Defoe's poetic reformation: from poem to novel, from pillory to penitentiary.
Months prior to his capture, Defoe considered pleading guilty as a means of lessening the severity of his sentence, apparently based upon false promises made to him by members of the Ministry, and so, at his trial, Defoe unwisely followed this course, pleading guilty to writing, composing, and causing The Shortest Way to be published, though he steadfastly disclaimed the document's seditious nature, on the basis that the pamphlet was ironic. (3) However, despite expectations of leniency, Defoe was informed that "no such Promises" had been made. (4) He was found guilty, and received a sentence of undue severity: "to stand in the pillory three times, to pay a fine of 200 marks (about 134 [pounds sterling]) and to remain in Newgate until he could 'find good sureties to be of good behaviour for the space of seven years from thence'...." (5) As Defoe later wrote about himself, "Thus they laid him under a heavy Sentence, Fin'd him more than they thought him able to pay, and order'd him to be expos'd to the Mob in the Streets." (6) Defoe spent three consecutive days--29, 30, and 31 July--in the pillory, during the busy noon hour, first outside the Royal Exchange in Cornhill, then in Cheapside, and then at Temple Bar in Fleet Street. (7)
While in Newgate Prison, in anticipation of his ordeal in the pillory, Defoe composed A Hymn to the Pillory, a satiric panegyric to the "Hi'roglyphick State Machin" in which he would soon stand punishment. (8) As Maximillian E. Novak explains, "Addressing the pillory as if it were a sentient being, Defoe turned the poem to the subject of the villains in the society who really deserved to be punished...." (9) Backscheider notes, Defoe "assumes the stance of the feared and, therefore, persecuted poet who dares speak truth." (10) In this essay, I argue that A Hymn to the Pillory presages Defoe's novels in significant ways: It possesses a narrative structure comparable to that of the novels, as well as a "hardened" protagonist not unlike Robinson Crusoe, Colonel Jack, Moll Flanders, and Captain Bob Singleton. In addition, this essay also maintains that it is this poem, rather than Defoe's novels, that first renders "imagining the penitentiary" a possibility, and that the architectural restructuring of mind that inspired the penitentiary generated, not from a novelistic reimagining of incarceration in Newgate Prison, but from a poetic reimagining of confinement in the pillory. (11)
Since the twelfth century, the pillory had meted out punishment for specific societal transgressions--"unnatural" sexual offenses, seditious words, extortion, fraud, and perjury. Greg T. Smith notes that "the pillory was the usual punishment for offences that transgressed moral or social boundaries--offences not so much against liberty or property, but those that exposed moral failings, that evidenced a weak or diseased character, and whose commission dishonoured not just the amorphous state, but the particular streets and neighborhoods of the parish." (12) Punishment by pillory was twofold, part physical pain, part public humiliation. Physical suffering experienced by pilloried offenders ranged widely in intensity, dependent upon the sentence: Every offender underwent some measure of physical discomfort, simply from prolonged, unnatural positioning of neck and hands; others sustained injury while falling off the pillory stool, with neck and hands still tightly imprisoned; some offenders endured the torment of having their ears "pinned" to the post with nails, then ripped from the boards, at the conclusion of punishment; still others received whipping or scourging, during confinement. Virtually all pilloried offenders faced abuses from the crowd. Rotting eggs and rotting vegetables; animal blood and guts; mud, stones, bricks, and rocks; pots and pans; human and animal excrement; and animals, both dead and alive--all were missiles to be thrown at the hapless offenders by the mob, and which, in turn, resulted in injuries, sometimes fatal, to the offender. (13) For the duration of time in the pillory, the offender was subjected to the "unchecked fury" of the mob. (14) However, the public humiliation of being pilloried was considered worse than any physical suffering. A stand in the pillory destroyed the reputation of the offender, often ruining professional standing, almost always ruining social standing. Samuel Johnson noted, "People are not very willing to ask a man to their tables who has stood in the pillory." (15) In addition, as Backscheider notes, "Pilloried men lost their right to vote and to serve on juries." (16) For those unfortunate enough to have their ears pinned, their mutilated, shredded ears provided permanent identification of their social deviance. Punishment by pillory was never meant to reform, only to deter: It was believed that the offender, experiencing a heady combination of physical pain, humiliation, and public contempt, would be dissuaded from committing future offenses; others, with a proclivity towards similar acts of transgression, would likewise refrain from indulging that tendency, by witnessing the awful display of public justice.
