Lidia De Michelis
 
"LIVES", "MEMOIRS" AND "TRUE ACCOUNTS": BIOGRAPHY AS PROPAGANDA IN SOME EARLY EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PAMPHLETS1
 


 
1 An abridged version of this paper was presented at the Xth International Conference on the Enlightenment (Dublin, July 25-31, 1999).
2 On seventeenth-century biography, see: Hunter (1990), Mayer (1997), Nadel (1984), Parry (1995) and Wendorf (1990).
3 It is perhaps worth noticing that in the years 1669-1670 Sir John Narborough had gone on his famous voyage round the world marking the outset of a new season of British expansionism.
4 See: Kroll (1991), Levine (1991), Marsden (1995), Seary (1990).
5 See: Brewer (1995), Brewer (1997), Colley (1992), Damrosch (1992), Gerrard (1994), Paulson (1989), Weinbrot (1993) and Womersley (1997).
6 On the making of Raleigh's poetical corpus, see also Bajetta (1998), to whom I am obliged for helpful, stimulating advice on some controversial topics.
7 Indeed, Theobald often plagiarizes whole passages of Shirley's text, while several sentences incorporate words and logical connections from the earlier biography with only slight syntactical changes. Quite interestingly, Theobald leaves out all the sections in which Shirley voices his concern for British commercial and territorial expansion.
8 After promising the reader "a prospect instructive, entertaining and full of variety", thus echoing Theobald's incipit in the Memoirs, Oldys reports it verbatim, prefixing the following sentence: "nevertheless his [Raleigh's] single life may perhaps be found more fruitful of memorable incidents, than many histories of entire ages: in so much as I may be apprehensive, with a late collector of his memoirs, 'that the describing a person of so diffusive a praise (...) objects'" (Oldys, 1829: I, 4). The full text of the quotation is reported here on page 11.
9 "There is an old dramatic performance, (lately imparted to me by Mr Theobald,) entitled, The History of Promos and Cassandra, written by George Whetstone, gent. who, in his dedication thereof to W. Fleetewood, esq. recorder of London, expresses himself 'resolved to accompany that excellent captain, sir Humphrey Gilbert, in his honourable voyage': and concludes 'with prayers that God would preserve him in it, 29 July 1578" (Oldys, 1829: I, 29).
10 Referring to Raleigh's first trial, Oldys says: "It is too common, and too tedious, to be thought needful of transcribing here at length; not to say so full of barbarous partiality and foul language, especially by Coke himself, that he was exposed for it upon the public theatre". A footnote follows: "f) See Mr. Theobald's Shakespeare, 8vo, 1733. Vol. 2 in the comedy called, The Twelfth-Night; act 3. p. 503" (ibid.). Peter Seary (1990: 179) quotes a letter addressed by Theobald to Warburton a few months after publication of The Dunciad Variorum, also referring to Twelfth Night (III. ii. 44-6: "Taunt him with the licence of ink; if thou thou'st him some Thrice, it shall not be amiss"). "The words quoted", Theobald writes, "seem to me directly levelled at the Attorney General Coke, who, in the trial of Sir Walter, attacked him with all the following indecent expressions: 'All that Hell was by your instigation, thou Viper: for I thou thee, thou Traytor.' (Here, by the bye, are the poet's three thou's)" (Nichols, 1817: II, 271). Seary (180-85) also analyses a few more references to Sir Walter Raleigh in Theobald's Works of Shakespeare, most notably the one concerning The Merry Wives of Windsor (I. iii. 69 "she is a region in Guiana") and Othello (I. iii. 144-45 "men whose heads/ do grow beneath their shoulders""). "The mention of Guiana, then so lately discover'd to the English", Theobald says referring to the first, "was a very happy compliment to Sir W. Raleigh, who did not begin his expedition to South America till 1595, and return'd from it in 1596, with an advantageous Account of the great Wealth of Guiana. Such an address of the Poet was likely, I imagine, to have a proper Impression on the People, when the Intelligence of such a golden Country was fresh in their Minds, and gave them Expectations of immense Gain" (Theobald, 1733: I, 235). As to Othello, beside quoting Raleigh's Discoverie of Guiana, Theobald adds that "if we consider the Reputation (...) any thing from such a Person, and at that time in such Posts, must come into the World with, we shall be of Opinion that a Passage in Shakespeare need not be degraded for the Mention of a Story, which, however strange, was countenanc'd with such an Authority. Shakespeare, on the other hand, has shewn a fine Address to Sir Walter, in sacrificing so much Credulity to such a Relation" (Theobald, 1733: VII, 392-93).
11 This is the beginning of an original one-page digression, including textual evidence from the Premonition to Princes and from the History of the World, in which Theobald momentarily abandons Shirley's track.
