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Did Defoe write Roxana? Does it matter?

In an article on the many eighteenth-century continuations of Roxana published a few years ago, I traced the fluidity of the text before it acquired an author in 1775, and before the first edition of 1724 came to be seen in the nineteenth century as the only authoritative text. (1) My purpose was to urge critics not to dismiss the later editions because they contained non-authorial material, or, as in the case of the Francis Noble and Thomas Lowndes's edition of 1775, were rewritten so thoroughly as to make the 1724 edition unrecognizable. From the point of view of literary and cultural history, I thought, these publications were valuable because they showed that, for most of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, there was no such simple creature as "Defoe's Roxana". There were Roxanas in the plural, not all of whose parts had been written by Defoe, or had even referenced an author on the title page. Our habitual investment in the author had no purchase on a situation in which anonymous novels were the norm, and our exclusive focus on the first edition prevented our understanding the several ways Roxana circulated among eighteenth-century readers, with obvious implications for what could be said about the novel(s).

That article is part of a larger project on anonymity, one of several case studies that focus on theoretical and methodological problems of writing and reading anonymous texts, which are inseparable from the ways those texts have circulated. Anonymous publication brings these problems to the foreground in dramatic ways. The last thing I was interested in, I can confess, was straight attribution of a text to an author; I was much more interested in how readers projected authors onto texts, or in the case of Roxana, how, having acquired an author along the way, the text of the novel stabilized over the course of the nineteenth century and ultimately threw into the shade its own earlier picaresque history.

Nonetheless, it did occur to me, as it had to have done, that perhaps Defoe did not write Roxana. I approached the issue with an open mind, with no dog in the fight, as they say in Texas. After researching the question, I wrote, in passing, that I thought knowledge of Defoe's authorship of Roxana was part of the daffy business of the small and geographically concentrated world of London printers and booksellers, but it was not in my way at the time to provide evidence, which is the purpose of the present paper.

The state of the question that confronted me at the time--without the benefit of P. N Furbank and W. R. Owens's clarification of their position elsewhere in this journal--was as follows. Furbank and Owens, who had argued for the de-attribution of nearly half of the 572 titles in John Robert Moore's Checklist of the Writings of Daniel Defoe, nonetheless accepted that Defoe wrote the prose fictions we think of as his. (2) Specifically, they based their attributions of Roxana, Moll Flanders, Captain Singleton, and Memoirs of a Cavalier on Francis Nobles publications in the 1770s and 1780s, the first editions of these books with Defoe's name on them. (3) Although they considered Noble a disreputable character, causing them to doubt the reliability of his ascriptions as external evidence for Defoe's authorship, they adduced what was for them a crucial piece of evidence, a 1738 edition of Colonel Jacque advertised as "by the author of Robinson Crusoe," and the 1739 reprint of the same, the Preface of which is signed "Daniel Defoe." In their view, this showed it was known that Defoe wrote novels other than Robinson Crusoe, making it more likely that Noble got it right. (4) In my view, however, this was not conclusive evidence for other novels. And although I accepted their appeal to "living memory," (5) meaning that it is not a question of ending authoritative attribution at the moment of the writer's death because those who lived and worked with her or him are still alive to give witness, it seemed to me something of a stretch to claim as external evidence publications appearing over forty years after Defoe's death with no intervening links.

Actually, however, Furbank and Owens were aware of other titles that did in fact imply links in a chain of attribution, but did not cite them as part of their reasoning, possibly because, I speculate, there was no way to examine them. For instance, in their checklist of eighteenth-century editions of Roxana in an article in Eighteenth Century Fiction, they include an edition referred to by Walter Wilson that was "Printed for R. Crusoe, junior and may be had of all the persons who serve newspapers and subscription books, 1742." (6) Apparently, an edition of Roxana that has been lost was published thirty-three years before Noble's, but whose description by Wilson provides a link to Defoe in a way similar to the 1738 and 1739 editions of Colonel Jacque.

If we go to directly to Wilson's pages on Roxana, we find further useful information: "There is an edition in crown octavo, printed uniformly with Moll Flanders, by C. Sympson, in Stone-Cutter Street, Fleet Market; and there is another in small quarto, printed uniformly with Robinson Crusoe, towards the middle of the last century." (7) Wilson identifies the quarto in a footnote as having the imprint Furbank and Owens quote, "printed for Robinson Crusoe, junior," etc., in 1742. As for the octavo, we know that "C. Sympson" published an edition of Roxana in octavo with a long continuation in 1755; Wilson may or may not be referring to that edition.

