The Life Adventures & Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton

The Life Adventures & Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton

by Daniel Defoe
     
 

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PREFACE

That all Defoe's novels, with the exception of "Robinson Crusoe," should
have been covered with the dust of neglect for many generations, is a plain
proof of how much fashions in taste affect the popularity of the British
classics. It is true that three generations or so ago, Defoe's works were
edited by both Sir Walter Scott and…  See more details below

Overview

PREFACE

That all Defoe's novels, with the exception of "Robinson Crusoe," should
have been covered with the dust of neglect for many generations, is a plain
proof of how much fashions in taste affect the popularity of the British
classics. It is true that three generations or so ago, Defoe's works were
edited by both Sir Walter Scott and Hazlitt, and that this masterly piece
of realism, "Captain Singleton," was reprinted a few years back in "The
Camelot Classics," but it is safe to say that out of every thousand readers
of "Robinson Crusoe" only one or two will have even heard of the "Memoirs
of a Cavalier," "Colonel Jack," "Moll Flanders," or "Captain Singleton." It
is indeed distressing to think that while many scores of thousands of
copies of Lord Lytton's flashy romance, "Paul Clifford," have been devoured
by the public, "Captain Singleton" has remained unread and almost
forgotten. But the explanation is simple. Defoe's plain and homely realism
soon grew to be thought vulgar by people who themselves aspired to be
refined and genteel. The rapid spread of popular education, in the middle
of last century, was responsible for a great many aberrations of taste, and
the works of the two most English of Englishmen, Defoe and Hogarth, were
judged to be hardly fitting for polite society, as we may see from Lamb's
Essay on Hogarth, and from an early edition of Chambers's "Cyclopaedia of
English Literature" (1843), where we are told: "Nor is it needful to show
how elegant and reflective literature, especially, tends to moralise, to
soften, and to adorn the soul and life of man." "Unfortunately the taste or
_circumstances of Defoe led him mostly into low life_, and his characters
are such _as we cannot sympathise with_. The whole arcana of roguery
and villany seems to have been open to him.... It might be thought that the
good taste which led Defoe to write in a style of such pure and
unpretending English, instead of the inflated manner of vulgar writers,
_would have dictated a more careful selection of his subjects_, and
kept him from wandering so frequently into the low and disgusting purlieus
of vice. But this moral and tasteful discrimination seems to have been
wholly wanting," &c. The 'forties were the days when critics still talked
learnedly of the "noble style," &c., "the vulgar," of "sinking" or "rising"
with "the subject," the days when Books of Beauty were in fashion, and
Rembrandt's choice of beggars, wrinkled faces and grey hairs, for his
favourite subjects seemed a low and reprehensible taste in "high art."
Though critics to-day still ingenuously confound an artist's subject with
his treatment of it, and prefer scenes of life to be idealised rather than
realised by writers, we have advanced a little since the days of the poet
Montgomery, and it would be difficult now to find anybody writing so
confidently--"Unfortunately the taste or circumstances of Defoe led him
mostly into low life," however much the critic might believe it. But let us
glance at a few passages in "Captain Singleton," which may show us why
Defoe excels as a realist, and why his descriptions of "low life" are
artistically as perfect as any descriptions of "higher life" in the works
of the English novelists. Take the following description of kidnapping:--

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
2940013649651
Publisher:
SAP
Publication date:
08/04/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
255 KB

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