A wooden post and beam feels no pain, so Defoe's first move in disarming this powerful adversary is to treat "the pillory as if it were a sentient being," a hardened agent of a corrupt judicial system, a being immersed in immorality, vice, and crime, who nonetheless is determined to punish "an honest and virtuous man." Defoe had used similar themes and techniques in earlier works: For instance, The Poor Man's Plea, first published in 1698, argued that "'Tis hard ... to be punish'd for a Crime, by a Man as guilty as our selves," (17) and urged reformation on the part of gentry and clergy. Reformation of Manners (1702) castigates vice-ridden individuals of high rank, as does A Hymn to the Pillory; More Reformation (July 1703) justifies Defoe's earlier satirical attacks and continues the project of reforming "a vicious Town." (18) Both poems urge reformation; both personify satire. In A True-Born Englishman (1700-01), Defoe urges, "Speak, Satyr," again personifying satire, and engaging it to disclose the "Folly, Pride, or Knavery" of those English men and women discontented with a foreign-born monarch; the preface promises that "The End of Satyr is Reformation: And the Author, tho' he doubts the Work of Conversion is at a general Stop, has put his Hand to the Plow." (19) In A True-Born Englishman and in Reformation of Manners, Satyr reforms others, while, notably, in More Reformation (published two weeks prior to A Hymn to the Pillory), Satyr is both reformed and reforms others, just as the Pillory does. A Hymn to the Pillory, thus, reiterates earlier themes and techniques, yet alters them in small, yet significant ways: The Poor Man's Plea presumes those punished to be guilty, yet argues that the poor and lowly are unfairly targeted for criminal prosecution, while the rich and powerful, guilty of equal or greater crimes, escape punishment; A Hymn to the Pillory suggests the innocence of the majority of pilloried victims. In addition, the Pillory possesses a distinctly different presence than Satyr: Satyr hides its eyes, blushes, exhibits occasional kindness, reveals, conceals, kneels, fetches, forgives, and forbears. As surgeon and physician, Satyr opens wounds to release infection, then soothes with healing balms and ointments; as educator, Satyr teaches, pointing out errors. Even in More Reformation, when Satyr itself is scolded, it is still more sinned against, than sinner. Instead, the Pillory's antic capers suggest mayhem and madness: The Pillory claps, flaps, raises its head, shouts, embraces--and becomes the object of Satyr itself. The Pillory revels in wickedness.
The hardened protagonist of the poem, the Pillory itself, is introduced to readers, through the opening salutation, "Hail! Hi'roglyphick State Machin / Contriv'd to Punish Fancy in." (20) Hailed as a machine, the Pillory is initially viewed as an enigmatic, relentless, and ruthless agent of corrupt law and justice: A fallen Talus, to an equally fallen Artegall; a Gines, to a Ferdinando Falkland. The Pillory ignorantly carries out its sentences, sometimes performing good--such as when punishing Oates and Fuller but more often engaged in acts of outright wickedness, as when punishing "Bastwick, Pryn, Hunt, Hollingsby, and Pye" (41). There is no sense that the Pillory possesses any sense of wrongdoing, no pangs of conscience, no regret, no remorse, no guilt. Notably, the Pillory, an unthinking engine, a literally hardened block of wood, exhibits the same attributes as the "hardened" protagonists of most Defoe novels. Once embarked on their lives of crime, Captain Bob, Moll Flanders, and Roxana all repeatedly describe themselves as "harden'd" or "hardened." (Colonel Jack, interestingly, never refers to himself as hardened, though he does call Captain Jack, his foster brother, by this appellation). (21) Even Robinson Crusoe admits, "I was all that the most hardened, unthinking, wicked Creature among our common Sailors, can be supposed to be...." (22) Defoe objectifies his human protagonists, making them appear "hardened"; in turn, his wooden protagonist, the Pillory, becomes a personification of the hardened criminal. The Pillory shares many other characteristics with Robinson Crusoe, Captain Bob Singleton, Moll Flanders, and Colonel Jack. Bob, Moll, and Jack are essentially amoral throughout most of their early lives and throughout their criminal careers; Crusoe, though never engaged in outright criminal behavior, nonetheless confesses to "a certain stupidity of soul, without desire of good, or conscience of evil" (7:101). Captain Bob perhaps states it best: "I had no Sense of Virtue or Religion upon me. I had never heard much of either, except what a good old Parson had said to me when I was a Child of about Eight or Nine Years old; nay, I was preparing, and growing up apace, to be as wicked as any Body could be, or perhaps ever was." (23) All four of Defoe's novelistic protagonists perform a great deal of wickedness and a small amount of good, with little sense of wrong or right, possessed of a "thoughtless, unconcern'd Temper," "without the least Checks of Conscience" (14, 170). The Pillory, like its later novelistic manifestations, is similarly possessed of an amoral, thoughtless nature--though it, too, like Crusoe, Bob, Jack, and Moll, proves ultimately capable of reformation.
Most intriguingly, A Hymn to the Pillory possesses the same narrative structure as Defoe's novels (with the notable exception of The Fortunate Mistress, also known as Roxana (1724)). The plots of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Colonel Jack (1722), Moll Flanders (1721), and Captain Singleton (1720) all follow the same rough outline: At a young age, the protagonist (Crusoe, Jack, Moll, Bob) is separated from his/her parents, whether through choice (Crusoe), abandonment (Jack), transportation (Moll), or kidnapping (Bob). He/she receives some guidance at an early age--Crusoe, from his parents; Jack, from his nurse; Moll, from a nurse/schoolmistress; Bob, from a minister--but the instruction is insufficient to instill in the protagonist a true sense of virtue and duty, and, soon enough, this unthinking young creature is on his/her own, relying solely on wits to get by. The protagonist then falls in with some bad company (sailors, pirates, thieves) and enters into a life of vice and wickedness. Several times the protagonist receives some sort of Providential warning, whether it be the arrest and conviction of an associate, or a terrifying storm at sea. This warning temporarily moves him/her to repentance, but the repentance is not heartfelt, and, thus, the protagonist reembarks on his/her life of crime. Finally, a critical event occurs that forces the protagonist to stop his/her life of crime--Crusoe is shipwrecked on the deserted island, Jack is sold into slavery, Moll is caught thieving and sent to Newgate, and Bob, well, Bob has nowhere left to go. At this crucial moment, the protagonist receives some moral counsel or warning, then begins to reflect upon his/her own past actions and to seek moral guidance and instruction: Crusoe's near fatal illness provokes vivid dreams of Divine Retribution, compelling Crusoe to seek solace from the Bible; Moll hears of Jemmie's arrest, feels remorse, then heeds the words of the minister sent by Mother Midnight; Colonel Jack listens to and learns from Master Smith; and Captain Bob receives counsel from the Quaker William Walters. With reflection comes recognition of guilt, awareness of conscience, followed by repentance, expiation, and restitution of some sort. Each protagonist spends some time in confinement--Crusoe, as castaway; Jack, as slave; Moll, as prisoner; and Bob, in self-imposed exile in Venice. Finally, Defoe's protagonist is allowed to keep his/her spoils of fortune and to prosper, a display of Divine Mercy.
