§ 1

Daniel Defoe

I WAS born, as my friends told me, at the city of Poitiers, in the province or county of Poitou in France, from whence I was brought to England by my parents, who fled for their religion about the year 1683, when the Protestants were banished from France by the cruelty of their persecutors.

I, who knew little or nothing of what I was brought over hither for, was well enough pleased with being here. London, a large and gay city, took with me mighty well, who from my being a child loved a crowd and to see a great many fine folks.

I retained nothing of France but the language. My father and mother, being people of better fashion than ordinarily the people called refugees at that time were, and having fled early while it was easy to secure their effects, had, before their coming over, remitted considerable sums of money, or, as I remember, a considerable value in French brandy, paper, and other goods; and these selling very much to advantage here, my father was in very good circumstances at his coming over, so that he was far from applying to the rest of our nation that were here for countenance and relief. On the contrary, he had his door continually thronged with miserable objects of the poor starving creatures, who at that time fled hither for shelter on account of conscience or something else.

I have indeed heard my father say that he was pestered with a great many of those who for any religion they had might e’en have stayed where they were, but who flocked over hither in droves for what they call in English a livelihood; hearing with what open arms the refugees were received in England, and how they fell readily into business, being by the charitable assistance of the people in London encouraged to work in their manufactures, in Spitalfields, Canterbury, and other places, and that they had a much better price for their work than in France and the like.

My father, I say, told me that he was more pestered with the clamours of these people than of those who were truly refugees and fled in distress merely for conscience.

I was about ten years old when I was brought over hither, where, as I have said, my father lived in very good circumstances and died in about eleven years more; in which time, as I had accomplished myself for the sociable part of the world, so I had acquainted myself with some of our English neighbours, as is the custom in London; and as, while I was young, I had picked up three or four play-fellows and companions suitable to my years, so as we grew bigger we learnt to call one another intimates and friends, and this forwarded very much the finishing me for conversation and the world.

I went to English schools, and, being young, I learnt the English tongue perfectly well, with all the customs of the English young women; so that I retained nothing of the French but the speech, nor did I so much as keep any remains of the French language tagged to my way of speaking, as most foreigners do, but spoke what we call natural English, as if I had been born here.

Being to give my own character, I must be excused to give it as impartially as possible, and as if I was speaking of another body; and the sequel will leave you to judge whether I flatter myself or no.

I was (speaking of myself as about fourteen years of age) tall and very well made, sharp as a hawk in matters of common knowledge, quick and smart in discourse, apt to be satirical, full of repartee, and a little too forward in conversation; or, as we call it in English, bold, though perfectly modest in my behaviour. Being French born, I danced, as some say, naturally, loved it extremely, and sang well also; and so well, that, as you will hear, it was afterwards some advantage to me. With all these things, I wanted neither wit, beauty, nor money. In this manner I set out into the world, having all the advantages that any young woman could desire to recommend me to others and form a prospect of happy living to myself.

At about fifteen years of age my father gave me, as he called it in French, 25,000 livres, that is to say, two thousand pounds portion, and married me to an eminent brewer in the City. Pardon me if I conceal his name, for though he was the foundation of my ruin, I cannot take so severe a revenge upon him.

With this thing called a husband I lived eight years in good fashion, and for some part of the time kept a coach; that is to say, a kind of mock coach, for all the week the horses were kept at work in the dray carts, but on Sunday I had the privilege to go abroad in my chariot, either to church or otherwise, as my husband and I could agree about it; which, by the way, was not very often. But of that hereafter.

Before I proceed in the history of the married part of my life, you must allow me to give as impartial an account of my husband as I have done of myself. He was a jolly, handsome fellow as any woman need wish for a companion, tall and well made, rather a little too large, but not so as to be ungenteel; he danced well, which I think was the first thing that brought us together. He had an old father who managed the business carefully, so that he had little of that part laid on him but now and then to appear and show himself; and he took the advantage of it, for he troubled himself very little about it, but went abroad, kept company, hunted much, and loved it exceedingly.

