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The Life, Adventures & Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton


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 un-
read 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 popu-
lar 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 Eng-
lishmen, 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 literat-
ure, 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 himÉ.
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 man-
ner of vulgar writers, would have dictated a more careful selection of his sub-
jects, and kept him from wandering so frequently into the low and dis-
gusting 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 fash-
ion, 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
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