Wilson, it has to be said, is not always reliable. Some of what he writes about Roxana displays confusion among versions. But can we reasonably assume that he invented a description of these editions in such circumstantial detail? More likely, it seems to me, either the editions available in his time have not all survived, or they have not yet been recovered. But if we correlate the editions, either still available or reported to have existed, that associate Moll Flanders and Roxana with Robinson Crusoe together with the 1738 and 1739 editions of Colonel Jacque that relate that work also to Robinson Crusoe and the name "Defoe" a pattern seems to emerge: novels that Noble attributes to Defoe in the 1770s are already associated with each other, and with Defoe, within seven to eleven years after his death. It becomes interesting, then, to inquire into what Francis Noble was doing at this time, the late 1730s and the early 1740s. Having set up shop in 1737, he published, among other things, an edition of Moll Flanders in 1741, and a reprint of the 1724 edition Roxana in 1742. (8) I will return to these items shortly.

At this point, however, I want to shift the focus to Defoe's connections with booksellers generally, and to what we can learn from imprints in particular. First, we have to appreciate how relatively small a world it was. For roughly the first thirty years of Defoe's life, renewals of the 1662 Licensing Act ensured both censorship prior to publication and the continued monopoly of the London printers and booksellers. (9) With the lapse of regulation in 1695, restrictions on the number of master printers were removed (it had been twenty, confined to London, with a few exceptions), (10) after which the trade grew swiftly (there were thirty-five printers in 1705 and seventy-five in 1724). (11) Defoe flourished along with the trade, and may even be said to be a creature of print. If we take only Furbank and Owens's reduced assessment of how much Defoe published, we are still left with over 250 publications. My assumption, which I don't consider particularly controversial, is that Defoe was a professional writer whom the booksellers could count on as a reliable commodity, especially so in the early 1720s after the success of Robinson Crusoe.

We are given a glimpse into the close relations that could exist between members of the book trade through Defoe's connection with the bookseller Thomas Warner. In 1716 Warner became partners with John Baker, and succeeded to his business at the Black Boy in Paternoster Row when Baker died in April 1717. (12) Warner continued running the shop until his death in 1733 when he was succeeded in turn by Thomas Cooper. Baker, it is worth noting, was Defoe's chief publisher at this time as well as publishing The Review between 1710 and its cessation in 1713. (13) Warner, as we shall see, maintained the association the Black Boy had with Defoe, but we find him closely involved with both Baker and Defoe even a few years before he takes over Baker's shop. When Defoe was arrested for libel for three pamphlets he had written in 1713, Baker, the publisher, and Janeaway, the printer, were questioned as well. Harley arranged for Defoe's bail, set at 1600 pounds, of which Defoe paid 800 pounds, while Thomas Warner and John Grantham paid 400 pounds each. (14) Grantham, we learn from a deposition Warner gave in 1719, lodged with him at the Black Boy and was the printer of the St. James Post. (15) Parenthetically: in 1721, Warner advertised in the St. James Post an edition of The Genuine Works of Mr. Daniel D'Foe, Author of the True-Born Englishman, A Satyr. (16) Small world.

Defoe got in trouble with the authorities not infrequently. Thomas Warner was involved on another occasion, this time over an essay Defoe wrote for Mist's Journal in 1718. Under pressure, Mist had already identified Defoe as the author. Warner, who was questioned also, confirmed this, stating that the views in the essay were identical to ones Defoe had expressed to him in conversation. Warner further testified that he paid Defoe 20 shillings a week on Mist's behalf, confirming that Defoe was in Mist's employ. In addition, one of the printers testified that Defoe's gardener brought him the manuscript of the offending essay. (17)

We know cases in which writers found it in their interest, at times, to keep the booksellers in the dark. Swift, Burney, Jane Austen, and George Eliot spring to mind. On the other hand, we know that members of the trade were practiced in pleading ignorance of authors whose works they distributed, to shield both themselves and the authors. Anne Dodd and Elizabeth Nutt, distributors of books and pamphlets, for instance, were engaged in the "negotiation of risk" as Paula McDowell defines the essential "economy" of the trade in telling their stories. (18) Considering the hundreds of transactions that took place between Defoe and the trade, however, is it reasonable to assume that the booksellers had no idea whom they were dealing with?

