Charles Gildon

 

The critics of my age, most notably the artistic Swift and Pope who fancied me an untalented outsider, concerned themselves far more with the small inconsistencies of my work rather than my ability to succeed in the literary trade. In truth, I was just as interested in my self-reliance and business in politics and trade as I was publishing. Attacked by Pope in "what he called Grub Street and the Dunces that wrote for it;" I saw publishing as "an application of commercial principles to the manufacture of literary goods" (Watt). Note the comments I signed 'Anti-Pope,' Applebee's Journal in 1725:

 

"Writing, you know, Mr Applebee, is become a very considerable Branch of the English Commerce. ... The Booksellers are the Master Manufacturers or Employers. The several Writers, Authors, Copyers, Sub-writers, and all other Operators with pen and ink are the workmen employed by the said Master Manufacturers."

 

Clearly, writing was a business more than an art, and I paid the principle writers of the time no heed in their airs and remarks.

 

Notably, however, is the Mr. Charles Gildon, writer of such anonymous tracts as The Battle of the Authors, of which I was included. According to Nichol Smith (Charles Gildon and the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns Author(s)), Mr. Gildon is a representation of English criticism during his time. He reportedly preferred the Moderns over the Ancients, but perhaps he had other "motivations" when it came to his literary opinion of my works (Maxwell). 

My errors, specifically in Robinson Crusoe, composed of inconsistencies or overlapping dates. Many of these were violently ridiculed by Gildon in his bold pamphlet, The Life And Strange Surprizing Adventures of Mr. D DeF. Within this tract, Gildon,

 

"accuses Defoe of ignorance and lack of modesty, says he "without either Free-School or House-Learning, started from [his] Stocking- Shop," ridicules (with the fierceness of a man who writes very slowly and with little public acclaim) the multiplicity and wide sale of his books, specifically mentions The True-Born Englishman, Jure Divino, and Robinson Crusoe, accuses him of using bad Latin, and condemns him for nonsense and dullness" (Moore).

 

Harsh words indeed. However, the majority of true gaffes were raised later, leaving Gildon's attacks on Crusoe's life's contradictions "petty or absurd" (Hastings).

 

While Gildon's criticism brought attention to my faults and interest in trade publishing over romantic suffering, there is the useful defense of the critic's personal motivation. These assaults were repetitive, as the issue such as Crusoe's education history appeared in Gildon's "that Latin I learn'd in my Free-School and House Education," and other of his publications many times.

 

Jealousy? I was the author of the book of the hour. To quote my friends once again,

 

"Success so tremendous was unheard of… And Gildon, a bitterly disappointed man in dire financial need, saw in Robinson Crusoe only the resounding triumph of a writer who flouted all his critical theories" (Hastings).

 



Ian Watt

 

Ian Watt, Dean of the School of English Studies, at the University of East Anglia, is a more modern critic who deserves notice for his studies of my career. In 1960, he published the paper, "Defoe as Novelist," recounting my talents as well as my shortcomings and intentions. He loyally asserts my The True-Born Englishman to be "the most influential verse satire in English after Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel."

 

In full disclosure, he notes my weakness for poetry, yet maintains that my fiction is of merit despite being "the greatest concessions he made to the tastes of the reading public." In fact, Watt asserts that my most important work was in fiction due in part to my development of the narrative realism which "springs directly out of his long practice of journalism."

 

While other critics felt my narratives inconsistent or misleading, Watt accepts it was always my aim to lull readers into

believing they experienced truth. States Watt:

 

"If he did not know already that the illusion of authenticity was his forte, he could have learned it from one of his journalist rivals who wrote in 1718 of 'the little art he is truly master of, of forging a story, and imposing it on the world for truth.'"

 

Thus my gift, my "forte," according to this modern critic is my ability to concoct imaginative and entertaining stories. Beyond that is the belief that the realistic narrative can only be considered a novel when there is plot, unity, character, continuity, and theme. This I accomplished (according to Watt) with irony, sophistication, and "adventitious charm."

 

It is my naïveté, perhaps, in the novel structuring of my time that gives credit to my inventions. At the least, according to Watt,

 

"that so remarkable a writer and so amazing a man could as a novelist be genuinely innocent… is the main critical problem he seems to pose."




Hastings, William T. Errors and Inconsistencies in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Modern Language Notes. Vol. 27, No. 6 (Jun., 1912), pp. 161-166. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

Maxwell, J. C. Charles Gildon and the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns. The Review of English Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1950), pp. 55-57. Oxford University Press.

 

Moore, Robert John. Gildon's Attack on Steele and Defoe in the Battle of the Authors. PMLA, Vol. 66, No. 4 (Jun., 1951), pp. 534-538. Modern Language Association.

 

Watt, Ian. "Defoe As Novelist." School of English Studies. The University of East Anglia 1960. OurCivilization.com. Web. 30 March 2016.

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