The narrative of A Hymn to the Pillory--the story of this "True-born English Tool" (85), this hardened fellow composed of post and crossbeam--follows essentially the same outline as the novels, as will be demonstrated: The Pillory, a true child of Law and Justice, begins its life with some instruction and moral purpose, as it is meant to spend its life in a morally upright manner, punishing "Villains" (24). However, somehow, the Pillory has been separated from Law and Justice, undoubtedly kidnapped by certain special interests, and it falls into evil ways, doing the bidding of specific "Parties" (26), becoming increasingly hardened to a life of crime; its true nature, its original upright character, has been perverted and inverted.
In its debased state, the Pillory proves itself to be a mere masquerader, a pretender to Law and Justice, suggesting the false nature of the entire English judicial, legal, and penal systems. As the poem claims, the "Law's Subservient" (26) and "Justice is Inverted" (401). The Pillory functions in the topsy-turvy world of carnival, where "The Fools look out, the Knaves look on" (16), where "Vice does Vertue oft Correct" (18), and where "what was Merit once, is Murther now" (28). Indeed, Defoe urges the Pillory to "Appear no more in Masquerade" (180). Like false Law and Justice, the Pillory, impressively cloaked in somber black legal robes, is a false version of the real thing, engaged in carnival games, in criminal mischief, rather than in courtroom justice. Like Moll Flanders, the Pillory utilizes disguise in order to cheat the unwitting populace, to steal from the English people the "Justice of the Land" (40). As part of its elaborate cover, the Pillory occasionally metes out true justice, but does so merely to prolong the sham: "Sometimes the Air of Scandal to maintain / Villains look from thy Lofty Loops in Vain" (23-24). However, once stripped of its masquerade garb, the Pillory reveals itself to be Lord of Misrule, as it shifts from a stiff, wooden instrument, a "State-Trap" (31), into a mocking, Satanic presence, replete with sooty wings and blackened brow. In addressing the Pillory, Defoe refers to "thy Brows" (60), "thy Face" (62), "thy Wooden Wings" (160), "thy Head" (179), and "thy Grisly Face" (409). Yet, the Pillory is not the devil, only goaded on by the devil: "Though like the Devil dost appear, / Blacker than really thou art by far" (421-22). As Moll Flanders says, "the Devil put things into my Head, and indeed he was seldom backward to me." (24) The Pillory merely heeds the devil, and, in its wickedness, becomes a hell-hound, a "Great Monster of the Law" (179), a "Bug-bear of the Law" (427), in its desire to impede true justice. At once, the Pillory is both devilish masquerader, disguised as an officer of the law, and a common thief, tricked up in the gowns of justice, robbing people of their good names and reputations.
The Pillory, falsely standing in for Law and Justice, presides over a counterfeit courtroom. Adding to the aura of carnival, the platform on which this wooden Lord of Misrule sits, ensconced upon his "Cloudy Throne" (294), reveals itself to be a stage, wherein different, ever-changing dramas (or farces) are played out. The Pillory's platform is referred to as "thy Stage" (51, 287, 347), "thy spreading Stage" (112), and "thy Theater" (135), upon which a "Great Pageant," a constant change of "Dirty Scene" (345), transpires. One scene reveals a mock courtroom, with "Justices upon thy Bench" (190); the next, a church with "Drunken Priest" bawdily telling jokes from "thy Pulpit" (204). "Next bring some Lawyers to thy Bar" (256) begins another act. Again, the scene shifts when usurpers try to take "thy Throne" (341). Of course, the throne of justice has already been usurped, by this wooden Master of Misrule.
Defoe accomplishes several things by creating this elaborate trope of masquerade, criminality, and misrule. First, on the most basic level, Defoe reveals that punishment by pillory is, at worst, diabolical and criminal, and, at best, farcical and woefully inadequate to the task of enacting real justice of any sort. Because the Pillory itself is false, it cannot, at any level, reveal "truth" of any sort, let alone the "truth" about crime or criminal. Thus, one of its most important attributes, the ability to provide the public with certainty that the true perpetrator has been caught and punished, is rendered null and void.