It was indeed a small world, for the most part geographically concentrated just north of St. Paul's in Paternoster Row near Stationers' Hall, with other establishments near the Royal Exchange, or along Fleet Street, and or in the West End. (19) The shops of many of the booksellers Defoe dealt with, including Baker, Warner, and William Taylor, who published Robinson Crusoe, were just a few steps from each other on the same street. The world was small also in the sense that intermarriage played a role in the continuation of businesses, with widows, daughters, and partners forming alliances. When William Taylor died in 1724, his business was purchased by Thomas Longman, who had apprenticed to John Osborn, one of the executors of Taylor's will. A year later, Osborn became Longman's partner, and a few years after this, his sister, Mary, became Longman's wife. (20) And the world was intentionally kept small by leading booksellers through their practice of trading and auctioning copyrights among themselves, and going shares in copies and in single publications. Auctions took place at taverns in and around Paternoster Row, such as the Queen's Head Tavern, or the Chapter Coffee House, or the Queen's Arms in St. Paul's Churchyard. (21) We can read these relations in the imprints of those publications, which give evidence of an entire network of business partners engaging in deals. Every case is not straightforward, but, as James Raven puts it, "we can at least be certain that in most cases inclusion of a name in an imprint indicates some sort of financial involvement." (22) In the case of novels attributed to Defoe, what do we find?

(1) In 1719, William Taylor alone publishes Robinson Crusoe.

(2) In 1720, William Taylor, Thomas Warner (the same who went bail for Defoe and later gave the deposition cited above), John Osborn (an executor of Taylor's estate), and A. Bell publish Memoirs of a Cavalier.

(3) In 1720, Thomas Warner, John Brotherton, J. Graves, and A. Dodd publish Captain Singleton.

(4) In 1722, Chetwood and Edlin publish Moll Flanders. They are joined in the "second edition corrected" by Brotherton, Mears, King, and Stags (an error for "Stagg"). A third edition appeared with the same imprint, plus a separate third edition printed for Brotherton, both in 1722. In 1723, Edlin entered the title in the Stationers' Company Register.

(5) In 1722, Graves and Dodd, who had a hand with Warner and Brotherton in Captain Singleton, bring out A Journal of the Plague Year together with James Roberts and Elizabeth Nutt.

(6) In 1722, Brotherton, with several of his former partners (Chetwood, Mears, Stagg, Graves, Dodd, and Payne), publishes Colonel Jacque.

(7) In 1724, Thomas Warner, Edlin (who with Chetwood published the first edition of Moll Flanders and entered the copyright), Meadows, Pepper, and Harding publish Roxana.

At this point we can return to Francis Noble, whose partners in the 1741 edition of Moll Flanders were Brotherton and Stagg. This is the same John Brotherton, who, with Thomas Warner, had a hand in the first edition of Captain Singleton, and who was a partner, with Stagg, in the second edition of Moll Flanders and, again with Stagg, in the first edition of Colonel Jacque. It is hard to avoid the fact that when Noble reprint Moll Flanders and Roxana in the early 1740s he was investing in established copyrights with people who were involved in some of the first publications of Defoe's novels, and who had also partnered with Thomas Warner, who knew Defoe intimately. Before publishing a version of Roxana with Defoe's name on it in 1775, Noble had also published a version of Journal of the Plague Year in 1754, and a Captain Singleton in 1768, which, if we check the imprints above, show the names of the same set of booksellers in different combinations.

My general point is that, just because a work has no name on the title page, it does not necessarily mean that the people who purchased the copy, and prepared the manuscript for the press, do not know who wrote it. In some cases, of course, they didn't know, as I mentioned above. It seems to me, however, an impossibility that Thomas Warner, whom we know paid a large sum to release Defoe from prison, and knew his private opinions from personal conversation, did not know when he published the first edition of The Fortunate Mistress that Defoe had written it. Or that Brotherton, when in business with Warner, never knew whose work he was publishing, and never communicated his knowledge to Noble when, nineteen years later, he and Staggs partnered in a reprint of Moll Flanders.

I am aware that this is speculation. All I can say is that it seems to me grounded speculation, based on reasonable inference. There is direct evidence linking Noble to the publishers of the earliest editions of works he would later attribute to Defoe, including people who knew Defoe intimately. Outside of Noble's connections to those people, there are also publications of Moll and Roxana in the late 1730s and early 1740s with affiliations to Robinson Crusoe and to the name Detbe, which seems to me to provide strong circumstantial evidence that the publishers knew who wrote them.

