ABSTRACT

In 1718, a year before the publication of The Strange and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and its sequel, The Farther Adventures, a law was passed in Britain that made partners of early eighteenth-century colonial commerce and the criminal justice system. Named “An act for the further preventing robbery, burglary and other felonies, and for the more effectual transportation of felons,” it systematized a practice that was already widespread in the seventeenth century, whereby those sentenced to be hanged could be shipped instead to the American colonies and sold into service. The Act extended the range of offenses that were transportable and provided state funds to pay those contractors who could manage the shipping and sale of convicts most efficiently. In so doing, it promised simultaneously to resolve the problem of a labor shortage on the plantations and to remove the surplus of “idle persons . . . lurking about in divers parts of London,” thereby combining national commercial interests with a solution to the social problems of youthful itinerancy and urban crime.1 With its account of exile and “imprisonment” on a remote Caribbean island and of the subsequent settlement and planting of that island, Crusoe’s story, like the Act, connects colonial trade to penal correction. As we shall see, the novels also assign government a direct role in the management of both, although Crusoe’s ambiguous success as governor raises questions about how effectively such rule can be exercised in the colonial context. As the passage from A Plan of the English Commerce quoted above shows, Defoe thought the Act had successfully reformed members of England’s indigent and criminal classes into wealthy and honest citizens. In the Adventures, as well as in its sequel, the transformation of poverty into wealth and felon into honest planter comes to fictional life when

Crusoe, first as reformed “criminal” (who disobeys his duty to both God and his father) and later as judge, identifies planting and trade with both material and moral improvement. John Bender has shown that Defoe’s narratives are “penitential” in that they turn the public spectacle of the execution speech into an intensely private and subjective expression of remorse (1987: 43-62; see also O’Brien 1998: 65-82). In what follows, I will be looking specifically at how transportation figures in Crusoe’s story and the extent to which the novels can successfully dramatize a profitable link between this reformed private subject and British commercial interests. Defoe’s approval of the aims of the Transportation Act are grounded in a mercantilist tradition that puts him in the company of seventeenth-century economic theorists like Thomas Mun, Edward Misselden and Charles Davenant (see Meier 1987; Neill 2002: 52-82; Novak 1962). Mercantilism, although it by no means describes a single, coherent philosophy, usually emphasizes the role of commerce in the achievement of national power and the importance of a favorable balance of trade. Davenant’s mercantilism, in particular, complements Defoe’s because the former’s Discourses on the Publick Revenues and on Trade devotes a long section to the plantation trade. Where mercantilism generally emphasizes the importance of foreign trade, Davenant, like Defoe, recognized the colonies as at once a source of revenue and a productive location for the unwanted surplus of human beings as well as goods. He describes the colonies as “an outlet or issue for the ill humours which from time to time are engendered in the body politick” and says of the convicts who work on their plantations that “their labour and industry is more useful to their mother country [there] than if they had continued among us” (Davenant 1698: vol. 2, 200). Indeed, he gives the colonial trade (whose success among European nations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of course, depended on industrialized slavery) a humane face, as he suggests that transportation represents a “more religious” way of punishing felons than execution, especially seeing that “many malefactors have by . . . industry and a reformation in manners, justify’d their wisdom whose clemency sent them abroad” (ibid.: 2, 198). Such observations seem precursory to those Defoe was to make in A Plan, highlighting how the colony strengthens the nation economically both by creating industrious subjects and by removing the draining burden of the poor and the criminal from the mother country. Defoe insists that trade, whether foreign, colonial or domestic, improves the moral and material position of everyone it touches. Increasing the population and thus the wealth of the nation, improving the value of land and manufacture, increasing the wages of the poor, and malting them “merrier at their labour, than others are at their play” (Defoe [1728] 1928: 26), trade makes for a stronger nation and more content subjects. It is also, he suggests, a source of liberty. He argues that those nations who are enemies to trade not only leave their people “miserably poor . . . idle, indolent and starving” (ibid.: 11), they also subject them to tyrannical government. Before trade, labor was not sold for wages, but tenant farmers were the absolute subjects of their landlords, for whom they performed

