*A Review of the Affairs of France




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A Review of the Affairs of France

British periodical, 1704–13
This periodical was conducted by Daniel Defoe, it is thought singlehandedly, from 19 February 1704 until the end of July 1712. The original title, A Weekly Review of the Affairs of France and of All Europe, as Influenced by That Nation, was changed to A Review of the Affairs of France and of All Europe, with Observations on Transactions at Home later in the year, and then, at the beginning of 1706, to A Review of the State of the English Nation. Only the first eight numbers appeared weekly. Thereafter, the periodical was published twice a week for about a year, and then three times a week. Beginning in August 1712, a new series entitled simply the Review appeared twice a week until n June 1713. The entire body of writing Defoe produced in this journalistic enterprise amounts to some 5610 pages.
Such a sustained performance required unusual gifts of mind and personal resourcefulness. Defoe—whose fertile imagination and grasp of the mechanisms of publication led him in the early 1720s to produce a flurry of prose fiction which constitutes in certain ways the beginning of the modern novel—happened to possess such qualities. He was ideally positioned during these years to carry forward a periodical concerning itself with the variety of issues of which the general reading public was conscious. The energetic Defoe probably served as a publicist for both political parties at different times (depending on the issue and the pay), perhaps even for both at the same time. Certainly he was well placed to get information, and he had a nose for issues that mattered. His commentary in the Review was often pungent, dismaying or angering those whose partisanship he offended. To the reader distanced by time from the issues about which Defoe was writing, however, the Review is a fascinating serialization of one person’s thoughts on public affairs during an intriguing epoch.
The dominating feature of the Review throughout its history was the essay, about 1200–2000 words in length, spread across the columns of the front page and most of its verso. Advertisements for a range of patent medicines and cosmetics along with books and pamphlets filled in whatever space was free of other text (and were not insignificant sources of revenue for the periodical). At certain times, primarily in 1704 and 1705, Defoe ran a feature responding to the personal questions of his (real or imagined) readers.
In these years it was called “Advice from the Scandalous Club…Being a Weekly History of Nonsense, Impertinence, Vice and Debauchery.” There was sometimes the added juicy suggestion that the column was translated from a French original. Here Defoe touched on subjects such as courtship, marital relationships, problems arising in domestic life, habits such as smoking, and religious practices of both priesthood and laity. He ran these columns at first as monthly supplements, then as a feature he called the “Little Review.”
It appears to have been quite popular with Defoe’s readers, but his packaging of it and decision to discontinue it indicate that he regarded the Review primarily as a medium for his broader discourse as an essayist.
Defoe used his opportunity in writing the Review to address many subjects to which he returned throughout his career as a journalist: the distribution of wealth, aristocratic privilege, workhouses and public policies related to human need, charitable institutions, the theater and other public entertainments. The nominal purpose of the periodical—to consider questions about relations with France—framed many papers on the conduct of military operations, on the actions of individual military leaders, and on Marlborough, Charles XII of Sweden, and Queen Anne. He wrote on issues related to union with Scotland, on a variety of subjects having to do with the church, and on a broad variety of economic matters. Defoe’s essays in the Review are marked by the flow of ideas and energetic rhetoric which is characteristic of his prose: “Land is a fund of wealth, that’s true; but trade is the fund of land, from your trade springs your land’s wealth… What was the land in Barbados good for when the island was unpossessed by us? It was as rich as now, the fund was there—but that trade gave that fund a value. It was a fund and no fund—a fund of nothing; and take trade from that island now, with all its wealth, and what will it be good for still? Will it feed and employ 60,000 Negroes, &c., in a place of but 25 leagues round?” (1 May 1711).
Defoe’s Review was one of the principal factors in the establishment of the periodical essay form in 18th-century England. Certainly other periodicals developed features and methods of distribution which were as important as those used by Defoe, and doubtless later essayists chose as models the papers of Addison and Steele more consciously than those of Mr. Review. Addison and Steele took as their audience the middle and uppermiddle classes of English society, and their subject matter was largely significant in its cultural implications. Defoe seems to have felt that he was writing for the world at large, and he was by nature far more interested in economics, politics, and history than he was in aesthetics, behavior, or style. His discourse as an essayist is characteristically argumentative rather than conversational, and he experimented very little with the adoption of various points of view which entertained readers of the personae—from the
Spectator club to Mr. Rambler and his friends—who ostensibly conducted so many of the other periodicals of the age. With wonderful consistency, however, over more than a decade, Defoe produced essay after essay on a range of topics which were certainly important enough concerning daily life in England. His readers then—and now—have in his Review the work of one of England’s most significant essayists.


Defoe’s Review, facsimile edition, edited by Arthur Secord, 23 vols., 1938; index to this edition by William L.Payne, 1948; selection as The Best of Defoe’s “Review”: An Anthology, edited by Payne, 1951

Further Reading

Backscheider, Paula R., Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986
Backscheider, Paula R., Daniel Defoe: His Life, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989
Dobree, Bonamy, “Some Aspects of Defoe’s Prose,” in Pope and His Contemporaries: Essays Presented to George Sherburn, edited by James L.Clifford and Louis A.Landa, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949
Dobree, Bonamy, “The Writing of Daniel Defoe,” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 108 (1960):729–42
Graham, Walter, English Literary Periodicals, New York: Nelson, 1967 (original edition, 1930)
James, E.Anthony, Daniel Defoe’s Many Voices: A Rhetorical Study of Prose Style and Literary Method, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1972
Matchen, D., “Daniel Defoe’s Rhetorical Art in the Review” College Language Association Journal 4 (1982):417–46
Moore, John R., Daniel Defoe: Citizen of the Modern World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958
Novak, Maximillian E., “Defoe’s Use of Irony,” in his The Uses of Irony: Papers on Defoe and Swift, with Herbert J.Davis, Los Angeles: Clark Memorial Library, 1966
Payne, William L., Mr. Review: Daniel Defoe as Author of “The Review”, New York: King’s Crown Press, 1947

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