12 "We must therefore despair", Shirley continues, "of a just and exact Account of him, unless we could by some Magick power (as the Author of a Pamphlet has done, to terrify and make Gondamore speak the truth) raise him from the dead, and converse a while with his Ghost. I shall however with what imperfect Clue our Histories have bequeath'd, trace him through the various Labyrinths of Fortune, and take a Prospect of him in the several Scenes of Court and Camp, Peace and War, till I have followed him to the Scaffold, the Place of his much lamented and unhappy End; keeping as near as I can a medium between those who in their Annals drive on with an implicit Faith; and those who, to get the reputation of Observers and Men of Reach, steal into the Recesses of Princes, and disrobe Majesty it self to find some Deformities, which love to their Prince, and interest of State should cover; the best veil for all deformed Actions" (Shirley, 1677: 7).
13 The whole passage reads thus: "Many guides may appear indeed to lead us through this wilderness; but, numerous as the authors are who mention him, they contain but fragments of his story; divers whereof, hitherto widely dispersed, have escaped, not only our general historians, but the many compilers of distinct pieces on his actions. Even the moderns, who have treated of him with impartiality, have yet been deficient in point of industry, so as to prove no less injurious to his merits, than some who in his own age conspired to depreciate them. Hence the generality having been so superficial and indigested; having neither regarded due choice and order of matter, proportion in the parts, or connection of the whole; nor yet discharged themselves by such references to proper vouchers, as might satisfy those readers it is my ambition to please; I have esteemed the number of such writers no discouragement to the revival of his story" (Oldys, 1829: I, 4-5).
14 "Is this the Man of whom a few Fragments skimm'd from the Froth of common Fame, and from the imperfect Account given in prejudiced Times, shall pass for Memoirs? A man whose Actions, for Want of faithful Historians are already almost turn'd into Romance; his Travels, his Discoveries, his Voyages, his Conquests, really so far exceed the common Rate of Men, that Posterity begin to think them fabulous, and that it was really impossible any such Man could have been in the World, or that he was some Giant that did Wonders (...)" (Defoe, 1719: 5-6).
15 "But that which of late years did much revive the public regard to this history, was the ingenious Dr. George Sewell's Tragedy of Sir Walter Ralegh, published 8vo 1719, and the much admired character he has therein given of it" (Oldys, 1829: I, 451-52). Oldys refers to Sewell in two more passages. The first reference is on pp. 168-69, where the text runs: "But these prejudiced representations will probably be thought of so little authority, that the reasons and matter of fact which have been produced in a poetical performance, may be sufficient to make those stains even befriend his reputation, and brighten it in clearing them away". A footnote (ibid.) follows: "The late Dr. George Sewell, in his tragedy of Sir Walter Ralegh, 8vo. 1719, act I. scene I. makes the following reflection on the attorney general's starting from the question in debate at Raleigh's trial, to upbraid him with this imputation of atheism." (lines quoted). The second one, in a footnote on p. 566, preceeds a quotation from the Prologue: "Among the later poems which have been written upon him, (...) I shall here recite only the conclusion of major Richardson Pack's Prologue to Dr. Sewell's Tragedy of Sir Walter Ralegh, as containing a most notable admonition to succeeding times (...)".
urt Salisbury's daughter, Olympia, who is in love with him, in order to get her to plead for Sir Walter's life. Carew's self-esteem is safe when he falls for the matchless Olympia and is no longer obliged to feign. Unfortunately, on failing to get a pardon for Sir Walter, Olympia commits suicide in front of her lover.
17 Connections between classical virtue and English heroism can be found in several passages of the play, starting right from the opening lines of the "Prologue": "Struck with each Ancient Greek or Roman Name, / Blindly We Pay Devotion to their Fame. / Their Boasted Chiefs in Partial Lights are shown: / Neglect, or Envy, still Attends our Own. (...) An English Martyr shall Ascend the Stage, / To Shame the Last, and Warn the Present Age" ("Prologue", 1). At the end of Act II, i, Raleigh thus relates the battle of Agincourt to the battle of Marathon: "Better to converse whole Ages with the Dead,/ Pore on a broken Marble, to retrieve/ A single Letter of a brave Man's name,/ Who dy'd at Marathon, or Agencourt;/ Than spend one Moment with Deceit and Vice" (19). At the very end of the play, again, answering Howard, who has just remembered how Raleigh had saved him from the savages of Guiana, the hero says: "I did; and sav'd an English-Man, a Friend:/ A juster Glory than a Roman Triumph" (62). Raleigh's Roman virtue is also emphasized by Theobald, who, at the very end of his work, resumes Shirley's final words almost verbatim, without mentioning his source: "His Death was manag'd with so high and religious a Resolution, as if a Roman had acted a Christian, or rather a Christian a Roman" (Theobald, 1719: 39).
18 Howard recites the following lines to Wade in the Tower: "But I will talk, thou idle Tool of State,/ Have we traced Nature to her utmost Line,/ And Join'd new Nations to the Queen of Isles,/ To be but thus caged, and bark'd at by a Dog?" (26).
19 Thus Howard tells Raleigh about Gondamor's offer of a naval command in exchange for treason: "But canst thou yet suppose/ England's Imperial Flag, the Naval Sign,/ To which all Nations of the World pay Homage,/ The proffer'd Price of Treach'ry to my Friend?" (35).