On a deeper level, however, Defoe disperses the power of the Pillory by fracturing and splintering its source of authority, through a constant shift of actors and scenes. As originally conceived, punishment in the pillory was meant for only two actors--the lone offender and the pillory itself, with the pillory standing in for the sovereign (like the executioner), executing the sovereign's laws and justice. It is a one-act play, where the spectacular display of sovereign justice is inflicted upon the hapless offender. However, in Defoe's hands, this same platform becomes the stage for a steady stream of ever-changing actors--judges, lawyers, bankers, whores, and more--whose parts in ever-changing dramatic or comedic scenes metaphorically fracture and disperse any possibility of cohesive and unified display of power. Solemnity of purpose associated with the display of sovereign power devolves into amusement as these bands of roving players stride across the boards, by turn, drunkenly sermonizing or whorishly winking at the crowd. In addition, as Mikhail Bakhtin writes, "carnival images closely resemble certain artistic forms, namely the spectacle," though "Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it ...." (25) The pillory was always participatory, with the crowd throwing projectiles at the pinioned, passive offender; however, by transforming the spectacle of punishment into the spectacle of carnival, the mob is now invited up on stage, welcome to join the colorful parade of pilloried offenders. In allowing the mob onto the pillory platform, Defoe has dispensed and dispelled any sense of solemnity or awe. Thus, in the course of the poem, Defoe demonstrates that the pillory is not the representative of the sovereign, but of special interests; that it is diabolically inadequate, unable to perform its most basic tasks; that it is criminal in nature; and that its power is fractured and diffused.
Yet, despite the devilish nature of the Pillory, it appears that something is amiss--that this criminal par excellence has recently begun to lose its touch; perhaps, by repeatedly using the same tricks, the same disguise, it can no longer fool the populace. And, once it has betrayed itself, it can no longer inflict pain, it becomes insignificant, and it, rather than the offender, becomes the object of disdain: "Men that are Men, in thee can feel no Pain, /And all thy Insignificants Disdain" (3-4). It cannot awe: "Thou art the State-Trap of the Law, / But neither can keep Knaves, nor Honest Men in Awe" (31-32). It cannot shame, nor can it mark the individual with infamy: "Thou art no shame to Truth and Honesty, / Nor is the Character of such defac'd by thee" (55-56). Finally, in its weakened condition, the Pillory makes a fatal misstep: It is caught trying to steal the reputation of some "Poor Author" (234). The author, like that "sawcy Jade," (26) that shop-girl who catches Moll stealing brocaded silks, insists that the Pillory be arrested and confined.
The poem then brings the Pillory to trial, delineating the myriad crimes it has committed and charging it with specific offenses. The first witnesses to take the stand include the men who engineered the arrest of the author, Defoe, and sentenced him to the pillory, yet other witnesses, associated with different crimes, are soon summoned to testify. These include all those who have offended the populace of England: Weak-willed members of Parliament, greedy stockbrokers, spiteful clergy, cowardly military men, corrupt lawyers, and whorish Roxana-like women--all testify to the Pillory's misuse of power. Anyone and everyone who deserves public humiliation--yet who has somehow eluded real justice--bears witness against the Pillory, even "those Sons of Fame / Whom present Pow'r has made too great to name" (289-90). By far, the largest amount of the poem is devoted to this presentation of witnesses, this excoriation of certain members of English society, most of whom Defoe's contemporaries would easily have recognized through the highly detailed descriptions in the poem. The individuals or groups mentioned in this poem are not character types, but specific people whom Defoe was intent upon branding with public infamy. This was a dangerous move on Defoe's part, as most of these individuals held high public office or socially prominent positions, yet possibly Defoe felt he had little left to lose, politically, socially, or otherwise. As Frank H. Ellis comments, "The most striking feature of the poem is the recklessness of its tone, and Defoe is reckless, as James Sutherland has said, 'because he is right.'" (27)
In addition, by having these high-ranking members of society testify against the Pillory, Defoe forces them to testify against themselves. The platform upon which the Pillory sits now functions as both court of justice and place of punishment. In proving the prosecution's case against the accused, these witnesses admit their own guilt, and the poem simultaneously enacts suitable punishment--by having them pilloried by the poem. (28) Having avoided punishmentment in real life, one by one, those who "merit equal Punishment" (66) are led onto the Pillory's platform, where they are displayed to the contempt of the reader. Significantly, the poem refers to these individuals as actually appearing upon the platform and being placed in the Pillory. For instance, the poem's narrator speaks directly to the Pillory, urging it to "bring those Justices upon thy Bench" (190) or "Upon thy Pulpit, set the Drunken Priest" (204). Again, "For on thy Steps some Ladies may be seen" (346). Thus, the poem simultaneously envisions these offenders in the pillory, while rhetorically enacting the public humiliation associated with this type of punishment. Although these individuals will never be exposed to the physical pain, the abuses of the mob, and the ignominy of a real sojourn in the pillory, they will be made to suffer public humiliation, the pillory's most feared attribute.
Once the long parade of witnesses has concluded, the evidence against the Pillory proves overwhelming. A verdict is reached: Guilty. However, the "Poor Author," acting as victim and accuser, as judge and jury, as minister and friend, counsels the Pillory. The Author urges repentance on its part. While corrupt stockbrokers and jobbers are being pilloried, the Pillory is exhorted to "Clap thy Wooden Wings for Joy" (160); this hardened fellow is soon urged, "In Homely Phrase Express thy Discontent" (181) with injustice. The Pillory must then admit its former misdeeds, accept its egregious neglect of duty, its prior refusal to accept into its wooden embrace those who should rightfully be punished: "Claim 'em, thou Herald of Reproach" (375), the Pillory is commanded. Finally, the poem does a curious thing, inconsistent with contemporary methods of punishment--it enacts the reform of this hardened criminal offender. The narrator instructs the Pillory:
What need of Satyr to Reform the Town? Or Laws to keep our Vices down? Let 'em to Thee due Homage pay, This will Reform us all the Shortest Way, Let 'em to thee bring all the Knaves and Fools, Vertue will guide the rest by Rules.... (385-90)
The reformed Pillory, once shown its proper duty, may now reform others.