servile labors and whom they “worshipped with a blind subjection” (ibid.: 34). Under the improving influence of trade, free-wage laborers become free subjects. Not only economic progress and social improvement but also political freedom, he contends, can be attributed to commerce. Defoe sometimes speaks of liberty in economic as well as political terms and advocates what are, broadly speaking, free trade principles. In the context of debate about the trading monopolies held by the joint-stock companies, for instance, he argues for an unconfined trade open to any and all merchants. Periodically an advocate of Tory free-trade arguments (Novak 1962: 5-31), he sometimes represents trade as a benevolent creation of nature and thus as a feature of God’s greater design, not of political engineering or the ambitions of states. In this respect, his economic arguments can approximate not only Montesquieu’s doux commerce but also the natural order of political economy described by the physiocrats and Adam Smith (ibid.: 27). However, Defoe frequently rejects the more liberal strains of mercantilism, including Davenant’s, which minimize the role of government in preserving a favorable balance. He joined with the nationalist defenders of the textile industry in advocating prohibitions on the import of textile goods by, in particular, the East India Company, since these imports threatened local industry. Concerned about the decline of the global market for English wool cloth, he also urged that the trade with France, in particular, be regulated so as to create a strong balance in favor of Britain. Moreover, since England’s colonies were vital to its economic strength, providing ready markets for English goods and producing others for export to foreign countries, he supported a protectionist colonial trade, as well, of course, as imperial ambition. The paternalistic state that Defoe saw managing trade in Britain’s best interests, a state that liberates its subjects from feudal bonds by ensuring a healthy commerce, has been examined not just as evidence of his economic conservatism but also in relation to his possible anti-Whig politics. Given his politically liberal sympathies, it is tempting to identify Defoe as the spokesman of the urban merchant and middle classes, those that were politically allied with Whig support for the Protestant succession, the rights of parliament over the crown and the vision of economic and political liberty described in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. Yet, as Manuel Schonhorn (1991) has argued, Defoe cannot be described unambiguously as a Lockean “modern.” His political journalism at the time of the publication of the Adventures shows him challenging the postrevolutionary division of sovereign power among the three estates of King, Lords and Commons, and advocating instead the supreme authority of the monarch. Even his earlier Reflections Upon the Late Great Revolution (1689) does not propose a Lockean constitution in which sovereignty resides in the subjects to whom kings are finally answerable. Instead, princely authority is legitimated by God. Schonhorn argues, therefore, that the Adventures can be read as an allegory of the kind of divinely sanctioned political authority that Whigs, Lockeans and contractualists had rejected. I will contend here that, because it is set in a colony, Crusoe’s story generates more complicated political and economic meaning than Schonhorn has

recognized. In part, this is because it dramatizes the circularity inherent in a mercantilist view of the state, which at once argued that the commonwealth was maintained and guided by commerce and also that a healthy commerce depended upon good management from above. Yet the story also introduces the elements of isolation and violence (features of a pre-commercial, uncivilized “state of nature” for Thomas Hobbes) that not only obstruct trade but that threaten the identity of the civilized trader/island governor himself. The result is that the narrative of penal reform becomes clouded, and the neat equation between commerce and correction that Defoe later advocates so comfortably in A Plan appears here through the more skeptical narrative lens of Crusoe’s unstable character. I shall suggest that, in the colonial context of the island as well as in the account of a voyage through the “barbarous” East that takes place in the second half of the Farther Adventures, questions about the role of political authority in economic development intersect with the problem of maintaining civil order under social conditions where conflict continues to provoke violence. It might then appear that, where the economics of A Plan are given narrative life in the two parts of Crusoe’s story, they encounter the question of character as it is both formed and de-formed by the tensions among commercial initiative, sovereign authority and colonial violence. The Adventures reads at once as an allegory for the natural forces that make trade possible and necessary (as God provides what is essential to man’s survival and the means to secure it) and at the same time as an account of the evolution of state power as Crusoe assumes more and more authority on the island. At the end of the first part of his story, Crusoe grants his mutineer prisoners a pardon, agreeing not to return them to England and the gallows on condition that they remain on the island. While he attributes his own fortunate discoveries and delivery from the island to “the pure productions of Providence,” which miraculously cause grain to grow on what seems otherwise a “wild miserable place” (Defoe [1719] 1994: 58), the liberty he grants to the new generation of settlers he leaves behind is given by his own authority. Despite the humbling lesson he learned earlier that he owes everything he has to divine grace, he now confidently dispenses royal judgment and mercy as though such divinity were embodied in his royal person. Already having declared himself absolute ruler over the animal “subjects” he had domesticated there, his authority now extends over the human populations of reformed cannibals, Spaniards and English mutineers. In addition to the pardon of exile in place of execution, he grants the mutineers further mercy in the form of the very story of his life on the island we have been privy to, including detailed information about how to produce crops there and domesticate animals. Hence the narrative that had recorded the internal evolution of a reformed subject becomes an instrument of both royal justice and economic government. As Michael McKeon (1987: 330) has shown, Crusoe increasingly internalizes God’s authority. Once he is no longer the subject of divine correction, the island that had been his prison instead becomes a place of reform in which his own authority goes unchallenged. Earlier, on first discovering the cannibals, he had

