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Social Projects

“Projecting” was a fairly common pastime at the end of the 17th century, and Defoe refers in his Essay upon Projects to “the general Projecting Humour of the Nation,” in which many high-minded writers had put forth their ideas for the improvement of English society, and many blackguards had put forth their scams for the defrauding of the same. Defoe himself was full of ideas on how to improve things, and over the decades-long span of his writing career, he wrote a number of works on all aspects of English life, from banks and bankruptcies to sailors and street robberies.

For five of his later works on social projects, Defoe adopted the persona of Andrew Moreton, a crotchety old man who, though not a polished writer, wishes to do some good by proposing some remedies for common social ills. This set of works is an example of Defoe’s ability to alter his style and delivery based on his subject and audience, although he can’t help but infuse Moreton with the same wit Defoe himself was known for. In a preface added to the fifth edition of the work, Every-body’s Business, is No-Body’s Business, for example, he writes, “As for the Maid-Servants, if I undervalue my self to take notice of them, as they are pleas’d to say, it is because they over-value themselves so much they ought to be taken notice of.”

Essay upon Projects
An Essay upon Projects. London: Printed by R.R. for Tho. Cockerill, at the Three Legs in the Poultrey, 1697.

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This is Defoe’s first book-length work, a collection of proposals for the improvement of the English economy and society, including projects for banks, highways, academies, “fools,” and seamen.

Defoe had recently emerged from his own bankruptcy, and he has strong opinions on this issue, pointing out the absurdity of throwing debtors into prison where they have no chance whatsoever to earn money to pay back their creditors.

He also includes a forward-thinking section on the creation of an academy for women, for, he says, “I Have often thought of it as one of the most barbarous Customs in the world, considering us as a Civiliz’d and a Christian Countrey, that we deny the advantages of Learning to Women” (282).

Great Law of Subordination consider'd Title Page
The Great Law of Subordination consider'd; or, The Insolence and Unsufferable Behaviour of Servants in England duly enquir’d into. Illustrated with a great Variety of Examples, Historical Cases, and Remarkable Stories of the Behaviour of some particular Servants, suited to all the several Arguments made use of, as they go on. In Ten Familiar Letters. Together with a Conclusion, being an Earnest and Moving Remonstrance to the House-keepers and Heads of Families in Great-Britain, Pressing them not to Cease Using their Utmost Interest (especially at this Juncture) to obtain Sufficient Laws for the Effectual Regulation of the Manners and Behaviour of their Servants. As also a Proposal, containing such Heads or Constitutions, as wou’d effectually answer this great End, and bring Servants of every Class to a Just (and yet not a Grievous) Regulation. London: Sold by S. Harding, at the Post-House, in St. Martin’s-Lane; W Lewis, in Covent-Garden; T. Worrall, at the Judge’s-Head, against St. Dunstan’s-Church, Fleet-street; A. Bettesworth, in Pater-Noster-Row; W. Meadows, in Cornhill; and T. Edlin, at the Prince’s-Arms, against Exeter Exchange, in the Strand, 1724.

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Written in the form of letters from a Frenchman living in England to his brother in France, complaining of the Low-Life persons in England, of their insubordination and unwillingness to work. The Low-Lifes in question comprise apprentices and clerks as well as menial servants such as cooks and butlers. At the time Defoe was writing this work, Parliament was in the midst of discussing new legislation regarding servants. Defoe is all for it, urging that “Now therefore is the time for the People of England to rescue themselves out of the Hands of the worst Slavery they were ever yet in...I mean, a Bondage to their own Servants” (302).

Works by Andrew Moreton

Protestant Monastery Title Page
The Protestant Monastery: or, a Complaint against the Brutality of the Present Age. Particularly the Pertness and Insolence of our Youth to Aged Persons. With a Caution to People in Years, how they give the Staff out of their own Hands, and leave themselves at the Mercy of others. Concluding with a Proposal for erecting a Protestant Monastery, where Persons of small Fortunes may end their Days in Plenty, Ease, and Credit, without burthening their Relations, or accepting Publick Charities. By Andrew Moreton, Esq; Author of Every-Body’s Business is No-Body’s Business. London: Printed for W. Meadows, at the Angel in Cornhill; and sold by J. Roberts, in Warwick-Lane; E. Nutt, under the Royal Exchange; A. Dodd, without Temple-Bar; and N. Blanford, at Charing-Cross. 1727. [for 1726]

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The theme of this pamphlet is the care of the aged. The disrespect and disdain of old persons is all too common, for “though they are suffered to live, ‘tis under many Hardships and Restrictions, many Humps and Grumps; and scarce a Day, but they are ask’d, what they do out of their Graves” (4). He urges parents to train their own children better, so that they will not grow up to be ungrateful brutes, and then proposes, for those getting on in years, the creation of a protestant monastery. This would be a joint venture, where a group of people would pool their money to create a sort of college where they could all live, ordering their own affairs, hiring their own servants, etc., and free from the ungracious neglect of their own kin.

