The True-Born Englishman

The True-Born Englishman

An Explanatory Preface

Daniel Defoe

IT is not that I see any reason to alter my opinion in anything I have written which occasions this epistle, but I find it necessary, for the satisfaction of some persons of honour as well as wit, to pass a short explication upon it, and tell the world what I mean, or rather what I do not mean, in some things wherein I find I am liable to be misunderstood.

I confess myself something surprised to hear that I am taxed with bewraying my own nest and abusing our nation by discovering the meanness of our original, in order to make the English contemptible abroad and at home; in which I think they are mistaken. For why should not our neighbours be as good as we to derive from? And I must add that, had we been an unmixed nation, I am of opinion it had been to our disadvantage. For, to go no further, we have three nations about us as clear from mixtures of blood as any in the world, and I know not which of them I could wish ourselves to be like—I mean the Scots, the Welsh, and Irish; and if I were to write a reverse to the satire, I would examine all the nations of Europe, and prove that those nations which are most mixed are the best, and have least of barbarism and brutality among them; and abundance of reasons might be given for it, too long to bring into a preface.

But I give this hint to let the world know that I am far from thinking it is a satire upon the English nation to tell them they are derived from all the nations under heaven—that is, from several nations. Nor is it meant to undervalue the original of the English, for we see no reason to like them the worse, being the relics of Nomans, Danes, Saxons, and Normans, than we should have done if they had remained Britons; that is, than if they had been all Welshmen.

But the intent of the satire is pointed at the vanity of those who talk of their antiquity and value themselves upon their pedigree, their ancient families, and being true-born; whereas it is impossible we should be true-born, and if we could, should have lost by the bargain.

Those sort of people who call themselves true-born and tell long stories of their families, and, like a nobleman of Venice, think a foreigner ought not to walk on the same side of the street with them, are owned to be meant in this satire. What they would infer from their own original I know not, nor is it easy to make out whether they are the better or the worse for their ancestors. Our English nation may value themselves for their wit, wealth, and courage, and I believe few will dispute it with them; but for long originals and ancient true-born families of English, I would advise them to waive the discourse. A true Englishman is one that deserves a character, and I have nowhere lessened him that I know of; but as for a true-born Englishman, I confess I do not understand him.

From hence I only infer that an Englishman, of all men, ought not to despise foreigners as such, and I think the inference is just, since what they are to-day we were yesterday, and to-morrow they will be like us. If foreigners misbehave in their several stations and employments, I have nothing to do with that; the laws are open to punish them equally with natives, and let them have no favour.

But when I see the town full of lampoons and invectives against Dutchmen only because they are foreigners, and the King reproached and insulted by insolent pedants and ballad-making poets for employing foreigners, and for being a foreigner himself, I confess myself moved by it to remind our nation of their own original, thereby to let them see what a banter is put upon ourselves in it, since, speaking of Englishmen ab origine, we are really foreigners ourselves.

I could go on to prove it is also impolitic in us to discourage foreigners, since it is easy to make it appear that the multitudes of foreign nations who have taken sanctuary here have been the greatest additions to the wealth and strength of the nation, the great essential whereof is the number of its in habitants. Nor would this nation have ever arrived to the degree of wealth and glory it now boasts of if the addition of foreign nations, both as to manufactures and arms, had not been helpful to it. This is so plain that he who is ignorant of it is too dull to be talked with.

The satire, therefore, I must allow to be just till I am otherwise convinced, because nothing can be more ridiculous than to hear our people boast of that antiquity which, if it had been true, would have left us in so much worse a condition than we are in now; whereas we ought rather to boast among our neighbours that we are a part of themselves, or the same original as they, but bettered by our climate, and, like our language and manufactures, derived from them and improved by us to a perfection greater than they can pretend to.

This we might have valued ourselves upon without vanity; but to disown our descent from them, talking big of our ancient families and long originals, and stand at a distance from foreigners, like the enthusiast in religion, with a “Stand off; I am more holy than thou!”—this is a thing so ridiculous in a nation, derived from foreigners as we are, that I could not but attack them as I have done.

And whereas I am threatened to be called to a public account for this freedom, and the publisher of this has been new-papered in gaol already for it, though I see nothing in it for which the Government can be displeased, yet if at the same time those people who, with an unlimited arrogance in print, every day affront the King, prescribe the Parliament, and lampoon the Government may be either punished or restrained, I am content to stand and fall with the public justice of my native country which I am not sensible I have anywhere injured.

Nor would I be misunderstood concerning the clergy, with whom, if I have taken any license more than becomes a satire, I question not but those gentlemen, who are men of letters, are also men of so much candour as to allow me a loose at the crimes of the guilty without thinking the whole profession lashed, who are innocent. I profess to have very mean thoughts of those gentlemen who have deserted their own principles, and exposed even their morals as well as loyalty, but not at all to think it affects any but such as are concerned in the fact.

Nor would I be misrepresented as to the ingratitude of the English to the King and his friends, as if I meant the English as a nation are so. The contrary is so apparent, that I would hope it should not be suggested of me; and, therefore, when I have brought in Britannia speaking of the King, I suppose her to be the representative or mouth of the nation as a body. But if I say we are full of such who daily affront the King and abuse his friends, who print scurrilous pamphlets, virulent lampoons, and reproachful public banter against both the King’s person and Government, I say nothing but what is too true. And that the satire is directed at such I freely own, and cannot say but I should think it very hard to be censured for this satire while such remain unquestioned and tacitly approved. That I can mean none but such is plain from these few lines:—

“Ye Heavens, regard! Almighty Jove, look down,
And view thy injured monarch on the throne.
On their ungrateful heads due vengeance take
Who sought his aid and then his part forsake.”

If I have fallen upon our vices, I hope none but the vicious will be angry. As for writing for interest, I disown it. I have neither place, nor pension, nor prospect; nor seek none, nor will have none. If matter of fact justifies the truth of the crimes, the satire is just. As to the poetic liberties, I hope the crime is pardonable. I am content to be stoned provided none will attack me but the innocent.

If my countrymen would take the hint and grow better-natured from my ill-natured poem, as some call it, I would say this of it, that though it is far from the best satire that ever was written, it would do the most good that ever satire did.

And yet I am ready to ask pardon of some gentlemen too, who, though they are Englishmen, have good-nature enough to see themselves reproved, and can bear it. Those are gentlemen in a true sense that can bear to be told of their faux pas and not abuse the reprover. To such I must say this is no satire; they are exceptions to the general rule; and I value my performance from their generous approbation more than I can from any opinion I have of its worth.

The hasty errors of my verse I made my excuse for before; and since the time I have been upon it has been but little, and my leisure less, I have all along strove rather to make the thoughts explicit than the poem correct. However, I have mended some faults in this edition, and the rest must be placed to my account.

As to answers, banters, true English Billingsgate, I expect them till nobody will buy, and then the shop will be shut. Had I wrote it for the gain of the press, I should have been concerned at its being printed again and again by pirates, as they call them, and paragraph-men; but would they but do it justice and print it true according to the copy, they are welcome to sell it for a penny if they please.

The pence indeed is the end of their works. I will engage, if nobody will buy, nobody will write. And not a patriot-poet of them all now will, in defence of his native country—which I have abused, they say—print an answer to it, and give it about for God’s sake.

The True-Born Englishman - Contents    |     The Preface

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