restricted access Defoe and the Project of "Neighbours Fare"
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Defoe and the Project of "Neighbours Fare"

Before the long eighteenth century was "the Age of Reason" or "the Age of Enlightenment," Daniel Defoe dubbed his "the Projecting Age." A recent seminar at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library and an accompanying volume of essays on "The Age of Projects" have sought to reclaim Defoe's title. Projecting's vitality, Maximillian E. Novak points out, highlights the dynamism of the late Restoration and its "belief that human thought and action could transform history" (7). That dynamism is evident in the pages of Defoe's Essay upon Projects, his first significant prose work, whose proposed reforms range from the revamping of highways and bankruptcy laws to the creation of benevolent societies and academies to improve the English language and educate soldiers and women. The Essay's optimism is striking given that its publication followed hard on the heels of the failure of Defoe's own schemes to farm civet cats and retrieve sunken treasure with the help of a diving bell. Though more extensive in scope than most projecting texts, the Essay's ambition is nonetheless representative of the flood of schemes that poured from the presses following the expiration of the Licensing Act in 1694-95, proposing everything from banks and lotteries to taxes on bedposts and libraries for the godless Scots. As a form of ad hoc social planning, projects form a lively part of the Restoration's print marketplace.

Although ubiquitous, projects were viewed ambivalently by contemporaries. As Novak observes, the term " project" for Restoration readers "had a distinctly unsavoury connotation, being associated with unscrupulous schemes for getting money" (3). Projecting was associated with Renaissance monopoly-mongering and contemporary stock-jobbing. In Samuel Butler's Characters, "A Projector" is said to prefer "the public Good before his own Advantage, until he has joined them both in some Monopoly, and then he thinks he has done [End Page 1] his Part, and may be allowed to look after his own Affairs in the second Place" (116). Defoe was a committed projector all his life, lauding the marriage of "Invention" to the daughter of "Projector" in the pages of his Review and publishing An Effectual Scheme for the Immediate Preventing of Street Robberies just months before he died, but he could lash projectors with the best of them. In The Complete English Tradesmen, he observes that "projectors ... are indeed amongst tradesmen as birds of prey are amongst the innocent fowls, (viz.) devourers and destroyers" (31). When he put pen to paper to write the Essay, though, Defoe would have known not only that he would be suspected of financial opportunism, but also that he ran the risk of inviting a further, more threatening accusation. Though Novak does not discuss it, one widespread stereotype presented the projector as nothing more than a latter-day enthusiast. Conjuring the anarchic inspiration that had fuelled the civil wars, enthusiasm provokes deep anxiety in the Restoration, and its association with projecting is frequent. When Damaris Masham, Defoe's near-contemporary, disparages the female seminary projected by Mary Astell in 1694, she charges that the plan "will turn to as wild an Enthusiasm as any that has been yet seen" (129). Jonathan Swift, perhaps projecting's most famous critic, alludes to the connection when The Tale of a Tub's Lord Peter, elsewhere typed as an enthusiast, "cast[s] about to turn projector" (50).1 In later years, Defoe himself would be charged by one detractor of being a "Thrasonick Zoilus," while another attacked the "Fanaticism" of his financial proposals, demanding "How in the Name of Wonder shou'd this Creature know anything of Trade, unless it was by Inspiration?"2

Why does projecting evoke the specter of enthusiasm, and why does the practice nonetheless persist throughout the Restoration and into the eighteenth century, which sees the publication of projects by Defoe, George Berkeley, and even Swift himself? This article uses Defoe's Essay to begin to answer these questions and to explore how projecting matters in Defoe's career and in the period more broadly. At the heart of a sophisticated projecting text such as the Essay, I argue, lies the desire to...