recovered his religious hope by reflecting that his situation was determined by the ends of divine wisdom, and that he should not dispute God’s sovereignty by lamenting his circumstances, but rather “resign [him]self absolutely and entirely to his Will” (Defoe [1719] 1994: 114). Once he captures Friday, however, the distinction between divine authority and his own begins to blur, as he instructs his slave both in scripture and in the practical duties owed to a master. Hence, when he mistakenly assumes that Friday cannot be depended upon, Crusoe fears he “would not only forget all his religion, but all his obligation to me” (ibid.: 162). With a similar change of heart, he assumes the power of judgment against a whole people that he had formerly declared to be God’s. When he first discovers the cannibals, he checks his own violent reactions to the spectacle of their feast by observing that he has no authority “to pretend to be judge and executioner upon these men as criminals whom heaven had thought fit for so many ages to suffer unpunish’d” (ibid.: 124). By the law of nations whose foundation is in natural law, he can commit no violence on them since they have done him no injury, and declares that he should leave them “to the justice of God, who is the Governor of Nations” (ibid.: 125). However, once he has the opportunity to deliver a Spanish prisoner from their savage clutches, he takes pride in how thoroughly he vanquishes this barbaric enemy. In return for his act of deliverance, he claims the dignity of a monarch whose property is no longer merely that land which he has mixed his labor with but “the whole country . . . [where] I had an undoubted right of dominion” (ibid.: 174). He is also “absolute lord and lawgiver” over his “perfectly subjected” people. The discovery of his authority parallels Crusoe’s transformation from apostate and runaway to successful planter and merchant, reminding readers that the allegorical meaning of the novel is as much economic as political. Crusoe exchanges the “middle station of life . . . calculated for all kinds of vertues” (ibid.: 5) into which he was born for a reckless life of adventure “without God’s blessing or [his] father’s” (ibid.: 7). His sin is twofold, since he becomes not just a “rebel to the authority of [his] parents” but also “a fool to my own interest” (ibid.: 31). Despite this mistake of his youth, which leads him into material and spiritual wretchedness, his adventures do bring him to a state of spiritual reformation, as well as teach him how to become a man of business. On the voyage to Guinea Coast, he profitably trades toys and trifles for gold dust. In the Brazils, he establishes a successful plantation and sells his English manufactured goods for a considerable profit. On the island, he learns to submit to providential will even as he gradually improves his estate. Yet on several occasions, first in the Brazils and later, in the second novel, when he embarks on another risky voyage, he is still driven to abandon the happy lot of the planter and to “pursue a rash and immoderate desire of rising faster than the nature of the thing permitted” (ibid.: 29). The first endeavor lands him shipwrecked on the island; the second finds him abandoned by his crewmates and alone in another remote region of the world. His development as economic man is thus, like his accumulation of political power, frequently at odds with nature and in need of God’s correction. Davenant’s promise, that vice exported to the colonies will return as the wealth

from plantations, is complicated by the excessive ambition Crusoe demonstrates, both as merchant-planter and as ruler of the island. Crusoe himself has not achieved full moral reformation from his experience of forced exile. As we discover in the second part of his story, the new generation of settlers he leaves behind him has no more success than he does at creating economic, political or moral stability. The events that unfold in the sequel to Crusoe’s first story demonstrate even more clearly than his first tale does how the link between virtue and commerce is compromised by the very colonial environment in which, given the supposed reforming influence of plantation labor, this link should be rather strong. Because the colony is the site of both native cannibal and English criminal violence, the question of how to establish effective government is a pressing one. At the same time, because the colony is at such a distance from the mother country, the bonds of trade, and hence of civilized manners, are always fragile. As a result, even as Crusoe oscillates between the roles of ruler and merchant, his identity as a subject of the civilized, commercial-imperial world also becomes increasingly unstable. Indeed, both he and his island “subjects” promise to revert to the kind of savage behavior that characterizes a Hobbesian state of nature rather than a civilized commercial society. The sequel to The Strange and Surprising Adventures is “every way as profitable and diverting” (Defoe [1895] 1974: vii), Defoe promises, as the former part of the story. This suggests that the second story will combine the same kind of picaresque indifference to a unified narrative with the same attention to commercial matters that we saw in the first novel. The Farther Adventures begins with Crusoe’s return to the Caribbean and then moves on to his account of what has taken place among the new “settlers” of the colony and his efforts to restore civil order and effective planting there. In the second half of the novel, Crusoe does not return to his native land as he did at the end of the Adventures, but instead travels, as a merchant, across the world through the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, and finally overland through East Asia, Tartary, Russia and Siberia, back to Europe and finally England. Although it never enjoyed the popularity of its predecessor, the Farther Adventures deserves the same attention if only because it highlights how difficult it is to read Crusoe either as consistently responsible to mercantilist goals, or, concurrently, as a fully reformed civil subject. At first, the Farther Adventures seems to tell the story of a successful penal colony. Like Crusoe, the criminals that he sentences to life on the island improve morally at the same time as they endeavor to plant successfully. Crusoe returns to discover that a group of “the most impudent, hardened, ungoverned, disagreeable villains” (ibid.: 40) have eventually become industrious and honest planters. In particular, their leader Will Atkins, “a dreadful fellow for wickedness” (ibid.: 93), undergoes a remarkable transformation and inspires his “jailors,” the Spanish whom Crusoe left on the island in charge of the English prisoner-mutineers, with so much confidence that they make him lieutenant governor of the island. Formerly, Atkins and two of his companions had threatened the kind of

