's relentless effort at comprehending the past in order to affect the future.
Perhaps he was right, as Oldys's text once again proves. The Account, referred to at least a dozen times as "history"32, is the one tract that sets the tone for the imperialist strain in the later biography, as its final words - extensively quoted to signify Oldys's wholehearted appropriation of Defoe's discourse - are borrowed to convey stirring intimations of Britain's imperial future:
Another modern author, in his address to the South Sea Company, observing this Attempt of Sir Walter to have been the greatest enterprise that ever was undertaken by any private person; how much it would be to the glory of the said company to bring it to perfection; how much it was to the infamy of that age in which this great man suffered, that such an enterprise was not only discouraged, but even betrayed to the Spaniard, and this gallant gentleman exposed to ruin; also how just a reproach to this nation ever since, that such a part of the world, so timely and so effectively discovered to us, has not been made our own, and all those nations, who would submit to us, and be assistant to the great work, be taken into protection, confederated and made use of in subjecting that inexhaustible treasure to be found there, to the crown of Great Britain (Oldys, 1829: I, 546-47).