- "He reviews without Fear, and acts without fainting":Defoe's Review
In 2008, Pickering and Chatto completed the publication of its forty-four-volume Works of Daniel Defoe (2000-2008), under the general editorship of P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens, in five thematically and/or generically organized series. This edition comprises eight volumes of Political and Economic Writings (2000); eight volumes of Writings on Travel, Discovery and History (2001-2); eight volumes of Satire, Fantasy and Writings on the Supernatural (2003-4); ten volumes of Religious and Didactic Writings (2005-6); and ten volumes of Novels (2007-8). The completion in 2011 of Pickering and Chatto's edition of Defoe's Review is not just the missing piece to the jigsaw; it is a whole new box of pieces, expertly put together by editor John McVeagh. The nine volumes billed belie the fact that each is in two parts, meaning that the Review adds eighteen thick books to the other forty-four of Defoe's writings—which is still not everything. The Review amounts in McVeagh's computation to around four million words, almost all of them by Defoe (1: vi). It covers the entire range of subjects listed above for the Works, ensuring that the Review contains much of Defoe's best writing—which is to say, the early eighteenth century's best writing—on history, economics, religion, politics, and a plethora of other topics. Although the two are distinct editions, the physical design of the Review matches that of the Works, so they can sit together attractively in libraries that can afford these expensive tomes.
McVeagh deserves tremendous credit for making available to the modern reader, in such a finely produced edition, a text that is crucial for our understanding of the development of the periodical press, the political rhetoric that enveloped the reign of Queen Anne, and the polemical skill of one of the foremost journalists of that era. Even in this digital age, the Review hitherto has been hard to access [End Page 131] and unwieldy to consult, and so remains a largely untapped resource. There were no eighteenth- or nineteenth-century editions, so there is nothing on Eighteenth-Century Collections Online or other digital sites, though parts of the Review have now been digitized in the British Library's Burney Collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century newspapers. The only previous reprint is Arthur W. Secord's twenty-two book facsimile version (New York: Columbia University Press, 1938). Secord's edition does not have notes like McVeagh's, is not always copresent with William L. Payne's accompanying Index to Defoe's Review (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), and is quite rare: only 475 copies were produced. Payne's selection, The Best of Defoe's Review (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), is useful for a taster, but not adequate for full scholarly purposes. McVeagh's edition will become the standard source for all researchers using the Review; it is a monumental act of scholarship which should have a major impact on eighteenth-century studies.
I intend to use this review essay to trace the developments in format and focus of Defoe's periodical over its nine-year lifespan, pointing to just some aspects of its historical significance in the hope that a greater awareness of the scope, aims, and achievements of the Review will enable its incorporation into how we think about Defoe's career, early-century political journalism, and the historical events upon which it commentates. The Review gives us much more than a hack writer touting the government line. A fresh look complicates the still-prevalent view that Robert Harley simply dictated what Defoe wrote after the then Speaker brokered his release from prison in late 1703, supposedly because he envisioned Defoe becoming the "discreet writer of the government's side" who would "state facts right" for "readers imposed upon by the stories raised by ill-designing men" (qtd. in J. A. Downie, Robert Harley and the Press: Propaganda and Public Opinion in the Age of...