The Pillory, repentant, remorseful, newly cognizant of its crimes, undergoes reformation. Mercy is shown. The Pillory will not be banished from England, nor meet an untimely demise, precisely because it is not the same Pillory that existed at the beginning of the narrative. It has been restored to its original position as representative of true law, as agent of true justice, but with an added difference--the Pillory has also become the material sign of repentance, mercy, and reformation. As Moll says, "in a Word, I was perfectly chang'd and become another Body"; (29) so too, in the poem, the Pillory becomes "perfectly chang'd" in that its function is no longer to express and enact external punishment, but internal reformation. Despite the fact that the Pillory is an inanimate object, an unthinking, unfeeling block of wood, the structure of the poem and the personification of the Pillory together fashion a tale of moral rehabilitation.
Yet, one last element is needed for complete reformation of the protagonist: It must make restitution to its victim. As Captain Singleton says, "Repentance could not be sincere without Restitution" (323). Thus, restitution must be made to the "Poor Author." The Pillory must be forced to speak the truth: "Thou Bug-bear of the Law stand up and speak, / Thy long Misconstu'd Silence break" (427-28). Of course, the truth that must be spoken is that Defoe is innocent of wrongdoing, that he is being punished solely "because he was too bold, / And told those Truths, which shou'd not ha' been told" (433-34). Defoe urges, demands, commands the Pillory to "Tell us," "Tell them," and "Tell e'm" that the man standing in the Pillory (Defoe) is innocent of the charges, that he will stand "Exalted there / For speaking what we wou'd not hear" (437-38). The insistent imperative voice repeatedly demands to "tell them," tell the crowd, a total of five times, with the shortened, "Tell e'm" at the very last, revealing increasing urgency. Because Defoe refers to himself in third person, using only "he" or "his," as well as a term curiously lacking in presence--"who 'tis" (429)--and, because the Pillory, at this point, appears to possess more substance than the seemingly insubstantial Defoe, Defoe's demand that the Pillory proclaim his innocence makes it appear that the Pillory is indeed speaking out in Defoe's defense, or that it will soon be compelled to do so. Defoe has put these words into its mouth, so to speak.
Thus, by the end of the poem, from a corrupt mouthpiece of corrupt politicians, the Pillory has been transformed into a clarion of Defoe's own innocence. It has become agent of justice, not agent of special interests or "Parties" (26). Its dispersed power has been swept up again into a single source of power, just, yet merciful. The Pillory's agency has been recuperated through its acknowledgement of its own crimes and its willingness to provide restitution to its victim. At last, the Pillory can be released into society, reformed and ready to proclaim Defoe's innocence to the world.
A Hymn to the Pillory possesses a Moll-like protagonist, as well as a Moll-like narrative, though the question arises as to why this particular poem, this particular protagonist (the Pillory), and none other. In A True Born Englishman, in Reformation of Manners, and in More Reformation, Satyr, regardless of its powerful personification, is nonetheless an abstraction, a schoolmaster's linguistic pointer, designed to educate readers by directing them to inspect the behavior of specific individuals. In contrast, the Pillory possesses both abstract presence, imbued with notions regarding truth, justice, law, punishment, but also material presence, as it exists outside the text, as a real material object that will rob Defoe of his good name. The legal and justice system of England, in Defoe's mind, had already cheated him of two-hundred marks, ruined his business, and stolen him away from his family. The Pillory, an accessory to these Jonathan Wild-like thieves and thief-takers, would steal even more--his reputation. Composing A Hymn to the Pillory while in Newgate Prison, Defoe no doubt noted the similarities between those who put him in jail--prosecutors, justices, and lawyers--and those incarcerated in jail--thieves, fences, and informers. If the purpose of satire is reform, then the Pillory becomes both a natural object for satire, and a natural subject for a narrative of reform.
Because A Hymn to the Pillory possesses a "novelistic" narrative structure--as well as other novelistic elements--Defoe's poem, rather than his novels, should be considered the originary source for the formulation of the new "architecture of the mind" that ultimately leads to reimagining criminal punishment and incarceration in England. John Bender, in Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England, has suggested that novels are "the vehicles, not the reflections, of social change," and he situates the English novel of the early eighteenth century as the mechanism by which the penitentiary first became an imaginative possibility. Bender writes: "Eighteenth-century prison reform found its form in the sphere of novelistic discourse, where, through the material of language, an emergent structure of feeling took shape and, like an image floating into focus, became subject to conscious experience. In other words, the earlier eighteenth-century novel bore the form within which the seeming randomness inside the old prison boundaries would later be restructured into a new penal order." (30)
Bender quite specifically views the novelistic form as providing a new framework for writing and understanding human experience--and that prison, under such writers as Defoe, John Gay, and Henry Fielding, becomes a place of private self-awareness and self-reflection, and, subsequently, of repentance and "secular rehabilitation" (47).
But can a poem, albeit one with a decidedly novelistic narrative structure and protagonist, also perform the same task as a novel in reformulating human experiential understanding? Does A Hymn to the Pillory possess all the requisite elements necessary to claim it as a site wherein penal experience and, subsequently, prison experience, is altered? The answer is yes.