20 "Thus far I'm come,/ On Satan's Ground, and yet no Fiend appears/ To tempt me; sure all hell's asleep to-night;/ And yet I come at Gundamor's Request./ What can the subtle Spaniard want with me?/ I am no Courtier, no fawning Dog of State,/ To lick and kiss the Hand that buffets me:/ Nor can I smile upon my Guest, and praise/ His Stomach, when I know he feeds on Poison,/ And Death disguis'd sits grinning at my Table" (3).
21 On the "feminization" of Gondomar starting as early as the seventeenth century, see Beer (1997: 119 ff.). We find Gondomar still demonized in Oldys (1829: I, 514-15), who describes him so: "Therein he further appears with short, thin, black hair, of a tall meagre stature, with a longish visage, and a close austere aspect; which made his open and jocose humour so much more taking, that it is said, he could perfectly ravish the heart of our Caledonian Soloman, with the little jests, tales, and fables he would so readily apply upon all occasions" (514).
22 On the question of Defoe's authorship, see: De Michelis (1995: 101-103).
23 "AN/ HISTORICAL ACCOUNT/ OF THE/ Voyages and Adventures/ OF/ Sir Walter Raleigh.// With the DISCOVERIES and CONQUESTS He made for the Crown of England. Also a particular Account of his several Attempts for the Discovery of the Gold Mines in Guiana, and the Reason of the Miscarriage, shewing, that it was not from any Defect in the Scheme he had laid, or in the Reality of the Thing it self, but in a treacherous Discovery of his Design and of the Strength he had with him, to the Spaniards./ To which is added,/ An ACCOUNT how that rich Country might now be with Ease, Possess'd, Planted and Secur'd to the British Nation, and what Immense Wealth and Encrease of Commerce might be rais'd from thence./ Humbly Proposed to the SOUTH-SEA-COMPANY" (Defoe, 1719: title-page). The text of the Account has been recently edited in (De Michelis, 1978: 5-36). The introduction to De Michelis (1993) and the second chapter of De Michelis (1995) are likewise centred on Defoe's biography of Sir Walter Raleigh.
24 One might be tempted to compare Sir Walter, who dared "make the Attempt, tho' above 60 years of Age, a Time when rest, rather than hazardous Enterprizes seemed to be natural to his Years" (Defoe, 1719: 40), to Defoe himself, venturing at about the same age into the terra incognita of novel writing (De Michelis, 1995: 91).
25 "Defoe wrote many works which he called 'memoirs', and in his Memoirs of the Life and Eminent Conduct of Daniel Williams (1718), he distinguished between this genre and what was called a 'Compleat history'. A memoir was the study of a man in relation to his time, whereas the 'Compleat history' was what Defoe would have considered biography or autobiography (...) This distinction applies to Defoe's fictitious memoirs as well" (656).
26 "That he was well descended, was never yet questioned, but by my Lord of Oxon, who indeed was wont to call him the Jack, and Upstart. But these were words which only Envy and Emulation could extort, and every one very easily confute. Indeed that he was a Gentleman, because a Favourite, was no ill Argument amongst the Politicians of those Times, if we may believe a Secretary of State [Sir Robert Naunton], who has left this as a Maxim then, That the Queen through her whole Reign never was guilty of creation, never in her choice took into her Favour a mere New-man, or a Mechanick" (Shirley, 1667: 8-9). Thus Theobald (1719: 4): "Those who envied his Promotions, as it is not to be wonder'd, endeavour'd to rob him of his Gentility: but, to defend Him on that Quarter, it was a Statesman's Observation on Queen ELIZABETH, that She, through her whole Reign was never guilty of a hasty Creation, or took into her Favour a meer new Man, or a Mechanick". As to Oldys, paying full homage to the culture of his age, he devotes as many as five pages (6-10) to dig into multifarious antiquarian evidence of Raleigh's genteel ancestry, ending by adding to the then commonplace Naunton aphorism a quotation from The History of the World: "those only being truly noble, who by worthy acts have rendered themselves most notable" (Oldys: 10).
27 See De Michelis (1995: 78-80).
28 On The Memoirs of A Cavalier as Bildungsroman and on the contribution of this work to the development of the novel, see: Bignami (1997: 91-108), and Bignami (1998).
29 "If superior in degree to other men but not to his natural environment, the hero is a leader. He has authority, passions, and powers of expression far greater than ours, but what he does is subject both to social criticism and the order of nature. This is the hero of the high mimetic mode, of most epic and tragedy (...)" (Frye, 1973 (1957): 33-4).
30 See De Michelis (1995: 105-36).
 
31 "(...) and as I am directing my Speech to an Encorporated Society of Men powerful enough for such a Work, nay indeed more powerful, as they stand supported by the Interest and Favour of the King, than any Nation in the World then was; I must say it would be the glory of the Company to embark in such a Discovery" (Defoe; 1719: 42).
32 The Account is referred to explicitly on pp. 50-1, 65, 515, 532, 546-47, but its influence is easily detectable in most passages relating to colonization and foreign trade.
 
 

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