After I have told you that he was a handsome man and a good sportsman, I have indeed said all; and unhappy was I—like other young people of our sex, I chose him for being a handsome, jolly fellow, as I have said—for he was otherwise a weak, empty-headed, untaught creature as any woman could ever desire to be coupled with. And here I must take the liberty, whatever I have to reproach myself with in my after conduct, to turn to my fellow creatures, the young ladies of this country, and speak to them by way of precaution. If you have any regard to your future happiness, any view of living comfortably with a husband, any hope of preserving your fortunes or restoring them after any disaster, never, ladies, marry a fool. Any husband rather than a fool. With some other husbands you may be unhappy, but with a fool you will be miserable; with another husband you may, I say, be unhappy, but with a fool you must; nay, if he would, he cannot make you easy, everything he does is so awkward, everything he says is so empty, a woman of any sense cannot but be surfeited and sick of him twenty times a day. What is more shocking than for a woman to bring a handsome, comely fellow of a husband into company and then be obliged to blush for him every time she hears him speak; to hear other gentlemen talk sense and he able to say nothing, and so look like a fool; or, which is worse, hear him talk nonsense and be laughed at for a fool?

In the next place, there are so many sorts of fools, such an infinite variety of fools, and so hard it is to know the worst of the kind, that I am obliged to say, no fool, ladies, at all, no kind of fool; whether a mad fool or a sober fool, a wise fool or a silly fool, take anything but a fool; nay, be anything, be even an old maid, the worst of nature’s curses, rather than take up with a fool.

But to leave this awhile, for I shall have occasion to speak of it again, my case was particularly hard, for I had a variety of foolish things complicated in this unhappy match.

First, and which I must confess is very unsufferable, he was a conceited fool, tout opiniâtre; everything he said was right, was best, and was to the purpose, whoever was in company and whatever was advanced by others, though with the greatest modesty imaginable. And yet when he came to defend what he had said by argument and reason, he would do it so weakly, so emptily, and so nothing to the purpose, that it was enough to make anybody that heard him sick and ashamed of him.

Secondly, he was positive and obstinate, and the most positive in the most simple and inconsistent things such as were intolerable to bear.

These two articles, if there had been no more, qualified him to be a most unbearable creature for a husband, and so it may be supposed at first sight what kind of life I led with him. However, I did as well as I could and held my tongue, which was the only victory I gained over him; for when he would talk after his own empty rattling way with me, and I would not answer or enter into discourse with him on the point he was upon, he would rise up in the greatest passion imaginable and go away, which was the cheapest way I had to be delivered.

I could enlarge here much upon the method I took to make my life passable and easy with the most incorrigible temper in the world, but it is too long and the articles too trifling. I shall mention some of them as the circumstances I am to relate shall necessarily bring them in.

After I had been married about four years my own father died, my mother having been dead before. He liked my match so ill, and saw so little room to be satisfied with the conduct of my husband, that though he left me 5,000 livres and more at his death, yet he left it in the hands of my elder brother, who, running on too rashly in his adventures as a merchant, failed, and lost not only what he had but what he had for me too, as you shall hear presently.

Thus I lost the last gift of my father’s bounty by having a husband not fit to be trusted with it; there’s one of the benefits of marrying a fool!

Within two years after my own father’s death my husband’s father also died, and, as I thought, left him a considerable addition to his estate; the whole trade of the brewhouse, which was a very good one, being now his own.

But this addition to his stock was his ruin, for he had no genius to business. He had no knowledge of his accounts; he bustled a little about it indeed at first, and put on a face of business, but he soon grew slack. It was below him to inspect his books, he committed all that to his clerks and book-keepers, and while he found money in cash to pay the maltman and the excise, and put some in his pocket, he was perfectly easy and indolent, let the main chance go how it would.

I foresaw the consequences of this, and attempted several times to persuade him to apply himself to his business. I put him in mind how his customers complained of the neglect of his servants on one hand, and how abundance broke in his debt, on the other hand, for want of the clerk’s care to secure him, and the like; but he thrust me by, either with hard words or fraudulently with representing the cases otherwise than they were.

However, to cut short a dull story which ought not to be long, he began to find his trade sunk, his stock declined, and that, in short, he could not carry on his business; and once or twice his brewing utensils were extended for the excise, and the last time he was put to great extremities to clear them.