I trace the novelistic reformation of liminal boundedness--the principle whereby the old prisons accommodated a reign of randomness and license within the precinct of confinement. Defoe's narratives array the old prisons on detailed representational grids of elapsed time, causal sequence, perceptual registration, and associative psychology. Under these conditions, the liminal prototype gives way to an ideal of confinement as the story of isolated self-consciousness shaped over time, within precise material circumstances, under the regime of narrative discipline: the key terms of what I call the "penitentiary idea." (44)
Thus, what must be present in Defoe's poem is the transformation of the "liminal boundedness" of confinement--a chaotic, carnivalistic, and externally experienced confinement--into something that is ordered, disciplined, internally experienced, and self-conscious, a confinement shaped by "Time, sequence, and causation--the predicates of the novelistic structure" (46).
A Hymn to the Pillory is about confinement. The poem was written during Defoe's confinement in Newgate Prison (the narrator of the poem is thus confined), and its raison d'etre is the confinement of the "Poor Author" within the wooden embrace of the pillory. In addition, the Pillory itself, the subject of the poem, is metaphorically confined within the boundaries of the poem, and the poem metaphorically confines others within both pillory and poem. At the beginning of the poem, confinement is initially experienced as chaotic and carnivalistic; the Pillory itself is cast as Lord of Misrule, King of Carnival. The opening stanzas of the poem show evidence of confusion, as the narrator attempts to make reason out of the unreasonable. The Pillory is then invited to participate in a process of self-discovery, wherein its proper usage is displayed through a sequence of vignettes--the cowardly soldier, the corrupt jobber, the whorish mistress, all figuratively confined to Pillory and poem--that appear to occur over a period of time, both historical time (as all of the events for which these individuals are being punished have occurred in the past, and as all individuals in the poem possess historic presence) and narrative time (as the poem steadily parades individuals across the Pillory's platform). The poem also operates on the principle of causation: Because of the Pillory's inappropriate actions--and/or lack of appropriate actions--it must be stopped, confined (at least temporarily), and evaluated. Its reformation also operates on the principle of causation: It has been made to reflect on its past life, to see the errors of its ways, and to repent. Finally, the narrative structure of the poem allows for the Pillory to experience its punishment, its confinement, and its subsequent reformation, as something ordered, controlled, and internal. The Pillory has not outwardly changed by the end of Defoe's poem, but it has undergone a "reformation of inner thought" (Bender, 47). It, like Moll Flanders, has "perfectly chang'd and become another Body." (31) The Pillory, like Defoe's criminal narrators, has experienced confinement as means of reshaping consciousness; the poem has disciplined the Pillory.
Yet, if this poem, through its narrative of internal reformation (the Pillory is reformed within the confines of the poem, and the Pillory undergoes its own internal reformation), possesses the necessary attributes for restructuring how the mind conceives of punishment and incarceration, then it is the pillory, rather than the "old prisons," that has been reimagined and that exists as predecessor to the penitentiary. While the architectural remodeling, so to speak, necessary to transform prison to penitentiary seems minimal, even natural--some shifting of metaphoric walls and spaces--the pillory more closely aligns itself with the penitentiary experience. The pillory possesses all the requisite experiential elements--and more: confinement, conceived as part of punishment; solitude, experienced while in a crowd; the mayhem of carnival, observed by the offender while undergoing enforced discipline; the oh-so-slow elapsing of time; causal sequencing of events; surveillance of the offender; external punishment, combined with internal shame; and an architectural presence, allowing confinement, punishment, and surveillance to take place simultaneously.
Newgate Prison, as experienced by Defoe, was indeed a place of confinement--the offender was locked within prison walls. However, inside the prison, the experience was open, communal; most prisoners, male and female, regardless of crime, jostled one another in (un)easy, familiar fashion. A single cell, solitary confinement, was a privilege, available for a price; confinement in and of itself was not usually considered part of punishment, as the old prisons functioned primarily as holding cells until such time as guilt could be established and punishment enacted. Yet confinement was an integral part of the pillory's disciplinary system, though confinement was not between walls, but between blocks of wood. In the pillory's hard embrace, the body cannot avoid pain: To move, is to hurt oneself; to be still, is to be hurt by others. Solitary confinement in the pillory was the norm, with the pilloried offender most often standing alone on the platform; only occasionally, with another offender. A stand in the pillory clearly separated the offender from others, both physically (elevated upon a platform) and socially (as moral reprobate and object of disdain); alone, yet surrounded by others. The mob encircled the pillory, engaging in carnivalistic madness, throwing missiles at the offender, yelling insults, drinking ale and wine; amidst the raucous gaiety of the event, the offender stood painfully still, forcibly restricted by pillory, guards, and mob. Punishment by pillory also combined external punishment with internal shame; "externally experienced confinement" in the pillory transformed into "internally experienced" disgrace and dishonor. The penitentiary experience possesses many of these same traits: Confinement, as an integral part of punishment; the prisoner, alone in a cell, surrounded by multitudes of other offenders; physical and social isolation; enforced discipline, vying with emotional mayhem, with the anger, fear, rage of prison experience; the resocializing of the individual; the attempt to effect moral, social, and psychological change.