On the other side of the question, there is very little: there is a rumor which no one really took seriously that Harley wrote Robinson Crusoe while imprisoned in the Tower; and there is an undated edition of Memoirs of a Cavalier, published in Leeds, whose preface claims the author was "Andrew Newport." Otherwise, as far as I know, the novels have never been attributed to anyone else except Defoe.

Does it matter? Of course it matters. Historical accuracy is demanded by scholarly protocols. As we learn more, we correct ourselves and each other. In some matters, though, we cannot arrive at definitive answers, and a radical skepticism such as Ashley Marshall's, itself wanting to know the truth, might easily raise objections to my speculations. Nonetheless, whether the issue is settled, or left open, it seems to me salutary to be forced to examine the grounds of one's assumptions in radical ways.

Texas A&M University


A version of this paper was delivered at the East Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, November 2010, in a session organized by Geoffrey Sill.

(1) "The Text in Motion: Eighteenth-Century Roxanas," ELH 72 (2005): 387-406. For a convenient list of the many editions, consult the Appendix to P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens, "The 'Lost' Continuation of Defoe's Roxana," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 9 (1997): 306.

(2) P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens, Defoe De-Anributions: A Critique of J. R. Moore's "Checklist" (London: Hambledon Press, 1994). For a critical review of this work see Maximillian E. Novak, "The Defoe Canon: Attribution and De-attribution," Huntington Library Quarterly 59 (1996): 83-104.

(3) P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens, "Defoe and Francis Noble," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 4 (1992): 301-13; see also the individual entries for these novels in their A Critical Bibliography of Daniel Defoe (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998).

(4) Furbank and Owens, Critical Bibliography, xv-xvi.

(5) Furbank and Owens, Critical Bibliography, xxvi.

(6) Furbank and Owens, "The 'Lost' Continuation," 307.

(7) Walter Wilson, Memoirs of the Life and Times of Daniel Defoe, 3 vols. (London, 1830), 3:527.

(8) James Raven, "The Noble Brothers and Popular Publishing, 1737-89," The Library, 6th series, 12 (1990): 293-345.

(9) John Feather, "The English Book Trade and the Law, 1695-1799," Publishing History 12 (1982): 51-75; see also Raymond Astbury, "The Renewal of the Licensing Act in 1693, and its Lapse in 1695," The Library, 6th series, 33 (1978): 298-322.

(10) Michael Treadwell, "The Stationers and the Printing Acts at the End of the Seventeenth Century," in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 4, 1557-1695, ed. John Barnard and Donald F. McKenzie (Cambridge U. Press, 2002), 757-58.

(11) Paul Baines and Pat Rogers, Edmund Curll, Bookseller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 14, 325n12.

(12) Michael Treadwell, "London Trade Publishers 1675-1750," The Library, 5th series, 4 (1982): 111.

(13) Furbank and Owens, Critical Bibliography, 244.

(14) Maximillian E. Novak, Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions (Oxford U. Press, 2001), 426-27. For another example of a bookseller, in this case Edmund Curll, going bail for one of his writers, see Defoe's The Secret History of the Secret History of the White Staff(1715), cited by Baines and Rogers (Curll, 113).

(15) Michael Treadwell, "London Printers and Printing Houses in 1705," Publishing History 7 (1980): 23.

(16) Furbank and Owens, Critical Bibliography, 5.

(17) George A. Aitken, "Defoe and Mist's 'Weekly Journal,"' Athenaeum 26 (August 1893): 287-88.

(18) Paula McDowell, The Women of Grub Street: Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 64.

(19) James Raven, "London and the Central Sites of the London Book Trade," The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 5, 1695-1830, ed. Michael E Suarez and Michael L. Turner (Cambridge U. Press, 2009), 293-308.

(20) Asa Briggs, "The Longmans and the Book Trade, c. 1730-1780," Suarez and Turner, Cambridge History of the Book, 397. See Baines and Rogers, Curll, 204-5, for further examples.

(21) James Raven, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade, 1450-1850 (Yale U. Press, 2007), 128-29.

(22) Raven, Business of Books, 127.
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Author:Griffin, Robert J.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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