This alarmed him, and he resolved to lay down his trade, which indeed I was not sorry for; foreseeing that if he did not lay it down in time, he would be forced to do it another way, namely, as a bankrupt. Also, I was willing he should draw out while he had something left, lest I should come to be stripped at home and be turned out of doors with my children, for I had now five children by him: the only work (perhaps) that fools are good for.

I thought myself happy when he got another man to take his brewhouse clear off his hands; for, paying down a large sum of money, my husband found himself a clear man, all his debts paid, and with between two and three thousand pounds in his pocket. And being now obliged to remove from the brewhouse, we took a house at ——, a village about two miles out of town; and happy I thought myself, all things considered, that I was got off clear upon so good terms, and had my handsome fellow had but one capful of wit, I had been still well enough.

I proposed to him either to buy some place with the money or with part of it, and offered to join my part to it, which was then in being and might have been secured; so we might have lived tolerably, at least, during his life. But as it is the part of a fool to be void of counsel, so he neglected it, lived on as he did before, kept his horses and men, rode every day out to the forest a-hunting, and nothing was done all this while. But the money decreased apace, and I thought I saw my ruin hastening on without any possible way to prevent it.

I was not wanting with all that persuasions and entreaties could perform, but it was all fruitless; representing to him how fast our money wasted, and what would be our condition when it was gone, made no impression on him; but like one stupid he went on, not valuing all that tears and lamentations could be supposed to do, nor did he abate his figure or equipage, his horses or servants, even to the last, till he had not a hundred pounds left in the whole world.

It was not above three years that all the ready money was thus spending off; yet he spent it, as I may say, foolishly too, for he kept no valuable company neither, but generally with huntsmen and horse-coursers, and men meaner than himself, which is another consequence of a man’s being a fool. Such can never take delight in men more wise and capable than themselves; and that makes them converse with scoundrels, drink belch with porters, and keep company always below themselves.

This was my wretched condition, when one morning my husband told me he was sensible he was come to a miserable condition and he would go and seek his fortune somewhere or other. He had said something to that purpose several times before that, upon my pressing him to consider his circumstances and the circumstances of his family before it should be too late. But as I found he had no meaning in anything of that kind, as indeed he had not much in anything he ever said, so I thought they were but words of course now. When he said he would be gone, I used to wish secretly, and even say in my thoughts, “I wish you would, for if you go on thus you will starve us all.”

He stayed, however, at home all that day, and lay at home that night. Early the next morning he gets out of bed, goes to a window which looked out towards the stables, and sounds his French horn, as he called it, which was his usual signal to call his men to go out a-hunting.

It was about the latter end of August, and so was light yet at five o’clock, and it was about that time that I heard him and his two men go out and shut the yard gates after them. He said nothing to me more than as usual when he used to go out upon his sport; neither did I rise or say anything to him that was material, but went to sleep again after he was gone for two hours or thereabouts.

It must be a little surprising to the reader to tell him at once that after this I never saw my husband more; but to go further, I not only never saw him more, but I never heard from him or of him, neither of any or either of his two servants or of the horses, either what became of them, where or which way they went, or what they did or intended to do, no more than if the ground had opened and swallowed them all up, and nobody had known it, except as hereafter.

I was not for the first night or two at all surprised, no, nor very much the first week or two, believing that if anything evil had befallen them I should soon enough have heard of that, and also knowing that as he had two servants and three horses with him, it would be the strangest thing in the world that anything could befall them all, but that I must some time or other hear of them.

But you will easily allow that as time ran on a week, two weeks, a month, two months, and so on, I was dreadfully frighted at last, and the more when I looked into my own circumstances and considered the condition in which I was left; with five children and not one farthing subsistence for them, other than about seventy pounds in money and what few things of value I had about me, which, though considerable in themselves, were yet nothing to feed a family, and for a length of time too.

What to do I knew not, nor to whom to have recourse; to keep in the house where I was I could not, the rent being too great, and to leave it without his order, if my husband should return, I could not think of that neither; so that I continued extremely perplexed, melancholy, and discouraged to the last degree.

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