In addition, in the old prisons, surveillance did not occur; the prisoners were not in constant view of wardens or guards. However, in pillory, like penitentiary, the offender is under constant surveillance, and, indeed, is the specific object of the disciplinary gaze. Serving time, another aspect of penitentiary experience, is equally a part of the pillory experience: Time, in fact, represented an important aspect of the sentencing; the number of hours, the time of day--all were meant to reflect the seriousness of the crime. For the offender, time no doubt moved slowly, yet unfolded in ceremonial fashion: The offender was led onto the platform; feet placed upon the stool; head and hands proffered to the pillory; head and hands locked into place; ears pinned; crimes announced. Then the mob was free to execute its justice. Once the prescribed time of punishment was concluded, the procedure reversed: head and hands unlocked and released; ears ripped free; feet descending from stool; until, physically weak and perhaps severely injured, the offender was led from the platform, perhaps to repeat this same process in succeeding days. Yet each aspect of this ceremony represented the fulfillment of cause and effect. As the pillory was punishment for only specific offenses--primarily offenses involving language and/or hands--it was appropriate for the individual's head and hands to be confined. Because the pilloried offender had morally separated his/her self from the rest of society, it was appropriate for him/her to stand physically separated from the people. Because the pilloried individual had hurt the body politic, the body politic could enact its justice on the offender. Of course, the penitentiary experience is also about serving time, about a causal sequence of events prior to and during imprisonment, about the metaphoric and physical isolation of individual from the society.
Last, the architectural form that the pillory possessed--a simple wooden post and crossbeam, mounted atop a platform--suggests both the physical structure of the penitentiary, as well as its moral architecture. The positioning of head and hands, at the center of the pillory's crossbeam, intimates, of course, Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, but in two disparate ways: The confined position of the prisoner's head and hands allows for easy surveillance by others--no secrets here--but it also allows the prisoner to function as surveillant. The head of the prisoner simultaneously presents itself as object of surveillance and as Panopticon. In addition, the single central post with its two wooden "Wings," as Defoe described them, mimics the architectural precision and simple, formal orderliness of the penitentiary floor plan, rather than the chaotic, maze-like layout of the old prisons. Finally, the pillory's cruciform structure suggests the possibility of spiritual transformation on the part of the pilloried offender. (OED notes that pillory, in a quotation circa 1380, was "the name ... applied to a cross.") While the criminal is not Christ-like, he/she is capable of conversion, reformation, spiritual and moral rebirth.
Thus, in A Hymn to the Pillory, Defoe has taken an object that holds intense fear for him. He humanizes it through personification; he makes it understandable, by likening it to a criminal, a "meer Newgate-Bird"; (32) he disarms its power, by forcing it into a narrative of reform. In the process, this simple wooden post and beam, mounted high upon a platform, an external form of torture, punishment, and public humiliation, transforms into a state of mind, a reimagining of confinement as the means of achieving moral reformation and redemption. Notably, the demise of the pillory concurred with the emergence of the penitentiary. (In England, the pillory was no longer used as punishment, except for perjury, after 1815; the first penitentiaries were erected in the 1780s.)
Of course, Defoe was not singlehandedly responsible for the transformation of the English penal system, nor did he reimagine the pillory from disinterested or impersonal motives. Undeniably, this refashioning of the pillory was based almost entirely on Defoe's own fear of standing punishment in it, showing that, in the real world, the pillory still possessed the power to inflict incredible shame and pain. Yet, through his poem, Defoe did reimagine and refashion the traditional discourses of pillory and imprisonment, and, in doing so, provided the means for a different mode of imagining discipline and punishment. In addition, through his poetic reimagining and refashioning of the pillory, Defoe also reshaped the architecture of his own literary enterprise, creating the possibility of novelistic narrative and character.
Defoe, quite understandably, greatly feared the punishment of the pillory--the infamy of being pilloried and the rough justice of the crowd--and he requested that the pillory portion of his sentence be remanded. Months prior to his arrest, Defoe wrote to Daniel Finch, Earl of Nottingham, the man who ordered Defoe's arrest, offering to plead guilty to the charges if only "I may Reciev a Sentence ... a Little More Tollerable to me as a Gentleman, Than Prisons, Pillorys, and Such like, which are Worse to me Than Death." (33) Even after Defoe was arrested, Sidney Godolphin, the Lord Treasurer, wrote to Nottingham on Defoe's behalf, stating that "de Foe was ready to make oath to your Lp. of all that he knew, & to give an Account of all his Accomplices in whatsoever he has been Concerned, for the information of the Queen, & the Lords of the Councill, provided by doing so, he may bee excused from the punishment of the pillory, & not produced as an Evidence against any person whatsoever...." (34) Because Defoe was unable or unwilling to provide the Queen with "an Account of all his Accomplices," his request to be "excused from the punishment of the pillory" was denied. As Novak writes, "It was intended to be a memorable humiliation. The government had spent much more on Defoe's capture and prosecution than was usual in cases of this kind, and no doubt they wanted their money's worth." (35)
Defoe transformed his punishment in the pillory "into a public triumph" (190), by turning to his friends--and to his pen. And, as history tells it, both came to his aid: On 29, 30, and 31 July, each day as Defoe stood in the pillory, his friends surrounded its platform, keeping him from the offenses of the mob. Instead of stones, mud, and filth, Defoe's friends pelted him with flowers. (36) They also passed to the crowd published copies of the poem that Defoe wrote while imprisoned in Newgate, A Hymn to the Pillory. Although Defoe could not avoid his punishment in the pillory, he could--and he did--attack this instrument of his public humiliation and shame with the only resources left to him. Through the power of his words, Defoe mitigated his own punishment in the pillory, and, in the process, he shaped the narrative structure for his criminal novels, and he began the gradual subversion of the pillory's power to punish, a process that would eventually lead to the pillory's slow, yet certain demise.