destruction that Crusoe himself had contemplated in his fear of the cannibals. Where Crusoe considered destroying his own fences and cornfields in order to make himself invisible to the cannibals, Atkins and his companions pulled up trees planted by their more honest compatriots and destroyed their habitations and the enclosures erected to secure cattle and corn. Yet by the time Crusoe leaves the island for the second time, these three have not only become members of the planting community, but also instruct the subdued “savages” in how to tame goats and grow corn. The plantations that the three reprobates have established are, owing to their profligacy and sloth, considerably inferior to those of their more honest countrymen. Nonetheless, the food that they have produced becomes crucial to the survival of all the Europeans on the island when the cannibals destroy the better plantations that the more industrious settlers have established around Crusoe’s old bower. Defending the system of transportation when it came under fire later in the century, the reformer-magistrate Sir John Fielding claimed that it is “the wisest and most humane punishment. For it immediately removes the evil, separates the individual from his abandoned connexions, and gives him a fresh opportunity of being a useful member of society” (Roberts 1899: vol. 4, no. 39). Once the Englishmen become respectable planters, their interests are united with those of the other Europeans. Before this, they are isolated from their compatriots, both forcibly as the Spanish exile them on the remote part of the island in order to preserve the society from danger and voluntarily as they leave the island for what they assume to be the mainland and better opportunities. This creates the kind of social improvement Fielding describes, since the old community is protected by the removal of those who threaten the safety and property of their betters, and the new is formed of an enterprising and industrious underclass of reformed criminals. The resulting creation of a properly civil society takes place when the Europeans must present a united front against the cannibals and, as Will Atkins puts it, Spanish and Englishmen alike meet “with afflictions enough to make them all sober and enemies enough to make them all friends” (Defoe [1895] 1974: 114). Isolation, however, is as often a threat to civil order as it is the means to restore it. Before this external danger motivated the rebels to become members of a civil community, they were such “unnatural rogues” (ibid.: 43), so determined to play havoc with the others’ settlements, that they represented the same danger to the European settlements that the cannibals did. When they travel away from the island to find their own fortunes, their adventures seem to confirm the savage behavior that comes from such separateness. As a gesture of good will from members of one cannibal nation, they are given some captives from another nation. Although it is the language barrier that causes the captives to believe the Englishmen are going to eat them, acts of cannibalism on the part of men as desperate as these does not seem so far-fetched. As we discover later in the novel with a story of the damaged ship and its desperate, starved passengers, Europeans severed from their civilized environment, whether as a result of violent temperament or accident, may be tempted to resort to cannibalism. The

maid who survives this ordeal says of her mistress that had she been dead “as much as I loved her I am certain I should have eaten a piece of her flesh with as much relish . . . as ever I did the flesh of any creature appointed for food” (ibid.: 171). At this point, civilized and savage men do not seem to be separated by history but rather, as Thomas Hobbes argued, by the fragile edifice of a social contract standing between a man and the violent impulses he has towards his neighbors. Like the isolation that these travelers suffer, the willed separation of the renegade Englishmen makes them capable of a kind of violence that a properly governed society cannot tolerate. Threatening to return the island to its original state of nature, the Englishmen demonstrate the vulnerability of social and economic life on this “penal colony.” The danger they represent to the plantation settlement is confirmed by Crusoe on his return. He observes that:

for many reasons I did not think fit to let them know anything of the sloop I had framed and which I thought of setting up among them; for I found, at least at my first coming, such seeds of divisions among them, that I saw it plainly had I set up the sloop, and left it among them, they would, upon every light disgust, have separated, and gone away from one another; or perhaps have turned pirates, and so made the island a den of thieves, instead of a plantation of sober and religious people, so as I intended it.