Parochial Tyranny Title Page
Parochial Tyranny: or, the House-Keeper’s Complaint against the Insupportable Exactions, and Partial Assessments of Select Vestries, &c. With a Plain Detection of many Abuses committed in the Distribution of Publick Charities: together with a Practicable Proposal for Amendment of the same; which will not only take off great Part of the Parish Taxes now subsisting, but ease Parishoners from serving troublesome Offices, or paying exorbitant Fines. By Andrew Moreton, Esq; London: Printed: and sold by J. Roberts in Warwick Lane. [1727]

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The complaint here is about local taxes, which the average citizen has no say in (unlike national taxes, about which citizens can petition their local Member of Parliament). The system is an old one, based on parishes, and Defoe (as Moreton) argues that the system needs to be completely overhauled and the taxes standardized so that the corrupt Church wardens, alternately called “harpies,” “vultures,” “blood-suckers,” and “Hell-Hounds,” can no longer oppress those living in their parish.

Augusta Triumphans Title Page
Augusta Triumphans: or, the Way to make London the most Flourishing City in the Universe. First, by establishing an University where Gentlemen may have Academical Education under the Eye of their Friends. II. To prevent much Murder, &c. by an Hospital for Foundlings. III. By suppressing pretended Mad-Houses, where many of the fair Sex are unjustly confin’d, while their Husbands keep Mistresses, &c. and many Widows are lock’d up for the Sake of their Jointure. IV. To save our Youth from Destruction, by clearing the Streets of Impudent Strumpets, suppressing Gaming-Tables, and Sunday Debauches. V. To avoid the expensive Importation of Foreign Musicians, by forming an Academy of our own. VI. To save our lower Class of People from utter Ruin, and render them useful, by preventing the Immoderate Use of Geneva: with a Frank Explosion of many other common Abuses, and incontestable Rules for Amendment. Concluding with an Effectual Method to Prevent Street Robberies; and a Letter to Coll. Robinson, on account of the Orphan’s Tax. London: Printed for J. Roberts in Warwick-Lane, and Sold by E. Nutt at the Royal-Exchange, A. Dodd without Temple-Bar, N. Blandford at Charing-Cross, and J. Stagg in Westminster-Hall. 1728.

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Defoe’s works often have lengthy title pages, and this is one of the longest, giving a complete outline of the work. It covers wide range of projects, but the goal of each is to empower one of the weaker classes, whether foundlings, women, the young, or the poor. The first edition, unlike the second edition described here, did not list Andrew Moreton as the author.

The “Geneva” in section VI is gin: “It curdles the Blood, it stupifies the Senses, it weakens the Nerves, it spoils the Eye-sight, and entirely ruins the Stomach,” unlike “our own Malt Liquors, especially common Draught Beer, [which] is most wholesome and nourishing, and has brought up better Generations than the present: It is strengthening, cooling, and balsamick: It helps Digestion, and carries Nourishment with it” (46).

Second Thoughts are Best Title Page
Second Thoughts are Best: or, a further Improvement of a late Scheme to prevent Street Robberies: by which our Streets will be so strongly Guarded, and so gloriously Illuminated, that any part of London will be as safe and pleasant at Midnight as at Noonday; and Burglary totally impracticable: with some Thoughts for suppressing Robberies in all the Publick Roads of England, &c. Humbly offered for the Good of his Country, submitted to the Consideration of the Parliament, and dedicated to his sacred Majesty King George IId. By Andrew Moreton, Esq; London: Printed for W. Meadows, at the Angel in Cornhil; and sold by J. Roberts in Warwick-Lane, 1729 [for 1728].

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At the end of Augusta Triumphans, Moreton included a brief plan for the reduction of street robbery, and here he enlarges on the topic. The main parts of the scheme include increased lighting and increased numbers of watchmen, who should be “stout able bodied Men,” (7) well-paid and well-armed by the housekeepers whose houses they watch over. This is in contrast to the current watchmen, who “for the most part, being decrepit, superannuated wretches, with one foot in the grave, and t’other ready to follow; so feeble that a puff of breath can blow ‘em down: poor crazy mortals! much fitter for an alms-house than a watch-house” (1).

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