University of Central Florida
(1.) City of London Records Office, Sessions Minute Book 73 for July 1703-Mar./Apr. 1703-4, SF 472, qtd. in Paula R. Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1989), 104.
(2.) Daniel Defoe, The Shortest Way with Dissenters: Or Proposals for the Establishment of the Church, in The Shakespeare Head Edition of the Novels and Selected Writings of Daniel Defoe, 14 vols., The Shortest Way with Dissenters and Other Pamphlets, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell; Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920), 13:126. All further references to this text will be cited as Shakespeare Head Edition. The Shakespeare Head edition reproduces the first edition of 1703; the Yale edition reproduces the 1705 edition, corrected by Defoe. For the ease of the reader, all quotes are from the 1705 edition, and all subsequent references to this poem are cited parenthetically by line numbers.
(3.) For detailed information regarding the warrant for Defoe's arrest, Defoe's flight from justice, and his subsequent indictment, trial, imprisonment, and punishment, see Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life, 84-135, and Backscheider's earlier publication, "No Defense: Defoe in 1703," PMLA 103.3 (May 1988), 274-84. Also see John Robert Moore, Defoe in the Pillory and Other Studies, vol. 1 of the Humanities Series (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1939), and Maximillian E. Novak, Daniel Defoe, Master of Fictions: His Life and Ideas (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 165-205.
(4.) Daniel Defoe, The Consolidator, The Stoke Newington Daniel Defoe Edition, ed. Michael Seidel, Maximillian E. Novak, and Joyce D. Kennedy (New York: AMS Press, 2001), 84.
(5.) Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life, 110.
(6.) Defoe, The Consolidator, 85.
(7.) Apparently, these three busy locations had long been established as primary sites for erecting the pillory. See J. M. Beattie, Policing and Punishment in London, 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 307.
(8.) Two editions of A Hymn to the Pillory are generally available for study: A Hymn to the Pillory, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, The Shortest Way with Dissenters and Other Pamphlets 13:135-49; and A Hymn to the Pillory, in Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714, ed. Frank H. Ellis, 7 vols. (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1970), 6:585-605.
(9.) Novak, Daniel Defoe, Master of Fictions, 192.
(10.) Paula R. Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation (Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1986), 25.
(11.) John Bender, Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1987).
(12.) Greg T. Smith, "Civilized People Don't Want to See That Sort of Thing: The Decline of Public Punishment in London, 1760-1840," in Qualities of Mercy: Justice, Punishment, and Discretion, ed. Carolyn Strange (Vancouver, BC: U of British Columbia P, 1996), 32.
(13.) See William Andrews, Old-Time Punishments (Hull: William Andrews & Co.; London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, 1890), 65-103; Alice Morse Earle, Curious Punishments of Bygone Days (1896; reprint, Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1983), 44-56; L. A. Parry, The History of Torture in England (London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1933), 162-77; and Robert B. Shoemaker, "Streets of Shame? The Crowd and Public Punishments in London, 1700-1820," in Penal Practice and Culture, 1500-1900: Punishing the English, ed. Simon Devereaux and Paul Griffiths (Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2004), 232-57.
(14.) Smith, "Civilized People," 35.
(15.) Qtd. in James Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. R. W. Chapman, corrected ed. by J. D. Fleeman (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970), 965.
(16.) Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life, 116.
(17.) Daniel Defoe, The Poor Man's Plea, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, The Shortest Way with Dissenters and Other Pamphlets, 13:7.
(18.) Daniel Defoe, Reformation of Manners and More Reformation. A Satyr upon Himself, in Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714, 6:398-448, 547-84.
(19.) Daniel Defoe, A True-Born Englishman, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, The Shortest Way with Dissenters and Other Pamphlets, 13:31, 29.
(20.) Defoe, A Hymn to the Pillory, 1-2.
(21.) Moll calls herself "hardened" approximately fifteen times; both Roxana and Captain Singleton, approximately four each.
(22.) Daniel Defoe, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, vols. 7, 8, and 9, The Shakespeare Head Edition, 7:101.
(23.) Daniel Defoe, The Life, Adventures and Pyracies of the Famous Captain Singleton, The Shakespeare Head Edition, 5:7-8.
(24.) Daniel Defoe, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, vols. 1 and 2, The Shakespeare Head Edition, 2:8.
(25.) Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984), 7.
(26.) Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, 2:98.
(27.) Frank H. Ellis, forward to A Hymn to the Pillory, in Poems on Affairs of State, 6:385. The quotation from James Sutherland comes from Defoe (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1938), 97.
(28.) According to OED, the first recorded use of the verb "to pillory," as meaning to "expose to public ridicule or abuse," occurred in 1699; the term was used in the preface to A Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris, by Richard Bentley.
(29.) Defoe, Moll Flanders, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, 2:107.
(30.) Bender, 1.
(31.) Defoe, Moll Flanders, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, 2:107.
(32.) Defoe, Moll Flanders, in The Shakespeare Head Edition, 2:105.
(33.) Daniel Defoe to Daniel Finch, Earl of Nottingham, 9 January 1702/3, The Letters of Daniel Defoe, ed. George Harris Healey (1955; Oxford: Clarendon P, 1969), 2.
(34.) British Museum, Add. MSS. 29,589 ft. 28-29, qtd. in Healey, The Letters of Daniel Defoe, 7n, 2.
(35.) Novak, Daniel Defoe, Master of Fictions, 190.
(36.) Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life, 118-19.
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|Author:||Oliver, Kathleen M.|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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